Law Symposium to Explore Violence on College Campuses

Lexington, VA • Thursday, October 22, 2009

Criminal Justice Clinic
Listen as Prof. Ann Masie, professor of law and symposium organizer, discusses some of the important events and legal disputes involving colleges and troubled students.

Symposium Website
A symposium at Washington and Lee University’s School of Law will explore recent violence on college campuses from the perspective of psychology, medical science and the law.

“Violence on Campus: Students Who Are a Danger to Self or Others and Appropriate Institutional Responses” will be held on Friday, Nov. 6, in the School of Law and will feature presentations by Gary Pavela, a well-know authority on campus suicide, and Lucinda Roy, an English professor at Virginia Tech who served as tutor for Seung-Hui Cho, who killed 32 people in the worst mass shooting in U.S. history, along with panel discussions.

The day-long symposium is free and open to the public.

In the United States, the last decade has been largely defined by violent events. With the exception of the 9/11 attacks, most of these tragedies have involved violence on school grounds. From Columbine to Virginia Tech, people hear these names and remember where they were when they heard the news.

In the wake of these tragedies, institutions have come under intense scrutiny for both their preparedness and their response to such incidents. Composed of adult, independent populations, colleges and Universities in particular have struggled with how to head off violence on campus, whether in the form of student suicide or a student endangering the lives of others.

Conference organizer and W&L law professor Ann Massie has written extensively on this topic and developed a legal theory that places at least some responsibility on the shoulders of campus personnel to intervene when a student is in crisis.

“The doctrine of in loco parentis is a thing of the past,” says Massie. “Colleges and universities no longer see themselves as responsible for their students and have also relied on federal privacy laws to defend their actions in cases of student suicide.”

But recent court proceedings in Virginia and elsewhere have caused institutions to rethink their ad-hoc approach to dealing with troubled students. Some courts have recognized that a special relationship exists between a college or university and its students, and that knowledge gained by administrators about students in crisis puts them in a position to take positive steps to head off tragedy.

The symposium will begin with Pavela, author of Questions and Answers on College Student Suicide: A Law and Policy Perspective and currently director of the Syracuse University Academic Integrity Office. The title of Pavela’s lecture is "College Suicide: A Law and Policy Perspective.” A discussion will follow concentrating on students who are a danger to themselves and examining interventions that campus personnel might make to identify at-risk students and help them before disaster strikes.

The afternoon session will be keynoted by Roy, an alumni distinguished professor of English at Virginia Tech and author of No Right to Remain Silent in which she writes about her experiences with Cho. The following panel will focus on students who pose a threat to others and the steps that institutions of higher education should take to ensure their students’ safety.

“Research on the brain development of early college-aged adults shows they are not as mature as we think they are despite that the fact that they are legal adults,” says Massie. “Given that, it is more than reasonable to insist the colleges have a role to play in keeping students safe from themselves and each other.”

Panelists will be Daryl Lapp, a Boston lawyer who represented MIT in several cases dealing with suicides committed by students on that campus; Ann Pollinger Haas, director of prevention projects for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in New York; Eileen Ryan, medical director for the Institute of Law, Psychiatry & Public Policy at the University of Virginia; Bela Sood , chair of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Virginia Treatment Center for Children in the Department of Psychiatry at Medical College of Virginia Hospitals in Richmond; Richard Brusca, a lawyer in Washington, D.C., who advised the Virginia Tech Governor's Review Panel during its work; and Donald Challis, Chief of Police at The College of William and Mary and an expert on campus security.

For the complete symposium schedule, visit

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