Friday, December 28, 2007

In loco parentis

Colleges should stand in loco parentis to their students, but when it comes to eating disorders and psychiatric illnesses, they rarely do.

So three cheers for this Cornell University custodian, who went above and beyond the call of duty to get help when she suspected that a student had bulimia.

We've got a long way to go, though. What if the student had refused treatment? Would the college call her parents? Probably not in this current privacy-oriented climate.

Well, it's a start.

12 comments:

Nicole said...

I don't disagree with your overall point, but the fact is that colleges don't (and in the case of public institutions, cannot by law) stand in loco parentis. That all changed in the 1970s with the introduction of strict higher education privacy laws that recognized college students as independent adults. Whether or not that was a good decision is up for debate, but the law is not.

My husband has an advanced degree and considerable professional experience in higher education administration, and I know there were times that he really wanted to call parents about things going on with their kids but could not. He would have been breaking the law. The same is true all the way down the line to RAs. It's not at all the case that these officials and student workers don't care about their charges, just that they are bound by law to protect their privacy.

Rachel said...

I received an abysmal response and incompetent treatment from my university when I tried to seek out help for my eating disorder and depression. And this from a university that also operates a level-five, world-renowned hospital.

I did enlist the help of a sympathetic professor, who I later discovered, also battled an eating disorder in her 20s. Her assistance was invaluable in me seeking out recovery. But I have to say, if she had ever called my parents at any point, the result would have been counterproductive. All trust would have been lost between us and I probably would have gone in an opposite direction than recovery.

So, it's somewhat of a balancing act: How do we help students get the help they need while maintaining their right to privacy? (This is, of course, excluding cases in which the student threatens imminent harm to either others or themselves)

I'm all for offering students the help they need, but if the student refuses treatment, what then? Do we ban and exile students, such as the University of Colorado did to Brittany Bethel? The University of Colorado withstanding, it's not such an easy answer for many colleges and universities.

Anonymous said...

In loco parentis
Colleges should stand in loco parentis to their students, but when it comes to eating disorders and psychiatric illnesses, they rarely do.

So three cheers for this Cornell University custodian, who went above and beyond the call of duty to get help when she saw that a student was fat.

We've got a long way to go, though. What if the student had refused to have the intestinal bypass? Would the college call her parents? Probably not in this current privacy-oriented climate.

Well, it's a start.

Harriet said...

anonymous,
being fat will not kill you. anorexia and bulimia will. your analogy does not hold.

i'm well aware of the laws around in loco parentis for colleges. i'm all for respecting boundaries, but not in the case of serious illnesses, especially anosognosic ones like e.d.s, where sufferers usually cannot acknowledge they have a problem and need help. college students are not adults; their brains are still developing.

i'd want to know if it were my child.

Nicole said...

Harriet, I would too. But what I'm saying is that it's not an abdication of responsibility on the college's part, it's the law. If we don't like the laws, we should work to change them. And to say that they "should stand in loco parentis" is in direct conflict with those laws.

Anonymous said...

I have a friend who went to a private college on a sports scholarship.

She was forced into treatment ...and her parents were informed.

If her parents had believed she had an ED, it might have been more effective, but it took till she was 3 or 4 years out of college and willing to seek help on her own to really get some help. All she did was resent the college, the town and the treatment center.

Harriet said...

Nicole,
I know. I just wish the moral law superseded the human ones. Especially when they're stupid.

anon, why didn't her parents believe she had an ed? I can't imagine not believing that, as a parent.

Anonymous said...

Harriet,

Denial is a strong factor. My mother, my father did not either.

In her case, it was "My perfect daughter *NEVER*!!" How dare you suggest my perfect family be soiled by such a disorder!

(SHE ACTUALLY USED THE WORD SOILED in front of her daughter with the therapist ... I kid you not ... can you imagine the pressure that put on the daughter?)

Appearances were everything. Perfection was a must.

Harriet said...

Anon,

All families go through denial. We did too. In our case it wasn't about losing perfection; it was not understanding that our highly intelligent, super-rational child could be acting so irrationally. We did not understand the illness. Once we did understand it we also understood that she was in the grip of a delusion that had nothing to do with her intelligence or comprehension. Then we were able to move past denial and into action.

I think each family has to go through that step. It sounds like your parents were very shocked and said hurtful things. I am sorry for you . . . I can also see how it might happen. Not to excuse, just to try to understand.

I hope things got better in your family.

Dreaming again said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I'm not a teenager ... but a parent now ... my oldest now an adult. (18, gulp). I'm in my 40's ... can't even say my early 40's anymore. Sigh.

my friend, now in her mid 20's. She had to almost die from drug addiction before they would finally admit their little girl was not perfect. She is finally getting help ...and family support. *grin*

My father, will never accept me. It's his loss. Then again, he left the day my mother found out she was pregnant with me ...so he can give all the excuses for rejecting me he wants to ..they are all excuses ...he's choosing to reject me out of his own evilness. I realized that when I was 39 ...no matter what I do ..I look exactly like his abusive mother ..and he left before he knew me ..it's all just excuses. it's HIS problems, not mine.

*I* have the support of a loving husband and 2 beautiful teenaged boys who do support me.

I've chosen to remain anonymous on these comments on the off chance my friend or her family sees these comments to protect HER identity.

Harriet said...

I won't make excuses for pathological families. I know there are plenty of them.

I'm glad your friend has finally gotten help . . . even if it nearly cost her her life.

Good for you for identifying your father's issues as his.