HomeEducationWould a ‘Designated Advocate’ Help Students in Crisis?

Would a ‘Designated Advocate’ Help Students in Crisis?

If you are in crisis and would like to talk to someone, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), or text “HOME” to the Crisis Text Line, at 741741. Both services are free, confidential, and available 24/7.

The death of Katie Meyer, the Stanford University women’s soccer goalie who took her own life in March, brought scrutiny to college disciplinary processes and the stress they can cause students. Meyer’s parents are now proposing a new university policy they believe could have helped their daughter when she was in crisis.

The proposed policy, which the parents have named “Katie’s Save,” would allow students to choose a “designated advocate” who would be notified by their college if they are facing “challenging circumstances,” including physical injuries, mental-health problems, disciplinary issues, and more. As a situation unfolds, an advocate could help provide support for the student if needed. Students could opt in to the program during registration at their college.

Meyer’s parents have declined in interviews to share details about a potential disciplinary issue that they’ve said Katie was facing. But Gina Meyer, her mother, told ESPN that Katie had been dealing with it for six months and hadn’t told them.

College students often think they can handle a situation when it gets difficult, “but sometimes they can’t,” Gina Meyer said. “They may need extra support from someone, someone checking in on them, someone saying, ‘Hey, can I help you with this? What can we do? How can I help you?’”

Karla Hudson, a Stanford spokesperson, said in a statement, “We have recently learned of Katie’s Save from the media and will be studying the proposed policy.”

Student-conduct and mental-health experts told The Chronicle that the main goal of Katie’s Save — providing students an avenue for getting the support they need when they’re overwhelmed — could be beneficial.

“More support is better than less, always,” said Martha Compton, director of strategic partnerships and client relations at Grand River Solutions, a higher-ed consulting firm, who previously led the Association for Student Conduct Administration.

When she was working in student conduct on college campuses, Compton said, two barriers often prevented students from asking for help: They would worry about their parents finding out, or they were concerned their parents would be disappointed in them. Having a “release valve,” she said — a contact of their choosing who isn’t their parent — “could be really helpful.”

But experts said the Katie’s Save proposal isn’t a new idea.

‘Processes Already Exist’

Many mental-health professionals share the goal of notifying people of issues whenever possible, said John Dunkle, a senior clinical director at the nonprofit JED Foundation and former executive director of counseling and psychological services at Northwestern University. “But we don’t want to create new processes if mechanisms and processes already exist and people just aren’t aware of them,” he said.

For example, Dunkle said, some states allow psychiatric advance directives, a type of legal document where someone diagnosed with a mental-health condition can put in writing what they want to happen if they become incapacitated or are in a crisis. “I used to talk with families about this all the time when I was working at Northwestern because it’s something that maybe they don’t think it’s going to happen, but you never know,” he said.

What Katie’s Save is proposing is nothing new, said LeRoy Rooker, a senior fellow at the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers and former director of the U.S. Education Department’s Family Policy Compliance Office. Since the inception of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or Ferpa, Rooker said, students who are 18 and older have had the right to choose which records their college can disclose to others.

Patience Bryant, president of the Association for Student Conduct Administration, said student-conduct offices already typically attempt to connect students with people outside of the university who can support them during investigations. Some offices even have their own Ferpa waivers for students. Still, Katie’s Save could help students have an additional route to get support if they choose, Bryant said.

“Our resources are limited on campus,” Bryant said, “but if we know, ‘Hey, someone’s going home for winter break and someone at home already knows what’s happening, they can look out for things and reach out to them and have those intentional conversations while they’re home for the break.’”

The Katie’s Save website includes an example of what a consent form would look like. Students would have the option to pick and choose when their advocate would be notified, such as only when they have been cited for an instance of substance abuse.

Rooker said the proposal is a good blueprint for colleges to follow for crafting a Ferpa-compliant student waiver. Students would still control their records, Rooker said, “but it gives them an avenue for letting a specific person know if there are issues going on.” College officials would also have to consider state laws that govern the disclosure of personal or medical information, he added.

Even if a student signs a consent form permitting their college to notify someone, institutions would not be required to do so, Rooker said.

Campus officials would also need to develop a way to keep track of the choice a student has made. “For example, if I’m over in housing or if I’m in judicial affairs, and something’s going on, then I could call the registrar’s office and say, you know, ‘Does this person have an advocate?’” Rooker said.

Regardless of the approach, student-conduct officers need to make sure students understand their rights during the disciplinary process, Bryant said. “Some of them are super stressed out and they don’t know what it means, right?” she said.

Though Katie’s Save might help students handle stressful situations, it doesn’t mitigate the main issue, Compton said: Students are in the midst of a mental-health crisis.

“We know that college students everywhere are struggling with their mental health at a rate that we really haven’t seen before,” she said. “And so I think the very first thing that colleges can do is continue to shore up their support for mental-health resources on campus.”

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