Cornell Student Mental Health 2022 Updates

Cornell University has made “dozens of improvements” to support and improve student well-being in response to the recommendations of the 2020 Mental Health Review Final Report, according to the Executive Accountability Committee set up to guide strategies for implementing changes.

An EAC statement said that the changes implemented thus far promote social connectedness and belonging for all students, reduce clinical wait times for students seeking mental health services, provide resources to faculty to create health-promoting classrooms, and create clear expectations for graduate student success.

Cornell University campus

EAC updates for 2022 noted that Cornell adopted the Okanagan Charter, which calls for Institutions of Higher Education to embed health into all aspects of campus culture, across the administration, operations and academic mandates; and lead health promotion action and collaboration locally and globally.

“Work has been underway to position Cornell as a Health-Promoting Campus by using a systemic, sustainable way to address campus mental health and well-being,” the updates said.

The Mental Health Review, carried out by internal and external review teams in 2019-2020, made 60 recommendations comprehensively calling for improvements in mental health and medical services, academic life, student well-being, and mental health awareness and proactive support.

Current EAC members include Ryan Lombardi, vice president for Student and Campus Life; Kathryn Boor, dean of the Graduate School and Vice Provost for Graduate Education; and Lisa Nishii, vice provost for Undergraduate Education.

Among the 2022 updates released by EAC:

Health Leave of Absence (HLOA)

Cornell established the position of a fulltime Health Leaves Coordinator within Cornell’s Student Disability Services (SDS). It said that the position is part of a new Health Leave of Absence (HLOA) process “that provides more support to students, consistency across colleges/schools/campuses, and assistance with navigating the HLOA process and university bureaucracy/resources.”

Under the new policy, coordination for HLOAs moves to a “new home” within SDS from Cornell’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). The coordinator serves as a resource for students throughout the leave and return processes and is a central point of information and contact for campus partners. Students must meet with the coordinator and receive a holistic plan for returning to campus, and are also encouraged to discuss accommodations with SDS.

Suicide Prevention Training

All CAPS clinical staff participated in Collaborative Assessment and Management of Suicidality (CAMS) training during summer 2022 as its annual professional development. CAMS is an evidence-based therapeutic framework for suicide-specific assessment and treatment of a patient’s suicidal risk.

Clinical “Stepped-Care” Model

CAPS implemented a new stepped-care model of clinical services in Fall 2021 to provide rapid access within 48 hours to an initial brief Access Appointment that assesses students’ presenting concerns and relevant clinical factors and refers them to most appropriate service.

CAPS also began offering expanded clinical options, including workshops, additional group therapy programs, additional medication management options, single-session counseling, and telehealth services with Mantra Health.

Care & Crisis Services

The Dean of Students Office’s Care & Crisis Services Team, which identifies, assesses, and responds to concerns and/or disruptive behaviors by students who present a risk to the health or safety of the university or its members, implemented a new protocol including the utilization of a new student of concern referral form.


The university developed a comprehensive communication plan to regularly share updates with the campus community, utilizing Cornell’s mental health website and other key communication strategies.

Undergraduate Experience

Three work groups completed a year-long review of the Mental Health Review’s recommendations for advising, grading policies, and academic policies.

The Advising Working Group final report included these key action items: (a) develop department advising plans; (b) clarify advising roles and expectations of faculty, staff advisors, and peers; (c) strengthen professional development for staff and faculty advisors; (d) adopt best practices, accountability, and recognition for advising excellence; (e) develop consistent learning outcomes for well-being in advising seminars and programs; (f) collaborate with Institutional Research and Planning to assess advising needs of vulnerable student populations; (g) offer both in-person and virtual advising to optimize flexibility for students; and (h) provide students clear guidance for communicating with faculty when missing class due to a short illness.

