George Washington University Settles Lawsuit Brought by Student Barred for Depression

George Washington University announced a legal settlement yesterday with Jordan Nott, a former student who sued after he was barred from campus because of potentially suicidal behavior. Nott’s case, filed last fall, opened a national dialogue about how colleges should handle troubled students whose conduct could pose a threat to themselves or others. Nott said, in a joint statement with the university, that he hoped his experience “will result in positive changes in how student mental health issues are handled at campuses across the country.” Nott, 21, checked himself into GWU Hospital in October 2004 for depression and suicidal thoughts. Within hours, the university informed him in a letter that his “endangering behavior” violated the student code of conduct. He withdrew from the school after being barred from his dorm.

In a lawsuit against the institution and individuals involved, Nott argued that the university’s actions only heightened the risk of a suicide it should have been trying to prevent. The terms of settlement are confidential. GWU officials “have spent the better part of the past two years looking at that process” and at how the school might better serve students who could harm themselves or others in the academic community, said spokeswoman Tracy Schario. Karen Bower, one of Nott’s attorneys, said in a statement that she hoped the case and others would “prompt universities to adopt policies that do not penalize students for seeking mental health treatment.” Bower is staff attorney with the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. John F. Williams, the GWU provost, said that “while we recognize that some steps in the process may not have been perfect, we stand by the result.”

— Daniel de Vise