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Newsletter > March 2022 > "High Profile Suicide Raises Concerns About University Discipline and Student Mental Health"
High Profile Suicide Raises Concerns About University Discipline and Student Mental Health
Micah E. Kamrass, Fraternal Law Partners, MKamrass@Manleyburke.com
On March 1, 2022, Katie Meyer was found dead in her on-campus residence at Stanford University. She was twenty-two (22) years old. Meyer was the championship-winning Goalie and Captain of the Stanford Women’s Soccer Team. Her tragic death was later declared a suicide.
In the aftermath of Katie’s death, her parents appeared on the Today Show to provide their perspective. They explained that prior to her decision to take her own life, Katie was subject to potential discipline from Stanford University. Specifically, her father stated, “Katie, being Katie, was defending a teammate on campus over an incident, and the repercussions of her defending that teammate” put her in the position of potential discipline from the University. Additionally, her parents shared their belief that while the disciplinary process was ongoing for several months, Katie received an email from the University informing her that she would indeed be subject to a disciplinary hearing shortly before her death. Her parents believe this likely triggered Katie’s decision to commit suicide.
Mental health concerns are often deeply complex, and we at Fraternal Law Partners are not mental health experts. However, we do possess significant experience in supporting students and student groups when subjected to the university disciplinary process.
There is no question that navigating the university disciplinary process can be extremely challenging for students. While universities often claim that their disciplinary process is intended to be an educational experience for their students, it is usually quite the opposite. Intentional or not, the university disciplinary system commonly makes students feel as if they are in a powerless position. The individuals investigating and deciding the fate of students often have master’s degrees or doctorates. They have access to financial resources and to skilled attorneys. They have navigated the disciplinary process hundreds or even thousands of times before.
Meanwhile, accused students are often facing this situation for the first time. They are tasked with reading and understanding handbooks and codes of conduct that can be hundreds of pages long and noticeably outdated. Between the cost and needless university-imposed restrictions, students are often unable to have attorneys accompany them during university proceedings, and even when attorneys can be present, university rules frequently impose significant restrictions on the scope and manner of attorney participation. Certainly, one can understand how this process can be daunting to students and can further exacerbate mental health challenges students may be experiencing.
Many who knew Katie Meyer described her as larger than life and on top of the world. She was a national champion athlete, team captain, star of her own “Be the Mentality” talk show, and student on the cusp of graduation from an elite university. Ultimately, her parents believe her suicide was triggered by the likelihood of a hearing involving potential university discipline.
One can only hope that the tragic death of Katie Meyer will provide those who run university disciplinary processes with the opportunity to critically reexamine how the processes are conducted. While there is no dispute that universities need to have a system in place to discipline wrongdoers, there is also no dispute that the system should be more supportive of students who find themselves enmeshed in it. Students should only be subjected to the system when there is credible evidence of serious misconduct. When so, those students should be provided with the resources (both mental health and legal) necessary to defend themselves, and other roadblocks must be removed. Finally, it is time to eliminate the fallacy that the conduct process is meant to be educational, and it should instead be treated like the high-stakes process it has become where the futures of students and student organizations are often on the line. The university disciplinary process can be improved, and students can feel better supported, to hopefully avoid this tragedy from reoccurring.
 Joshua Rhett Miller, Katie Meyer Faced Possible Stanford Discipline Before Suicide, Parents Say, N.Y. Post (Mar. 4, 2022, 11:18am), https://nypost.com/2022/03/04/katie-meyer-faced-possible-discipline-from-stanford-parents-say/.