Northern Michigan University under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for self-harm policy

MARQUETTE — The U.S. Department of Justice – Civil Rights Division has opened an investigation into Northern Michigan University’s self-harm policy, NMU Vice President of Communications Derek Hall confirmed this evening.

A discrimination complaint was filed with the DOJ in July. Karen Bower, one of the attorneys for the unnamed complainant, said it was filed with the DOJ’s disability rights division.

The redacted complaint, posted Wednesday on the website for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, states in part that NMU discriminated against the student by threatening to disenroll them for “discussing mental disability and imposing on conditions of enrollment that are needlessly onerous and intrusive, which are not imposed on students without disabilities or with physical disabilities.”

Hall said the case is the same one filed in 2013 with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.

Hall said NMU worked with the Office of Civil Rights in a mediation process, cooperating with interviews and requests for information, then did not hear anything from them. Then NMU received a letter in October from the DOJ stating their intention to begin an investigation, he said.

“As far as I know they haven’t conducted any interviews or collected anything, but the case that they’re talking about was originally filed in fall of 2013, so we’re not surprised by the case,” Hall said.

NMU’s mental health policies and procedures were called into question in November 2015 after a widely publicized student-led campaign and online petition garnered more than 2,800 signatures.

The controversy centered around an e-mail from the university warning students they could face disciplinary action for involving other students in suicidal or self-destructive thoughts that was circulated on social media.

NMU released a statement in September saying the policy had been changed beginning in 2016.

“From Northern’s perspective, we’re eager to cooperate and look forward to a resolution of this case that started in 2013,” Hall said. “This is kind of related back to 2011, a lot of the rules changed, and we’ve been — us and other institutions — have been asking, you know, what are we supposed to do in certain situations? And we’re hoping this investigation will clarify what we should do with our policies and our practices.”

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