Transcendent Complications: Suicide and Sexual Violence

Disability is not disease. However, neurological difference can coincide with illness. Variations in human neurology include those that have been associated with mental health disorders identified in the 5th edition of the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Some of these variations are associated with increased risk for attempting and completing suicide. Many of these disorders involving decline typically emerge during college age years. Increased risk of suicide is associated with poor academic performance in higher education (De Luca et al. 2016). Higher Education holds an ethical obligation to dedicate appropriate resources toward facilitating suitable mental health care as well as emergency intervention services to mitigate the risk to the students on college and university campuses.

Suicide prevention programs and protocols should be incorporated into management of formal student organizations. First, a focus on as inclusive and expansive as possible outreach puts a greater proportion of the student body in contact with others, creating some degree of protection against potentially deadly isolation. Second, the variety of settings in which peers interact with each other in student groups provides more observational data points, increasing the potential for detection of symptoms of depression. Of course, carefully constructed notification protocols and judicious response on the part of expert personnel are also required so as to avoid creating new barriers to neurodiversity through the public or repeated intrusion on the lives of students with ways of being that mimic depression in the opinion of peers or personnel with limited experience in neurodiversity.

Peer interactions on college and university campuses also involve the development of adult interactions, including sexual relationships. In recent years, tensions around the appropriate management of sexual violence on campuses have risen (Maiuro 2015). Under recent interpretations of Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Public Law No. 92-318, 86 Stat. 235 (June 23, 1972) greater responsibility for the prevention of and appropriate responses to sexual violence on the part of colleges and universities exists. As of this writing, colleges and universities actively struggle with developing workable and effective programs to address sexual violence. Intersections with neurodiversity and peer interactions represent an under-recognized component of this work. Certain conditions associated with neurodiversity have been historically (and often exceedingly unfairly) connected with hypersexuality. Furthermore, individuals employing nonstandard approaches to peer interaction may find their sexual intentions misinterpreted, especially by young people who are either still learning about their sexuality or, often, under the influence of alcohol or other drugs. While higher education has made significant strides in recognizing the need for sexual assault prevention, there has yet to be an equivalent cultural shift to indicate the importance of values and respect needed to honor an individual’s expression of sexuality or their expression of consent. At the same time, expansion of administrative policies and diversity- oriented student programs in support of healthy sexual development in the young people attending colleges and universities can be developed and implemented to expand student understanding of sexual health.

Full consideration of both suicide and sexual violence in higher education are beyond the scope of this text. However, enhancing neurodiversity in higher education requires dedicating specific attention to protection of rights around neurodiversity in national, state, and administrative policies designed to address these issues likely to be developed as public concern about these issues rises. Addressing fears of harm cannot be confused with nurturing fears of difference. Harmful peer interactions exist in higher education. Policy will only stand a decent chance of genuinely reducing harm if realities rather than myths surrounding neurological difference guide the formulation of multi-level policy design.

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