NMU's mental health policy, communication called into question

MARQUETTE — A non–profit educational foundation recently published an article stating that administrators at Northern Michigan University violate the First Amendment Rights of its students when it comes to discussing mental health issues.

On Thursday, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, published a story on its website about how Northern Michigan University is violating its students First Amendment Rights.

The article stated that NMU is “Imposing a gag order on students at a time when a conversation with a friend may be most needed.”

Last November, NMU’s mental health policies and procedures were called into question after an e–mail from the university said that students would face disciplinary actions if they involved other students in any suicidal or self–destructive thoughts. Katerina Klawes, a senior at NMU, alerted FIRE about the university’s mental health policies in December of 2015.

“I think that the biggest thing I am asking is that NMU makes it very clear to students that they will face no retribution for reaching out to any kind of services they offer regarding mental health,” said Klawes.

“Students want more response from the university. They want more communication. I think that a lot of the outcry from students is regarding that,” Klawes added.

On August 25th, FIRE sent a six-page letter to NMU President Fritz Erickson about the school’s policy. They asked for a response from the university by September 9th.

FIRE received no response from NMU.

“We as a free speech organization were very alarmed by the fact that students were told they couldn’t talk to students about a certain topic, which is kind of the most fundamental infringement of a student’s free speech rights that I can imagine,” said Marieke Beck-Coon, senior program officer for FIRE. “So the students, including the dozens of students that NMU last fall acknowledged that they sent these letters to each semester, they’ve had nearly a year to wonder whether they would still face discipline from the administration if they talked to their friends about self harm or suicide,” said Beck-Coon.

According to a post on the university’s website, the communication between NMU to its students with self-harm inclinations was changed back in January, with the formation of the Mental Health and Well-being Taskforce.

The article posted by FIRE was a surprise to NMU President Fritz Erickson.

“We met with students, we met with mental health professionals and we changed what we do because of that,” said Erickson. “I’ve been kind of curious why the FIRE article picked up because we’ve really done what they all asked for. We don’t limit the speech of our students. We also wanted to make sure that we were doing what’s in the very best interest for a student in crisis and the students that they live with.”

“We heard a lot of suggestions; we heard a lot of talk about how best to manage that and our student-life professionals took that to heart, our counseling folks took that to heart and implemented what we think is really the best practice,” Erickson added.

To view the letter FIRE sent to NMU, click HERE.