University of Minnesota creative writing professor Julie Schumacher published a chilling op-ed in The New York Times last month that detailed her experience talking with a student whose writing about killing people got so extreme that it instilled fear in classmates.
Schumacher’s piece, titled “Was This Student Dangerous?” showed what appeared to be unclear or insufficient institutional policy for how teachers are to handle situations where they feel a student may be harmful to themself or others. After Schumacher contacted campus police and mental health officials, the plan was for her and a teaching assistant to meet with the student in private and ask a simple question: “Do you have a plan to harm yourself or anyone else?”
If the student had answered yes, there wasn’t a plan for how to proceed, Schumacher wrote.
Schumacher’s writing doesn’t mention names of any people or the University itself. This indicates that her intentions weren’t to implicate the school, but rather bring up an important public safety and mental health concern in higher education. After the essay came out, Schumacher told MinnPost that the director of the University’s Office for Student Conduct and Academic Integrity contacted her, saying that the administration didn’t take issue with her piece and that they wanted to open up a dialogue to find out how to best support Schumacher and others in the future.
We encourage the University and other higher education institutions to take a close look at how they’d handle a situation like the one Schumacher faced. Campus leaders must remember that mental health help must extend past clinics and support groups — it needs to get to a more personal level on campus.
With recent, devastating campus shootings across the nation, it’s never been more important to ensure we have more-than-adequate systems in place to stop potential tragedies before they happen. And even if students who seem disturbed actually have no violent tendencies, it’s still crucial we provide all the mental health support services they need and deserve.