Northern Michigan University: Ban on Students Discussing Self-Harm with Peers

Category: Free Speech
Schools: Northern Michigan University

In fall 2015, the Northern Michigan University (NMU) community responded with outrage after an email from the administration threatening a student with disciplinary action if they shared “self-destructive” thoughts with other students circulated on social media. The NMU administration later acknowledged that it sent similar warnings to 25 to 30 students per semester. NMU student Katerina Klawes—who herself received such a warning—created a Change.org petition calling on NMU for reform that received local media attention and over 2,000 signatures in just 24 hours.

The community’s response led NMU to pledge to respond to input and improve its practices. However, as of September 2016, NMU had still not announced an end to the practice of prohibiting students from discussing thoughts of self-harm with their peers. FIRE wrote to NMU on August 25, 2016, reminding the administration that a public university is bound to respect students’ right to speak on the topics of their choice and calling on NMU to publicly reassure its students they will not face disciplinary action for reaching out to friends and peers for help in difficult times. NMU did not respond to FIRE’s letter.

On September 26, 2016, NMU finally state publicly that it will discontinue its long-standing practice of forbidding students from discussing thoughts of self-harm with others. NMU’s announcement came just days after FIRE issued a national press release calling on the university to end this unconstitutional practice.