Civil trial over Penn suicide could shed light on a university’s responsibility for student mental health

The case could expose the inner workings at the school's counseling center and begin to answer questions about just how much responsibility a university has for its students' mental health.

A civil trial in the case of a former University of Pennsylvania student who died by suicide after the campus failed, her parents say, to adequately respond to her pleas for help started Tuesday in Philadelphia.

Ao “Olivia” Kong, a Central High School graduate, was a 21-year-old student at Wharton when she went to the SEPTA station at 40th and Market Streets on an early April morning in 2016 to end her life.

Her parents, Xianguo Kong and Zhao Lin, sued the university in 2018, alleging that in the days before her death, Penn officials, including a psychiatrist and counselors, were told at least nine times, including by Kong herself, that she was stressed and suicidal. But the school failed to notify her parents, get Kong hospitalized, or otherwise intervene, the suit said.

Penn has denied that it is culpable and said the university’s professionals made multiple efforts to help Kong, giving her counseling, support, and resources, available at all times.

Read more from The Philadelphia Inquirer.

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