The Grading Policies Working Group collected input from students, faculty, staff, and peer institutions to inform thoughtful deliberations about a wide range of academic stressors that may be particularly detrimental for student mental health as well as about new or improved forms of academic support for students. Topics explored by the Grading Policies Working Group include: (a) instituting a S/U-type grading system for the first semester of the first year; (b) implementing an early warning “flagging” system to identify struggling students based on early graded assessments; (c) developing more academic support courses, especially for introductory classes; (d) increasing the number of courses that offer the S/U grading option; (e) strongly discouraging norm-referenced grading; (f) elevating assessment and grading policies as fundamental to teaching excellence; (g) discouraging curving down and overly difficult tests that result in low numerical exam scores, and improving transparency about grading practices; and (h) eliminating the grade of A+ (which is used inconsistently, thereby creating inequities).

The Academic Policies Working Group collected input from students, faculty, staff, and peer institutions to inform thoughtful deliberations about a wide range of academic stressors that may be particularly detrimental for student mental health as well as about new or improved forms of academic support for students. This group deliberated the merits of: (a) limiting the number of credits allowed for first-semester first-year students to 16 (or slightly higher for degrees that require a higher number of credits); (b) reducing the overall number of evening prelims by restricting them to large courses; (c) developing a university policy for resolving exam conflicts; (d) regularizing faculty discussions about pedagogy and assessments; (e) providing safety escorts for students walking home after evening prelims; and (f) requiring information about key course elements—such as the nature of graded assignments—to be available to students prior to pre-enrollment. Most of the recommendations need to be further vetted by the faculty senate and other governance structures before they could be adopted. In addition, some would necessitate significant investments in technology solutions and time before they could be implemented. 

Graduate Student Experience

The Graduate Advisor Feedback Task Force vetted its final report with the Graduate School, the Graduate School’s General Committee, the directors of Graduate Study, the vice provosts and provost and all college deans.

Key action items include the development of orientation materials, creation of a clearinghouse for resources, increasing faculty training around mentoring, anonymization of graduate student feedback on supervisor performance, and collecting graduate student feedback. Each graduate field will be asked to report annually on their progress in these areas.

Resident Advisors

Housing and Residential Life convened a task force to reevaluate the role of Resident Advisors.

Since this review, the RA position has shifted to focus more on intentional interactions with individual residents and resource referral on campus for challenges in and out of the classroom, and not as much programming and clear communication that they not take on the sole responsibly for the transition or well-being of any resident. RAs have also been trained on secondary trauma and how to better care for themselves when students do disclose difficult situations, and how to immediately refer that resident to resources and take of themselves in caring roles. The 2022-23 remuneration for the RA position has also changed to address concerns of how the RA compensation was negatively affecting the RA’s financial aid package.

Program Management

The Skorton Center for Health Initiatives is taking over management of Cornell’s Victim Advocacy Program, as well as advising roles for the Empathy Assistance and Referral Service, a peer mentoring program known as EARS, and Cornell Minds Matter, a student mental health club.

Cornell Health, “in consultation with legal counsel, reconfigured” the drop-in service that offers informal, private consultation with a mental health counselor. Let’s Talk will be considered an outreach program, “eschewing clinical documentation” and falling under the federal education privacy law rather than the federal medical privacy statute.

Okanagan Charter

Cornell leaders on October 26 signed the Okanagan Charter, which calls on Institutions of Higher Education to embed health into all aspects of campus culture, across the administration, operations and academic mandates, and lead health promotion action and collaboration locally and globally.

According to the Charter, its purpose is to 1) guide and inspire action by providing a framework that reflects the latest concepts, processes and principles; generate dialogue and research that expands local, regional, national and international networks, and accelerates action on, off and between campuses; and 3) mobilize international, cross-sector action for the integration of health in all policies and practices.

The Charter does not focus directly on mental health or use the term in its text, defining health “holistically, reflecting physical, mental and social well-being.”

Ryan Lombardi, vice president, Student and Campus Life, said the Charter’s principles “will help provide structure for the next phase of Cornell’s Student Mental Health Review, a collaborative process that has paved the way for a shared commitment to the betterment of mental health inside and outside of the classroom.”

The Charter was created and signed by education leaders at the 2015 International Conference on Health Promoting Universities and Colleges at the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus in Kelowna, Canada. Representatives from the World Health Organization, Pan American Health Organization and UNESCO joined in the pledge.

