Expel Students Who Might Kill Themselves?
By Sally Satel
Imagine you are a sophomore in college. The semester has been academically overwhelming, and your girlfriend recently dumped you. One night it reaches crisis level and you go to campus mental health worried you might harm yourself. You volunteer to enter the hospital and are released a few days later feeling more hopeful.
Then your college tells you to leave school. Period. No formal evaluation of your mental health condition. No discussion with you. Just out.
According to a newly released report from the State of New Jersey called College Students in Crisis: Preventing Campus Suicides and Protecting Civil Rights, policies which allow or require removal based solely on the existence of suicidal thoughts or behavior may be increasing. They are premised on the need to remove the student from the stresses of student life and to motivate them to get the care they need.
In the wake of tragedies such as the self-immolation of a sophomore at M.I.T. in 2000 and the shooting spree at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 2007, concerns among administrators took on urgency. But lawyers argue that such blanket involuntary removal policies infringe upon a student's civil rights.
Within the last few years, several high-profile law suits against George Washington University, Hunter College, and the City University of New York have been waged by students forced into withdrawal. All were found to have violated provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of mental illness.