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CAMHS Employee, Facing Wrongful Death Suit, Testifies She Followed ‘Standard Procedure’

CAMHS employee Melanie G. Northrop testified that she complied with standard
CAMHS employee Melanie G. Northrop testified that she complied with standard By Michelle N. Amponsah
By Azusa M. Lippit and Asher J. Montgomery, Crimson Staff Writers

WOBURN, Mass. — Harvard Counseling And Mental Health Services employee and defendant Melanie G. Northrop testified that she complied with “standard procedure” in providing for Luke Z. Tang ’18, an undergraduate who died by suicide in September 2015.

Still, Northrop admitted that she did not follow up with Tang about whether or not he would continue to see a therapist in their final meeting before he embarked on a summer trip to China. He died shortly after returning to campus from his trip.

Northrop’s Tuesday testimony was her first since the wrongful death trial began last week.

Tang’s parents first sued the University and several employees in 2018, accusing them of negligence in care for their son and demanding more than $20 million in damages. Though a judge dismissed the charges against Harvard and two other defendants in December 2022, he allowed the suit against Northrop — Tang’s case manager at the time — to proceed to trial.

David W. Heinlein, an attorney for the plaintiffs questioned Northrop about why she did not ensure that Tang scheduled follow-up therapy sessions after an initial suicide attempt in April 2015. Northrop continuously insisted that she “could not act” on Tang’s behalf “without his permission.”

Northrop was the last of three witnesses to testify Tuesday, alongside plaintiff and Tang’s father Wendell W. Tang and Reverend Larry Mynatt, a spiritual therapist on Tang’s treatment team. Friday featured emotional testimony from Tang’s mother and expert witness testimony about the extent of Tang’s suffering at the time of his death.

Northrop sat attentively with her hands in her lap in the front row during the first two witness testimonies. When it was her turn, questioning from Heinlein became a frustrated debate over language and characterizations.

Through the line of questioning by Heinlein, Northrop testified that Tang considered Mynatt “not a good fit” for him as a therapist. Heinlein asked Northrop why she did not ensure that Tang had set up an appointment with an alternative provider.

“You could’ve asked Luke to get on the phone with those providers right then and there and make an appointment, is that correct?” Heinlein asked, referring to a meeting between Tang and Northrop on April 29, 2015.

In response, Northrop reiterated that she encouraged Tang to further other treatment options, saying that there were available alternatives.

“I told you — I put my hand on the phone and I said, ‘Luke, if you want to start this process right now, we can start it right now,’” Northrop said. “And he said no.”

“He did not give me his permission,” Northrop added.

At the end of the meeting, Northrop insisted that she and Tang ultimately decided that he would continue to seek support from Mynatt, but conceded that she did not follow up on the situation in her last meeting with Tang on May 15, 2015.

Northrop, who served as a social worker and case manager for Tang, is listed as one of two “treatment team” members in a contract for Tang’s continued enrollment in the College — authored by Senior Resident Dean Catherine R. Shapiro, a defendant in the initial wrongful death lawsuit.

The contract stipulates that Tang should bring “concerns” to Harvard University Health Services or local healthcare professionals rather than “rely on friends or clergy.”

Heinlein asked if Northrop believed she could trust Tang’s characterization of his mental state and actions.

“Luke might not have had a sophisticated way to talk about feeling states, but I did not believe that Luke was lying to me,” Northrop said. “I believed that Luke was trying his best to engage with the process.”

Heinlein showed the jury an email that Northrop sent to Shapiro in late April in which she wrote, “I don’t think that Luke is a reliable reporter.”

The Tuesday proceedings began with witness testimony from Mynatt, who met twice with Tang in April and May, prior to his departure for a summer program in Beijing. Doctors from the mental health hospital McLean referred Tang to Mynatt, who specializes in spiritual therapy.

Mynatt said that while he provided Tang with an international messaging option, Tang did not contact him over the summer seeking support — nor when he returned back to school for the fall semester.

“It wasn’t surprising not to hear from Luke Tang immediately as the semester began,” Mynatt wrote in his notes on Sept. 15, according to documents exhibited in the trial. “Returning students often need a few weeks to settle into a school routine before resuming sessions.”

Mynatt also testified that he was never made aware that he was working on a “team” of providers, as is written in the contract for Tang’s continued enrollment in the college.

“As far as I knew, I was working solo,” Mynatt said.

Tang’s parents, who testified separately on Friday and Tuesday, were asked about Tang’s childhood, his relationship to his family, and previous depressive symptoms. His father said that after a visit following Tang’s first suicide attempt, he thought Tang “was in good hands.”

The trial is scheduled through Friday, though presiding Judge John P. Pappas said there is no definitive end date. Later this week, the plaintiffs will call former Lowell House Faculty Dean Diana L. Eck and former Lowell House Resident Dean Caitlin M. Casey ’03 to the stand, while defense lawyers will question former HUHS director Paul Barerra and cross-examine the plaintiff’s witnesses, including Northrop.

If you or someone you know needs help at Harvard, contact Counseling and Mental Health Services at (617) 495-2042 or the Harvard University Police Department at (617) 495-1212. Several peer counseling groups offer confidential peer conversations. Learn more here.

You can contact a University Chaplain to speak one-on-one at or here.

You can also call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

—Staff writer Azusa M. Lippit can be reached at Follow her on X @azusalippit or on Threads @azusalippit.

—Staff writer Asher J. Montgomery can be reached at Follow her on X @asherjmont or on Threads @asher_montgomery.

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