Serving as Cornell’s executive sponsors of the Okanagan Charter are Martha E. Pollock, Cornell president; Christine Lovely, vice president and chief Human Resources officer; Lisa Nishii, vice provost for Undergraduate Education; Kathryn Boor, dean of the Graduate School and vice provost of Graduate Education; and Ryan Lombardi, vice president, Student and Campus Life.

According to the Cornell Chronicle, two collaborating advisory groups for campus well-being—one focused on students, the other on faculty and staff—will employ multidisciplinary approaches to explore and implement changes and sustain momentum over time.

“The Okanagan Charter is an important way for Cornell to both reaffirm and formalize our commitment to supporting the health of our students, faculty and staff,” Pollack said. “It will support us in seeking new ways of incorporating health-promoting behaviors into our campus culture, and in identifying and sharing best practices to support community well-being.”

Implementation Management

The university abolished the Executive Accountability Committee, which consisted of four senior administrators as “executive sponsors,” and three “change leads” covering the academic community, campus community, and clinical services, and replaced it with a 25-member Student Well-Being Council. The council provides oversight for campus mental health and well-being broadly, including recommendations from the Mental Health Review report, as well as “new priorities” as a health-promoting campus within the Okanagan Charter.

The council will use a new evaluation plan to measure programs, policies, and campus culture. The university also created a campus-wide Community of Practice to implement key recommendations and “identify evidence-informed strategies to implement Health-Promoting Campus strategies.”

The Community of Practice will collect and analyze data, implement key strategies, provide best practices, and “identify ways to regularly engage students, staff, and faculty to provide feedback, stay involved, and support health and well-being on our campus” through the work of six Community of Practice committees.

The university will create a “Well-Being Vision for Cornell” to guide its health-promoting work.

Student Well-Being Council Members:

  • Julie Edwards (chair), director of Skorton Center for Health Initiatives
  • Lisa Nishii (executive sponsor), vice provost for Undergraduate Education
  • Kathryn Boor (executive sponsor), dean of the Graduate School and vice provost of Graduate Education
  • Ryan Lombardi (executive sponsor), vice president, Student and Campus Life
  • Eve DeRosa, dean of Faculty
  • Marla Love, dean of students, Student and Campus Life
  • Abby Priehs, director, Housing and Residential Life
  • Dave Honan, assistant vice president, Public Safety
  • Michelle Artibee, director, Workforce Wellbeing
  • Jai Sweet, dean of students, College of Veterinary Medicine
  • Linda Croll Howell, senior director, Employee Experience
  • Markeisha Miner, dean of students, Law School
  • Amanda Shaw, associate dean of students, SC Johnson College of Business
  • Kim Anderson, assistant director, Sustainability
  • Amy Gaulke, executive director, Student and Campus Life Communications
  • Amy Foster, deputy director, Athletics
  • Kristina Im (student), Student Assembly, Health and Wellness Committee
  • Ngoc Truong (student), Student Assembly, Health and Wellness Committee
  • Andrew Juan (student), University Assembly
  • Kate Carter-Cram (student), Graduate and Professional Student Assembly

Consulting Members:

  • Laura Santacrose, assistant director, Skorton Center for Health Initiatives
  • Catherine Thrasher-Carroll, program director, Mental Health Promotion, Skorton Center for Health Initiatives
  • Abi Dubovi, mental health program specialist, Skorton Center for Health Initiatives
  • Jennifer Austin, director of Communications, Cornell Health
  • Bonnie Comella, associate vice provost for Undergraduate Education

Suicide on the Campus: A Case Against Stanford University

[TW: suicide] The parents of Stanford University soccer captain and goalkeeper Katie Meyer filed a lawsuit against the college on November 23 arguing that its reckless actions and inactions caused Meyer’s death by suicide last February.

The lawsuit brought by Steven and Gina Meyer asserts that Stanford administration employees engaged in institutional bullying and a punitive act of gender discrimination in Stanford’s treatment of their daughter preceding her death on February 28.

