Colleges make terrible parents

My daughter attends a college in Virginia with many ties to Tech. Our community is affected, pained, and so saddened by the recent killings and suicide.

It is ironic, however, that my daughter's school has tried to reassure me, as a parent, with an email outlining "security" measures being taken at the school. "Extra law enforcement" will be deployed throughout the campus. We just don't get it, do we?

"Dear (campus administrator),

While I appreciate your concern about student safety, my concern as a parent is not about snipers and shooters. The young man at Tech had a mental illness, not a terrorist agenda or criminal intent. His acts do not increase any danger to anyone now that he is dead.

33 people died at Tech. Yet many, many more at our schools have crippling mental illnesses and untold suffering. Most will not become violent, but suffer silently. (Suicide is the third leading cause of death for those aged 15-24. )

I know from experience that getting help for an ill student at (your school) is nearly impossible. Our daughter's former roommate appears to be suffering from a life-threatening eating disorder and the other suitemates live in fear. Neither the housing office, counseling service, the RA, nor the dean of student's office have been able to offer any real help. Concerns for "privacy" and "choice" have kept this student and her fellow students hostage to a disease that is by its nature "anosognosic." She doesn't know she's ill, and can't ask for help. That is the nature of mental illness.

The Tech student's illness killed other people. My daughter's classmate is killing herself. Both situations are known to the school, but no one acts with the compassion and engagement necessary to make a difference. Despite available effective treatments, this student and many others live on campus and attend classes with the tacit approval of the university because no one behaves with appropriate alarm.

Part of this, of course, is a societal misunderstanding of the nature of mental illness - but colleges have an added responsibility to be leaders in this area.

If the school has concerns about the health of a student then immediate efforts should be made - and pursued with urgency - to bring family and other resources into the picture. If the school is unwilling to contact the family then the school needs to act as guardian - or unenroll the student for their own safety.

Please, please - instead of added police enforcement please put the school's resources behind changing mental health policies about privacy and parent involvement and change the definition of what is considered ill enough to intervene.

The danger is not outside with a gun, it is inside. And the damage isn't just measured by violent acts, but in wasted young lives ravaged by untreated mental illness."


  1. I would suggest that all people try to become educated on the underlying causes of non-familial very serious mental illnesses. We are not told about the male biological clock because there is too much money to be made by certain sectors of society from chronic genetic illnesses caused by mutations in the sperm making cells. By 33-35 men are rapidly accumulating mutations in their spermatogonia (ancestral sperm making cells). If interested please read some of the posts on one of the following blogs.

  2. I couldn't agree more Laura!
    You are shining the light on the right aspect of this situation, the negligence of society and colleges to put people above their very lucrative business.
    Personally, people standing by WITH GUNS ready to protect my child make me very nervous. I do not want to live in a police state because of mental illness.
    My daughter's school gave her minimal support when she reached out and they kept her as a student knowing full well she had a problem, and kept her secret from us. At the very least the encouragement to share with home needs to be strong. When so many kids get turned down for lesser reasons to attend college I find it disturbing that an ED is acceptable. Then there's the encouraged/expected drinking! Slowly they are becoming more responsible about that here but I've actually seen it listed as one of the better party schools.Drinking can be another aspect of emotional disturbance and it's a girl and guy thing. No one's immune. GRRRRRR
    If there is a girl with an ED as a roommate, how about addressing it to her parents? I for one would have been eternally grateful. It's worth the risk, I think.

  3. I agree that very vulnerable young people are being let down by colleges over here too - put under too much pressure, expected to jump through accademic hoops for the glory of the college rather than for their own future, and exploited by drug pushers (of both illegal, and with alcohol, legal drugs). The situation with guns isn't the same (thank the Lord) and the security department at my daughter's college seem genuniely keen to keep the PREMISES secure both from intruders and from the wilder excesses of the students, which I feel is to the benefit of both the college AND it's students. The welfare department too are trying their best and their duty of care to their youngsters as students makes them a lot more use than the Mental Health Services who don't even define Eating Disorders as mental illnesses.

  4. Laura,

    Any sort of mental health services on campus are minimal at best. That's what they should be focusing on. But security looks good, sounds good, shows that We're Doing Something. It's much more immediate than, say, making more counselors available, having specific routes for getting help for students and those who are concerned about students.

    As well, there is still do much stigma attached to mental illness. Anxiety disorder? Chill out! Depression? Snap out of it! Eating disorder? Stop being so vain!

    Your letter is beautiful and expressive. Olympia's college should be lucky to have you.

  5. I absolutely agree. A doctor on my campus told me to come for a checkup in 6 months even though I was quite underweight, because my vitals were fine. I'm really fed up with health coverage for mental illness - I've been fortunate, but some of my friends have not been. Can you let us know if the school responds?

  6. Kyla,

    I am sad to report that no one every responded to my letter. My husband's letter, which was shorter and more pointed, did get a response from the Dean, and everyone swore up and down that "something significant is being done," but as far as we can see: nada. They don't get it.

  7. I just came upon this site-so I don't know if anyone will see this post, but I couldn't help but respond. My daughter goes to NCSU as a Div I athlete and they also could not have been less helpful. They did offer outside therapy 20 times during the year only if she signed a paper that if she didn't sue them, they would give her an X amt of $! I tried to get the College to set up a ed support group with no luck. It's like they have their head in the sand! They just want us gone.


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