University of Pennsylvania ignored suicidal student's pleas for help, parents say in lawsuit

Christie Ileto Image
Wednesday, April 11, 2018
Parents of student who commited suicide file suit against UPenn
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Parents of student who commited suicide file suit against UPenn: Christie Ileto reports on Action News at 11 p.m., April 10, 2018

PHILADELPHIA, Pennsylvania -- Cameras at SEPTA's 40th Street Station captured the last time University of Pennsylvania junior Olivia Kong was seen alive.

In April of 2016, she climbed down onto the tracks and was hit by an oncoming train.

Kong is one of 14 Penn students to commit suicide since 2013.

Her parents have now filed a lawsuit against the university for allegedly discarding her repeated cries for help.

"Some people were listening, some people were calling CAPS and saying this is a kid who is in trouble," said Carol Nelson Shepherd, the attorney representing Kong's family. "The problem is the adequacy in a meaningfulness of the response."

Court documents, which cites Penn's own records, show Olivia had reached out to the university for help nine times in the days leading up to her death.

CAPS, Penn's Counseling and Psychological Service, allegedly never contacted her parents about her mental state.

"If anyone had told her parents, they would have said we'll be right there, we'll come pick her up, we'll take her to the hospital," Shepherd said.

The university told sister Action News in Philadelphia that it doesn't comment on pending litigation, but Kong's parents said in a statement:

"It's not just about placing responsibility where it belongs, but to bring changes in how Penn responds to troubled students who are feeling desperate."

The stigma associated with seeking therapy has led some students to coin the term "Penn Face," described as an attempt to mask signs of sadness or anxiety to avoid showing weakness.

"This is not a new issue for Penn," Shepherd said. "We hope Penn will really rethink their system for how to help these kids, who they acknowledge are in a highly competitive, pressure cooker situation."


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