Student mental-health problems pose a troubling dilemma for colleges: Intervene, and risk violating privacy and being sued for it. Ignore the problems, and they could deepen, resulting in suicide or harm to others.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Cornell University is confronting the conundrum by relying on an exception to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or Ferpa: The university assumes that students are financial dependents, freeing officials to share concerns with parents.
Those concerns might arise from reports by staff members, who are trained to spot mental-health problems among students. The Journal describes how a custodian identified a bulimic student after cleaning up her messes in a dormitory.
Since 2005, Cornell has also relied on an “alert team” of administrators, campus-police officers, and counselors who meet weekly to compare notes on potentially troubled students. Timothy Marchell, the university’s director of mental-health initiatives, says the group was founded after a campus advisory council realized that warning signs that might have averted campus tragedies went unheeded because “each person knew pieces of the story but no one saw the whole picture.”
“When parents send their sons and daughters off to college,” says Mr. Marchell, “there’s an expectation … that there will be people looking out for them.” —Don Troop