Colleges and universities rally behind suicide prevention legislation

Student Suicide Prevention Act proposed


New York State legislators are hearing loud voices coming from Long Island colleges and universities, who are demanding that recently proposed legislation for schools include provisions for higher education as well.

Student-led policy advocacy organization One More Option hosted a rally at Stony Brook University on Feb. 23 to draw attention to the need for a New York State student suicide prevention law that would apply to colleges and universities.

This comes as the current proposed bill, which is known as the Student Suicide Prevention Act, only focuses on K-12 schools.

Vignesh Subramanian, a Stony Brook student and founder of One More Option, has been heavily involved in these efforts.

“Problems related to suicide and mental health aren’t limited to grade school,” the biology and psychology double major said. “Students in higher education have very similar and related needs, so there’s no clear logic in limiting laws that require schools and staff to be prepared to deal with these types of crisis situations to be only limited in scope to K-12 schools.”

Subramanian said the proposals to amend the Student Suicide Prevention Act go beyond providing guidelines for college and university staff to help intervene in a crisis. Residential staff, such as student resident assistants, would be mandated to get trained in gatekeeper suicide prevention training, such as QPR (Question, Persuade, and Refer).

“It’s really just about expanding proximity to people who are equipped to help,” he said. “Instead of having to walk across campus to a counseling center or having to make an appointment that they have to wait weeks to get, they can walk down the hallway.”

Another proposed addition to the Student Suicide Prevention Act is to require colleges and universities to post information about mental health resources on their websites and in handbooks for new and returning students.

“There should never really be a time when someone says, I don’t know where to turn for help, if resources are clearly visible and universities have taken all of the steps to make them visible,” Subramanian said.

Delegations from local institutions, such as Hofstra University and Suffolk County Community College, were also in attendance to share personal experiences and voice their desires for the new legislation to be enacted.

“It’s really unprecedented in scope,” Subramanian said. “There’s never been a coalition of this size with so many student governments in different systems and regions of the state, cooperating on a single issue and uniting behind a single legislative proposal.”

Stony Brook University president Maurie McInnis was one of the school officials who was there to address the rally.

“I commend the tireless efforts of Stony Brook’s Undergraduate Student Government and other student leaders on our campus as well as their peers across New York State, who are shining a bright light on the critical issue of suicide prevention,” she said.

New York State Sen. Anthony Palumbo expressed his support to students who are spreading awareness about the need for suicide prevention procedures on college campuses.

“While this issue predates the pandemic, COVID has exacerbated the state’s mental health demands,” he said. “I am proud to stand with Stony Brook University students and college and university students from throughout the state to address these concerns and provide enhanced support for mental health services.”

In addition, Stony Brook’s Undergraduate Student Government president Devin Lobosco read remarks from state assemblyman Edward Flood, who was unable to attend the rally due to an illness.

“The issue of student suicide is one that deeply affects us all,” Flood said in his statement. “We can no longer just talk about the problem—we must take action, share insights, and with our collective wisdom we can create a safer, more supportive environment for our students.”

While Subramanian noted the success of the rally, he also acknowledged the slowdown in amending the Student Suicide Prevention Act. This prompted him and the other members of the coalition to propose a new bill that would only apply to colleges and universities called the College Student Suicide Prevention Act.

“At least two-dozen lawmakers who were interested in backing the initial bill that would have been amended to include our proposals are now shifting their support to this new bill,” he said. “We just finalized the edits on the new bill.”

Noting that there is more work to be done, Subramanian said that he is hopeful that the proposed bill will make its way through the higher education committee.

“We know that the political process takes a long time,” he said. “But knowing that so many lawmakers are in our corner from so many different walks of life is really heartening. I think we are going to make a lot of progress.”

The College Student Suicide Prevention Act is set to be submitted for introduction early next week.

Anthony Johnson is a reporter with The SBU Media Group, part of Stony Brook University’s School of Communication and Journalism’s Working Newsroom program for students and local media.


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