Still Waiting: The Slow Evolution of the Law in Light of the Ongoing Student Suicide Crisis

32 Pages Posted: 23 Apr 2008

See all articles by Peter F. Lake

Peter F. Lake

Stetson University College of Law


College and university student mental health issues, especially student suicide, have emerged as matters of national concern. Modern college and university students face an array of mental health challenges. The risks associated with suicide, which in some situations may include an attendant risk of homicide, have become signature risks in an ongoing college and university student mental health crisis. Suicide is neither the only, nor the most prevalent, mental health issue for students, but it has become salient. Just a few years ago, there was much less public discussion of the mental health challenges of the modern student and very little by way of systemic and proactive suicide prevention for a college and university community as a whole. The times have changed. Dealing with suicide risk in college and university populations is now a top concern for administrators.

In 2002, Nancy Tribbensee and I wrote of the emerging crisis of college and university student suicide. We addressed the wave of mental health issues menacing institutions of higher education and sounded an alarm that the delivery of higher education and litigation patterns would change. We acknowledged that, at the time, alcohol and drug use dominated the agendas of many college and university administrators. Events at Virginia Tech in April of 2007, however, put greater priority upon issues of self-inflicted injury and attendant violence. While college and university mental health issues had continued to garner interest prior to 2007, the Virginia Tech tragedy served as a catalyst for greater intervention by colleges and universities with respect to mental health issues. In 2002, we anticipated that in the near term, however, attention paid to suicide and other serious forms of self-inflicted injury will continue to increase and that these concerns may begin to gain prominence. The April 2007, tragedy has made our prediction regarding issues of suicide and related violence come true faster than we imagined. Unfortunately, although suicide and related risks have jumped in priority, the law has evolved at a frustratingly slow pace.

This article is an update to my earlier article with Nancy Tribbensee and a call to action: colleges and universities desperately need more legal guidance on the parameters of managing student suicide danger.

Keywords: suicide, college, university, risk management, Virginia Tech, self-inflicted injury, Clark v. Bash, high-risk alcohol, despression, mental health, wellness, rights and responsibilities

JEL Classification: K00, K10, K13

Suggested Citation

Lake, Peter F., Still Waiting: The Slow Evolution of the Law in Light of the Ongoing Student Suicide Crisis. Journal of College and University Law, Vol. 34, No. 2, 2008, Available at SSRN:

Peter F. Lake (Contact Author)

Stetson University College of Law ( email )

1401 61st St. South
Gulfport, FL 33707
United States

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