After three deaths of first-year students, Dartmouth tries to bolster mental health support

  • On a warm spring night, Dartmouth College students gather on the Green on Friday, May 21, 2021, in Hanover N.H. The college announced it is relaxing COVID-19 restriction on campus gatherings as a part of a broader effort to support students' mental health. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to valley news — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/22/2021 12:22:05 AM
Modified: 5/22/2021 12:22:01 AM

HANOVER — Dartmouth College officials on Friday said they are rolling back some COVID-19 restrictions in dorms to allow students more opportunities to socialize with each other following the third unexpected death this school year of a member of the freshman class.

College officials said they were also adding options for addressing academic issues and increasing mental health support, including for suicide prevention.

“The pandemic has exacerbated many problems, but foremost among them has been mental health,” Dartmouth President Phil Hanlon, Provost Joseph Helble and six deans said in a message to students, employees and parents of undergraduates late Friday afternoon. “On this critical issue, we must do more to support our community.”

Several students have said they are concerned about the effects that the pandemic has had on their classmates’ mental health and the college’s response.

“Everyone’s just really socially isolated,” said Jaymie Wei, a Dartmouth junior who is currently living in Boston but plans to return to campus this summer.

Dartmouth, like many others around the country, has labored to keep students apart in order to prevent the transmission of COVID-19, while also helping them navigate the resulting isolation.

The expanded mental health services announced Friday come on top of previous efforts to bolster such support for students both on and off campus earlier this year.

Under the newly relaxed restrictions the administrators announced, students will now be allowed to host two guests who also live on campus in their dorm rooms at a time.

They continue to be allowed to gather in groups as large as nine indoors and outdoors and schedule formal gatherings of up to 25. As vaccination rates increase, the school has said it is preparing for a normal return to campus in the fall. For students who are struggling academically, the college extended deadlines for electing a non-recording grade option or an incomplete.

To increase students’ access to care, the college is adding a second nurse to the on-call staffing at Dartmouth Health Service.

That person will be tasked with answering incoming calls and questions, with the aim of reducing the chance that students will be routed to voicemail when they’re seeking support.

In addition, the college is seeking to add two new counselors and a student wellness coordinator to expand mental health services for students.

The two counselors will be tasked with suicide prevention training and clinical capacity for individual therapy, while the student wellness coordinator will be focused on culture change and skill-building, particularly for students living on campus.

The college’s changes came as members of the school community were still processing the news of the unexpected death of Dartmouth freshman Elizabeth Reimer, of Long Island, N.Y., at her home on Wednesday. Reimer’s death came following two other deaths of freshman this school year: Beau DuBray from the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe in South Dakota died by suicide on campus in November, and Connor Tiffany from Virginia died in Boston in March.

Additionally, Lamees Kareem, a junior from Saudi Arabia, died in April of a medical condition not related to COVID-19.

Kerin Mickenberg, the parent of a Dartmouth senior, said she and other parents have been upset by the deaths and concerned about students’ isolation amid the COVID-19 restrictions.

“It’s been pretty awful,” she said.

Though she said the changes the college announced on Friday may be “too late,” she welcomed them.

Administrators “seemed to be addressing it head-on,” she said. “They seem to be paying attention.”

About 30 friends and classmates of Reimer’s held a vigil on the Dartmouth Green on Friday evening, placing candles before a trifold board with photographs of her. They declined to comment.

Other students were also on the Green, which has become a prime outlet for students in the pandemic.

“We definitely need to have conversations about what we need to do next but we also need to make sure we don’t forget that a student just lost their life,” said Darren Nelson, a Dartmouth sophomore who said he didn’t know Reimer personally.

The college has scheduled a candlelight vigil for the Dartmouth community on Tuesday at 8 p.m. on the Green.

The bells in Baker Tower will chime each hour from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. that night in memory of the four students who have died this school year and to recognize other losses.

The administrators urged members of the community to “care for one another,” by checking in on friends and colleagues.

If you or someone you know might be at risk for suicide, contact The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24/7 at 1-800-273-8255.

Frances Mize contributed to this report. Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at or 603-727-3213.

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