In February, The Daily Princetonian reported on a lawsuit filed by a student who was allegedly asked to withdraw from the University following a suicide attempt in 2012. Based on the complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, the 'Prince' reported, “Just as the student was leaving the hospital following the suicide attempt, he was informed that the University had evicted him from his dorm room, that he was prohibited from his classes and that he was banned from all areas of campus.” This story, along with recently published allegations of similar occurrences at Yale, has raised concerns among students that individuals experiencing mental health issues could be forced to withdraw from the University. In light of these allegations and the way concerns about forced withdrawal could prevent individuals with mental health issues from seeking treatment, the Editorial Board believes the University should make public and transparent the conditions under which it requires students with mental health issues to leave campus.
In the cited article from the 'Prince,' University Spokesperson Martin Mbugua commented, “There is no specific process automatically implemented, because each case is handled individually.” Even if there is no single automatic process, without further comment from the University regarding the conditions under which students might be asked to leave, there is no transparency that might allow for rational debate and criticism of the way the University handles such cases. We, the student body, do not know when a student suffering from mental health issues might be forced to leave campus against his or her will. We do not know how the University weighs concerns like legal liability, the best interests of the student or, more controversially, its national reputation in deciding when to require withdrawal.
Therefore, stories like those reported at Princeton and Yale raise a legitimate concern on the part of students with mental health issues that they may be forced to leave the University. Uncertainty, combined with a fear of being forced to leave campus engendered by the various accounts that have come to light, may cause students with mental health issues to hesitate or refrain from seeking help, even if that fear is ultimately unjustified. A student who has experienced suicidal thoughts may, in light of recent stories about the treatment of individuals who have attempted suicide, be more inclined to conceal that fact from University doctors or avoid seeking help at all. Thus, the University’s lack of transparency makes it more likely that students with mental health issues will not seek out or receive the treatment they need.
Mental health issues already face an unfortunate social stigma, which may deter individuals from getting help. Princeton’s ongoing Mental Health Week attempts to improve this situation, but the University’s lack of transparency regarding forced mental health withdrawals exacerbates the problem. The Board would like to believe that the University and Counseling and Psychological Services generally act in the best interests of students facing mental health issues and that students are forced to withdraw only in the most dire circumstances. However, we cannot say whether this is the case without further public comment elaborating the way these cases are handled. In the interest of transparency and the well-being of students who may experience mental health issues but are deterred from seeking effective treatment by fear and uncertainty about University policy, the Board calls upon the University to make a public statement detailing, with as much specificity and clarity as possible, the conditions under which students with mental health issues may be forced to withdraw.