In 2000, Massachusetts Institution of Technology sophomore Elizabeth Shin committed suicide in her dorm room by lighting herself on fire.

Quickly after Shin’s suicide, her parents sued the university for wrongful death.

Suicide ranks second in the causes of death of college students, claiming 1,100 lives each year, according to an article in People Magazine’s December issue.

With the heightening threat of liability lawsuits against schools, universities nationwide have begun to take a more proactive approach toward the psychological well-being of their students.

Schools, such as George Washington University in Washington, D.C., forbid students who pose physical harm to themselves and possibly mental harm to others from living on campus

At Fairfield, the student handbook says, “In matters that are not related to student conduct but rather speak to the health, safety or welfare of a student or the community, the dean or designee(s) may take whatever action necessary to alleviate that concern, up to and including removing the student from the University.”

But Dr. Elise Harrison, assistant director of Fairfield University’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS) said this action is uncommon.

“In rare cases, a student is required to take an involuntary withdrawal when Fairfield University is concerned that the student’s safety and welfare cannot be accommodated here,” said Harrison.

CPS is responsible for helping students who are in psychological distress. It provides free, confidential psychotherapy for any student feeling depressed or suicidal.

“When a student becomes suicidal, our emphasis is on the safety and care of the individual student. Each situation is considered individually,” said Harrison.

She added: “Students are most often taken to a local emergency room. A thorough evaluation and recommendation by a psychiatrist is carefully considered. In most cases, the psychiatrist, parents, the student and CPS staff discuss the best course of action.”

CPS gives a National Depression Screening every October and encourages students to attend. If one attains a high score it may indicate that the individual is depressed.

Other colleges are also taking positive routes to help students such as a raffle for a free iPod for those who fill out a depression survey and the installation of counselors in dorms for easier access.

Students, including Stephanie Clapp, ’10, said they feel comfortable knowing that Fairfield is aware of how prevalent suicide is on college campuses.

“I think Fairfield takes a good stance on the issue,” she said. “If a student is depressed they should try to work through it and with the counseling services on campus. Students are provided with a different support system than the one they might find at home.”

No matter what steps schools take to help their students, Harrison said it is vital for family and friends to take note when a loved one seems to be depressed or is contemplating taking his or her own life.

According to, a Web site in partnership with Fairfield University that informs students about depression, suicide and other physical or mental illnesses, there are warning signs that loved ones may be depressed including change in appetite and sleeping patterns, fatigue or loss of energy, difficulty concentrating, and recurrent thoughts of death.

“When a friend or family member talks about suicide take it very seriously,” said Harrison. “Suicide is [about] life and death. Get help. Don’t try to deal with your friend’s struggle alone.”

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