Stanford captain and goalie Katie Meyer

In its handling of a disciplinary case against Meyer, the lawsuit alleges, Stanford relied on a university judicial system that it knew to be seriously flawed, overly punitive, and harmful to students; selectively proceeded with the case without sufficient evidence; failed to provide Meyer with appropriate mental health support despite knowing of her despair over the case; and in 17 different actions or inactions breached the duty of care the university owes to its students.

The lawsuit asks for a jury trial, seeking injunctive relief and damages for wrongful death and for negligent as well as intentional infliction of emotional distress.

Stanford officials denied that the university was responsible for Meyer’s suicide, and said that the family’s lawsuit “contains allegations that are false and misleading.”

Case Against Katie Meyer

According to the lawsuit filed in the Superior Court of California in Santa Clara County, on the evening of Meyer’s death Stanford’s Office of Community Standards (OCS) had “negligently and recklessly” notified Meyer via email with a “formal written notice that you are charged” with a conduct violation for allegedly “spilling coffee on another student.”

The five-page, single-spaced letter from Tiffany Gabrielson, Associate Dean and OCS head, contained threatening language regarding sanctions and potential ‘removal from the university,’” the lawsuit says.

The formal disciplinary charge letter stated that Meyer’s diploma was being placed on hold, just three months from her graduation date, threatening her status as a Stanford student, captain and member of the women’s soccer team, residential advisor, Mayfield Fellow, Defense Innovative Scholar, and her hope to attend Stanford Law School, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit described Meyer, 22, from Newbury Park, California, as a high academic achiever with a 3.84 Grade Point Average, an ambassador for Just Women’s Sports, the creator of the podcast “Be the Mentality” produced by a subsidiary of Facebook, an upcoming speaker of a TedX Talk, a candidate for the U.S. women’s soccer team, “and, above all, [a] loving and loyal daughter, sister, friend, teammate, and student.”

The lawsuit says that Stanford began recruiting Meyer after her freshman year of high school. In 2020 she was voted captain by her Stanford women’s soccer teammates; in 2019, she had led  them to the College Cup national championship, and was awarded MVP in the final against North Carolina after her save in a penalty kick shootout decided the outcome.

Stanford repeatedly used Meyer’s image and likeness to promote the university, sports programs, and civic pride including in its recruitment of other women’s soccer players, the lawsuit says.

The disciplinary charge stemmed from an incident six months earlier in August 2021 where Meyer was alleged to have spilled coffee on a male Stanford football player “who allegedly sexually assaulted a minor female soccer player on the team in which Katie served as a captain,” according to the lawsuit. Meyer consistently contended that the coffee spill was accidental, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit says that Stanford employees sent the formal disciplinary charge letter via email on February 28 after 7 p.m., after normal working hours, literally on the last day within the six-month period following an incident that is allowed for bringing conduct charges.

Another in an occasional series of articles about student mental health. For more information, go to The Sophie Fund’s Student Mental Health Page

The lawsuit says that Meyer immediately responded to the email expressing how “shocked and distraught” she was over being charged and threatened with removal from the university. The lawsuit asserts that the letter and covering email both “contained language assuming guilt,” and that it is reasonable that the threatening language led Meyer to believe that was the case. Meyer had come to feel that the case was no longer being pursued because OCS had not contacted her for more than three months, since November 21, the lawsuit says.

Yet, the lawsuit contends, Stanford employees failed to respond to her expression of distress and check on her well-being, rather offering a meeting days later. They did not do so, the lawsuit adds, despite Meyer having also expressed feelings of terror and anxiety in her most recent previous communication to OCS, three months earlier.

“Stanford’s after-hours disciplinary charge, and the reckless nature and manner of submission to Katie, caused Katie to suffer an acute stress reaction that impulsively led to her suicide,” the lawsuit alleges.

Up until receiving the email and formal charging letter on February 28, the lawsuit says, Meyer had no prior history of mental illness and was excitedly planning her future. “Katie’s suicide was completed without planning and solely in response to the shocking and deeply distressing information she received from Stanford while alone in her room without any support or resources,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit says that the email and letter led Meyer “to believe that all of her future plans were being upended, making all of her hard work for naught, and leaving her in an acute emotional episode with a loss of purpose, a sense of embarrassment and humiliation, and feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.” The OSC charging letter was on Meyer’s computer screen at the time of her death, the lawsuit says.

