New Jersey Colleges Might Have To Disclose Their Data About On-Campus Suicides

The legislation was drafted in response to the death of Madison Holleran at the University of Pennsylvania.
Credit: Mel Evans/Associated Press. State Sen. Kevin O'Toole (R-N.J.) is seen Monday, March 3, 2008, in Trenton, New Jersey.

New Jersey may soon require colleges and universities in the state to disclose how many of their students have committed or attempted to commit suicide.

Two new bills cleared the state Senate Higher Education Committee last week, and will now proceed to the full New Jersey Senate for further consideration.

The Madison Holleran Suicide Prevention Act (SB 2808) would demand that colleges make "individuals with training and experience in mental health issues" available to students around the clock. The Proper Reporting Act (SB 2809) would require schools to disclose information about the number of attempted and completed suicides on campus. Both bills are sponsored by state Sen. Kevin O'Toole (R).

"As a parent of a child about to enter his freshman year of college, the thought of not having resources available to a young adult is unacceptable to me," O'Toole told The Huffington Post in an email.

The language in SB 2808 calls for students to be able to visit or speak remotely to trained individuals at any time. The individuals would "focus on reducing student suicides and attempted suicides." A separate version of the bill, filed in the state Assembly, calls for "licensed health care professionals" to be available to students. The Senate version strikes this language and simply calls for "individuals."

"The intent was to make sure that people available to students are trained/certified in suicide prevention and not to limit it to just health care professionals," O'Toole told HuffPost when asked about the altered language in the Senate bill.

If passed, the law would take effect at the start of the 2016-2017 school year, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

The legislation was originally introduced by Assemblyman Scott Rumana (R). Both Rumana and O'Toole said they were touched by the story of Madison Holleran, a University of Pennsylvania freshman who died by suicide in January 2014. Holleran was a native of New Jersey.

UPenn was criticized following Holleran's death for only disclosing some -- not all -- of the student suicides that had happened that year. There have been seven suicides at UPenn in the past two years, according to The Daily Pennsylvanian.

"Despite the terrible sadness we still feel, and will continue to feel, about losing Madison, I am hopeful that when we swiftly enact this legislation, fellow parents will be reassured that powerful suicide prevention and awareness programs are right around the corner," O'Toole wrote on his website last month.

O'Toole worked with Rumana to introduce the Proper Reporting bill, which would require colleges to disclose their suicide statistics in an effort to inform administrators, parents, students and legislators about the importance of addressing mental health.

"If, through these efforts, we can save a life or help someone who is struggling, then we have done our jobs and helped create a positive legacy in honor of Madison Holleran," Rumana wrote in an email to HuffPost.

Although the state Senate has not yet scheduled a vote for the bills, O'Toole told HuffPost he anticipates the legislation will pass both chambers of the legislature by the end of the year.

"I am hopefully [sic] this commonsense legislation will be passed quickly and signed by the Governor and in place at every college or university in New Jersey immediately," he wrote.

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Last month, when the bills passed through the state Senate Higher Education Committee, the New Jersey Association of State Colleges and Universities issued a statement expressing its reservations about the disclosure requirement:

While we appreciate the sponsor’s desire to prevent suicides on campus, we do not believe that this information would be helpful to current students or to prospective students or their parents. The information required by the bill is potentially misleading, because it presumes that there is a correlation between what services the school provides and the number of suicides or attempted suicides on campus. That is certainly not the case. Moreover, the information would not give the public a true representation of what services are available at the institution and what has been or will be provided to students in need of support.

In addition, we have been informed by experts that publications of this information could have the unintended effect of either glamorizing suicide, or contributing to the suicide contagion effect.

HuffPost reached out to a number of New Jersey colleges and universities to get their thoughts on the legislation.

Princeton University said in a statement that the school was "supportive of the Madison Holleran Suicide Prevention Act as amended by the Senate Higher Ed Committee and we are in compliance with the standards outlined in the legislation."

"Princeton University is a member of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in New Jersey (AICUNJ)," the statement continued, "which provided input when the Senate Committee considered the bill."

Rutgers University declined to comment on pending legislation.
This story has been updated to include comments from Princeton and Rutgers.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
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