Current seniors will still remember the death of Luke Z. Tang ’18 by suicide in 2015. It was a tragedy that deeply impacted the Harvard community and one that will be remembered for years to come. As students, this loss resonates with us — and we and our peers continue to offer our condolences to his family.
Three years later, Tang’s father filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the University. While it is still too early to draw any meaningful conclusions about the merits of the particular lawsuit, this suit broaches important questions about "contracts" and their role in students’ mental health management.
In order to ensure that students with mental illnesses are being treated fairly and with dignity, the University must take a cooperative role in the treatment process, allow students a chance to have a say in any necessary contracts regarding their treatment, and be transparent about its policies surrounding mental health.
Seeking necessary treatment can be difficult. While Harvard has every right to require students with mental health issues to seek treatment, the University must also recognize that these students may not be able to easily accomplish the requirements it sets forth. The University should therefore have the right personnel, efficient communication methods, and support as needed in place to enroll students in treatment and carry it out. By making the process collaborative, the University can avoid exacerbating any mental health issues, making sure the process is a truly healing one.
The lawsuit alleges that Tang took part in a contract that stipulated conditions for the continuation of his time at the College. While the details of this allegation have yet to be debated in the courtroom, the claim itself speaks to the importance of the University listening to student concerns when such a contract may be necessary. By allowing students presented with such a contract to voice their concerns over the treatment plan, administrators and counselors will be better able to understand the hardships that the student will face in keeping with the contract. Not only will the University be able to create a contract that is feasible for students and therefore become more effective, it may also be able to give students an important sense of control over their treatment plan and thus their relationship with the University.
Finally, it is crucial that the University be transparent about its policies regarding mental illness. This includes publicizing deadlines for requesting time off and defining what types of situations require administrative action. Most importantly, it involves making sure that students who do take time off are aware of what they need to do to come back and how they can accomplish those tasks, whether they be filing petitions to the Administrative Board or requesting housing.
In promising to treat students with dignity and respect patient rights, the University can create a healthier environment. Recovering from a mental illness is not an easy task, and administrative burdens can make recovery even more difficult. To ensure that students are able to take the necessary steps and truly heal, the University must take an active and empathetic role.
This staff editorial is the product of discussions at regular Editorial Board meetings. In order to ensure the impartiality of our journalism, Crimson editors who choose to opine and vote at these meetings are not involved in the reporting of articles on similar topics.
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