“From the onset, there was no reasonable basis, nor sufficient evidence, for Stanford to bring such harsh and aggressive disciplinary charges for purported ‘spilled coffee,’ and the threats levied against Katie by Stanford employees were unwarranted, overly punitive, without due care and reckless. In short, Stanford employees used the OCS process selectively on Katie Meyer as a form of institutional bullying,” the lawsuit asserts.

One of the lawsuit’s counts further accuses Stanford of negligent infliction of emotional distress on Meyer’s parents, for failing to provide them with her student records and “sending threatening emails to Steve and Gina Meyer pertaining to their viewing of Katie’s documents on her computer despite the fact that the documents became the property of Steve and Gina Meyer following Katie’s death.”

Duty of Care

The defendants’ actions and failures to act are particularly egregious, the lawsuit says, considering that they knew their student disciplinary process was too punitive, that Stanford had a long history of extensive suicides and suicidal attempts of its students, and that the university provided inadequate mental health support for its students and in particular its student athletes.

The lawsuit alleges that the defendants had been on notice that Stanford’s disciplinary process was punitive and inflicting inappropriate, unnecessary distress on its students. Yet, it says, President Marc Tessier-Lavigne and other senior Stanford administrators “did nothing to rectify it, breaching the standard of care and duty owed to Katie and other students.”

The lawsuit cites three reviews of Stanford’s judicial process dating back to 2011, which variously found it to be “overly punitive,” known for bullying and intimidation, and lacking full compliance with due process rights such as presumption of innocence, reasonable time frames for adjudication, and legal representation.

The lawsuit asserts that Stanford established a duty of care to its students through many representations to new students and their families, including an admissions webpage that states: “Parents can be assured that their students are cared for during their freshman year and throughout their Stanford career.”

The lawsuit cites a “Welcome to Stanford” speech by President Tessier-Lavigne at an opening convocation in 2018, when Meyer was a first-year student, where he said: “To all of the parents and family members who are here to wish you well as you embark on this journey, I thank you for entrusting your loved ones to us. I want to assure you that we will support and care for them as they begin taking those first steps toward the future.”

Mental Health Support

Despite its duty of care to its students, the lawsuit alleges, Stanford ignored Meyer’s documented representations about anxiety, depression, and suicide that correlated with the OCS disciplinary process.

In her formal statement on the case to Stanford in November 2021, Meyer recounted the stress she was experiencing over the disciplinary process and was terrified such incidents “will destroy my future,” the lawsuit says.

Although stating that Meyer had no prior history of mental illness before receiving the formal charge letter on February 28, the lawsuit says that she had previously documented her increased symptoms with Stanford mental health professionals. Three months earlier, right after submitting her formal statement in November, the lawsuit says, Meyer met separately with a Stanford psychiatrist and psychologist; and reported, respectively, “increased depression symptoms associated with perceived failure and endorsed suicidal ideations” and “worsening anxiety and mood and increased depression.”

The lawsuit alleges that Stanford’s “long history of failing to appropriately handle mental health concerns and to adopt best practices for the safety of its students” contributed to Meyer’s death. It says that at least seven other Stanford students had died by suicide since January 2019.

“The mental health epidemic at Stanford has been ongoing for years,” the lawsuits asserts. “Yet in the face of so many students at Stanford with mental health needs, Stanford understaffs its counseling centers, resulting in students waiting months for much needed treatment.”

The lawsuit cites a 2018 class action lawsuit against Stanford for violating the rights of students with mental health disabilities.

The lawsuit, which was settled through confidential mediation without an admission of liability but with Stanford’s agreement to reforms, had cited Stanford’s “practice of treating students who experience mental health crises as liabilities: pressuring them into taking leaves of absence and requiring immediate withdrawal from all classes and housing, all without an individualized evaluation of reasonable accommodations.”

