Supreme Court Justice Sotomayor Talks Justice, Civic Engagement at Radcliffe Day


Church Says It Did Not Authorize ‘People’s Commencement’ Protest After Harvard Graduation Walkout


‘Welcome to the Battlefield’: Maria Ressa Talks Tech, Fascism in Harvard Commencement Address


In Photos: Harvard’s 373rd Commencement Exercises


Rabbi Zarchi Confronted Maria Ressa, Walked Off Stage Over Her Harvard Commencement Speech

Lawyers Present Opening Arguments in Wrongful Death Trial Over 2015 Student Suicide

Superior Court Judge John P. Pappas presides over the first day of a wrongful death trial against a Harvard Counseling and Mental Health Service employee.
Superior Court Judge John P. Pappas presides over the first day of a wrongful death trial against a Harvard Counseling and Mental Health Service employee. By Joyce E. Kim
By Michelle N. Amponsah and Joyce E. Kim, Crimson Staff Writers

WOBURN, Mass. — Attorneys representing the estate of Luke Z. Tang ’18, a sophomore student who died by suicide on Harvard’s campus in 2015, told a jury on Tuesday that Harvard Counseling and Mental Health Service employee Melanie G. Northrop was negligent in her care for Tang.

Northrop’s attorneys, however, denied negligence, arguing that she fulfilled her duty of care to Tang. Opening arguments in the case began on Tuesday, with attorneys on both sides offering a summary of the facts of the case which was previously included in the lawsuit filed by Tang’s estate.

David W. Heinlein, an attorney for Tang’s parents, delivered the first opening statement, in which he argued that Northrop knew about Tang’s suicidal ideation but “did nothing.”

Heinlein identified three types of students who may be at risk of suicide — students who display warning signs, like prior suicide attempts, and are therefore the easiest to identify; students known to be at-risk but who display no warning signs; and those that are not known to be at-risk and display no warning signs. Heilein said Tang fell into the second category.

“Melanie Northrop knew about type 2 kids and Luke was one of them,” Heinlein said in his opening statement. “Northrop knew that Luke underreported, minimized his feelings, and wanted to rely on his friends and pastor for help.”

Tang was admitted to McLean Hospital in Belmont, Mass. for a week-long stay after an initial suicide attempt in April 2015. When the hospital discharged Tang around Apr. 29, 2015, he met with Northrop at Harvard University Health Services.

During that meeting, Tang told Northrop that he planned on going on a week-long retreat on May 17 with friends before spending the summer in China.

According to the suit, Northrop told Tang that he needed to seek out a support plan in China with his therapist and continue his treatment when he returned to the College and his dormitory in Lowell House. The suit states that between May 16, 2015 — the day he left for China — and the day he died, Sept. 12, 2015, Tang did not receive mental health treatment.

Heinlein described Northrop as the “only liaison” between Harvard and McLean Hospital, who had access to a “wealth of knowledge” about Tang’s condition and diagnosis but failed to adequately act on that knowledge.

“Melanie Northrop did not exercise care. She failed to comply with the standard of care by the average qualified social worker case manager,” he said.

“What she did is let this type 2 student self-diagnose, self-report, and self-treat, with the full understanding that Luke would not diagnose, report, or treat,” Heinlein added.

Heinlein reiterated the “harms and losses” of the suit, adding that there were two types of damages Tang’s family could recover — damages from Tang’s “conscious physical and mental pain and suffering” and punitive damages.

William J. Dailey III, the attorney representing Northrop alongside lawyer Victoria C. Goetz, argued in his opening argument that Tang showed “no warning signs” and “no symptoms” prior to dying by suicide.

“You can’t make a person go to therapy, but you can recommend them to go to therapy,” Dailey said. “At each and every point that Melanie Northrop had an encounter with Luke Tang, she encouraged him to be in therapy.”

Dailey said that Northrop did “what a case manager is supposed to do.”

When Tang finished his spring semester of his first year at Harvard, Dailey said Tang “did superb” and went on a retreat with his friends before leaving for China. Upon Tang’s return to Harvard from China in the fall, Dailey stressed multiple instances of Tang denying suicidal thoughts.

“There were no warning signs, there were no symptoms. He never reached out to my client,” Dailey added.

Dailey said that suicide is “an unfortunate fact of our society” and concluded his statement by asking the jury to answer with “good common sense” if Nothrop was negligent in her duties.

The trial comes after Tang’s father, Wendell W. Tang, filed a wrongful death lawsuit in 2018 against Harvard and several of its employees — Northrop, Senior Resident Dean Catherine R. Shapiro, and former Lowell House Resident Dean Caitlin M. Casey ’03 — alleging they were negligent in their duty to provide care for Tang after his initial suicide attempt in April 2015.

In a November 2022 decision, a judge allowed charges against Northrop — who was Tang’s case manager, responsible for coordinating Tang’s mental health treatment and resources — to move forward.

Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Brent A. Tingle ruled that Harvard, Shapiro, and Casey sufficiently satisfied their duty of care to Tang and dismissed the claims against Harvard and the two residential deans in December 2022. In January 2023, Tang’s family appealed the dismissal.

Superior Court Judge John P. Pappas, who is now presiding over the trial, allowed Harvard’s motion to not compel Harvard officials to testify in the trial. The trial is expected to last up to eight days.

If you or someone you know needs help at Harvard, contact Counseling and Mental Health Services at (617) 495-2042 or the Harvard University Police Department at (617) 495-1212. Several peer counseling groups offer confidential peer conversations. Learn more here.

You can contact a University Chaplain to speak one-on-one at or here.

You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

—Staff writer Michelle N. Amponsah can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @mnamponsah.

—Staff writer Joyce E. Kim can be reached at Follow her on X at @joycekim324.

Want to keep up with breaking news? Subscribe to our email newsletter.

CollegeHealthMental HealthFront FeatureCourtFront Middle FeatureLawsuits