Contents under pressure: Campus suicide

It touches a nerve to consider that every year a certain number of students at institutions of higher education take their own lives. Success and failure are well defined for the average college student and it may be convenient to chalk up desperation to the latter.

Last Thursday UAA took part in the web seminar “Removing Suicidal Students From Campus: The Significance of Recent Changes in Federal Policy.” The changes in federal policy refer to a shift in Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act that redefines what a “direct threat” is, excluding those considering self-harm. Schools can now be sued for discrimination for removing suicidal students from campus or not having services in place to treat these students.

The 2013 National Survey of College Counseling Centers found that 82 percent of college counseling clinicians surveyed noticed “increases in the number of clients with severe psychological problems.”

Around 90 different schools, ranging from private and public universities to community colleges, logged into Thursday’s webinar, hosted by the higher education training company Innovative Educators. Mary-Jeanne Raleigh of the University of North Carolina Pembroke addressed the national audience accompanied by a PowerPoint presentation while responding to questions over a live chat.

Raleigh talked about how schools can distinguish between direct and indirect threats and what obstacles may stand in the way of a student seeking help on campus. Emergency situations where students may be referred for hospitalization when Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act , or FERPA, protections may not apply were also covered.

Suicide is a perennial issue in Alaska. UAA’s recently hired CARE Team coordinator Lisa Terwilliger, who enrolled the school in the webinar, will continue to educate faculty and staff on the importance of these issues.

Another new hire, Director of Residence Life Ryan Jasen Henne, found the presentation to be valuable.

“There is the challenge of looking out for individual students, but also how they affect the other 900-plus students in residence at UAA,” Henne said.

In October 2011 the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights found Michigan’s Spring Arbor University to be in violation of the new regulation for requiring a student with a mental health disability who had voluntarily withdrawn to meet certain conditions for readmission.

Just as the ADA Title II regulations previously included language addressing self-harm, the UAA Student Code of Conduct still contains a violation, which reads “conduct which causes personal injury.” Director of Student Conduct and Ethical Development Michael Votava said UAA is working on removing this clause from the code.

A 2011 study by the University of Virginia found that suicide ranked as the second-leading cause of death among college students ages 18-24, but also found these figures fell significantly below the national average for the same age group.

 

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