“Stanford’s negligent and reckless attitude towards Katie and the importance of student athletes’ mental health is indicative of the greater dismissive attitude toward mental health needs of its students on Stanford’s campus even today while students continue to suffer without proper assistance,” the lawsuit says.

Gender Discrimination?

The lawsuit says that the disciplinary complaint against Meyer was filed based on hearsay and outside university investigative procedures by Lisa Caldera, Associate Dean, Office of Residential Education, rather than by the football player himself. The lawsuit says the individual “indicated throughout the disciplinary process that he would like to ‘make amends’ and ‘did not want any punishment that impacts her life.’” The lawsuit contends that Stanford never offered Meyer “restorative justice options that would allow the parties to meet and apologize over the incident.”

Furthermore, the lawsuit says, Stanford selectively chose not to bring any disciplinary charges against the football player who allegedly sexually assaulted Meyer’s teammate. “Instead of pursuing the allegations of sexual assault against the football player, Stanford pursued claims against Katie for allegedly spilling coffee on him,” the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit claims that the university was required to dismiss the player from the football team under its own zero tolerance for sexual violence policies yet failed to initiate any meaningful disciplinary process against him. The lawsuit asserts that Stanford football coach David Shaw, who is not named in the case, had been a member of the NCAA Commission to Combat Campus Sexual Violence and touted to be a leading advocate of the Set The Expectation program aimed at working to end the culture of sexual assault and domestic violence among college and high school athletes.

Stanford’s Response

The lawsuit against Stanford University names the Stanford Board of Trustees and several administrators specifically:

Marc Tessier-Lavigne, President

Lisa Caldera, Associate Dean, Office of Residential Education

Tiffany Gabrielson. Associate Dean of Students and Director of the Office of Community Standards

Alyce Haley, Assistant Dean of Students, Office of Community Standards

Susie Brubaker-Cole, Vice Provost for Student Affairs

Debra Zumwalt, General Counsel

“Defendants cannot escape the consequences of their actions,” the lawsuit concludes. “They must be held accountable, not only to satisfy the demands of justice, but just as importantly to discourage such flagrantly irresponsible actions and/or inactions (and the actions and/or inactions of others who Defendants control) from being perpetrated on vulnerable students like Katie Meyer and others in the future.”

An unsigned Stanford communication responding to the lawsuit posted November 25 and updated December 1 on the university’s website stated: “We strongly disagree with any assertion that the university is responsible for her death. We plan to fully defend the university and named defendants against the allegations in the complaint.”

The statement said that the university launched the conduct review as a matter of routine after receiving a complaint about Meyer’s alleged behavior that resulted in a physical injury. The review entailed extensive factfinding and the opportunity for “both sides” to provide information, it said. “It is important to emphasize that we are committed to supporting students through the student judicial process under OCS, and we did so in this case,” the statement said.

In the correspondence on the night of her death, the statement said, Meyer was explicitly told that the charge was “not a determination that she did anything wrong.” It said that when Meyer emailed OCS after receiving the email and letter, the office responded within an hour and offered to meet with her; and they mutually agreed on an appointment three days later. As for further support, the statement said Meyer was given a number to call for immediate support and was specifically told that this resource was available to her 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The statement said the university denied the allegation that OCS did not communicate with Katie prior to the night of her death February 28—although the lawsuit had said the lack of communication stretched from November 21 to February 25, not February 28, which the statement did not dispute.

The statement made no response to the lawsuit’s assertion that Stanford breached its duty of care to Meyer by failing to repair an institutional disciplinary process that administrators knew was  punitive and inflicted inappropriate, unnecessary distress on students.

Addressing the allegation that Stanford did not pursue discipline in a sexual assault claim against the male athlete in the coffee spilling incident, the statement said that the university reported the claim that “a football player kissed one of Katie’s soccer teammates without her permission” to Stanford’s Title IX office and to the police. But it said that the Title IX office “did not pursue the matter since the criteria for moving forward with an investigation were not met.”

If you or someone you know feels the need to speak with a mental health professional, you can call or text the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 9-8-8, or contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741-741.