Campus Free Speech

Northern Michigan University Might Have the 'Most Dangerous' Speech Code Ever

Students are prohibited from talking about their suicidal thoughts with others.


Antonio Guillem / Dreamstime

Greg Lukianoff, president of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, writes that Northern Michigan University might just have "the most dangerous college speech code I've seen in my career."

Yeah, it's that bad.

NMU prohibits students from sharing "self-destructive thoughts" with other people, even their close friends. In practice, this means that NMU administrators have informed students who were going through difficult emotional episodes that they are prohibited from discussing such issues with other students.

According to New York Magazine's Jesse Singal, on March 25, 2015, Associate Dean of Students Mary Brundage told student Katerina Klawes who had been sexually assaulted and was seeking counseling "it is important that you refrain from discussing these issues with other students and use the appropriate resources listed below. If you involve other students in suicidal or self-destructive thoughts or actions you will face disciplinary action."

And Klawes wasn't the only one to receive such a warning. As recently as summer orientation 2016, incoming freshmen were told that talking about self-harming was prohibited, according to FIRE.

There's no sound medical reason to ban people from talking about self-harming. Students who are experiencing suicidal thoughts should talk about them—it's the first step toward getting help. The university seems to be concerned that permitting such discussions somehow promotes suicidal tendencies, but there's no science to back up that concern. It's much more dangerous to stigmatize people who are suffering emotionally and make them feel like they can't turn to their friends for help.

The policy also obviously violates students' free speech rights.

"NMU is imposing a gag order on students at a time when a conversation with a friend may be most needed," said FIRE Senior Program Officer Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon in a statement. "Preventing students from simply reaching out to each other for help cuts off the most basic exercise of the right to speak freely."

The university should reverse itself immediately and make clear to students that they will not be sanctioned for talking about their mental health issues.