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Bill in memory of Stanford goalie Katie Meyer aims to support college students in distress

Katie Meyer’s jersey number 19 is carved into a tree at Borchard Park in Newbury Park.

Steven and Gina Meyer reminisce about their soccer star daughter, who played at the park’s soccer field hundreds of times with her friends and younger sister, Siena Meyer.

Katie Meyer celebrated her 22nd birthday in January 2022. Two months later, the former Stanford soccer team captain took her own life in her dorm room.

Now, Assembly Bill 1575 — or, as its supporters hope it will be called, Katie Meyer’s Law — seeks to help college students facing difficult situations like Meyer’s.

Propelled to action by their loss, Meyer’s parents started Katie’s Save as a nationwide initiative to offer students the option to notify a trusted adult as their designated advocate when a student is involved in a challenging circumstance. The bill aims to codify part of the Katie’s Save initiative into law requiring colleges to provide an adviser if a student requests one.

AB 1575 passed unanimously in the California Assembly in January. Next, it will go through the Appropriations Committee, which regulates money expenditures. Then it will likely be heard by the state Senate in early June, according to Assemblymember Jacqui Irwin, D-Thousand Oaks, who introduced the bill in February 2023.

Who was Katie Meyer?

Katie Meyer was ready to take on the world.

She grew up in Newbury Park, the middle child of three girls.

She rose to national prominence as the hero of Stanford’s NCAA women’s soccer national championship team in 2019, when she saved two penalty kicks in the decisive shootout against the University of North Carolina.

She was studying international relations and history and was a fierce advocate for women’s athletics. The Ventura County Star’s All-County pick maintained a 4.3 GPA at Conejo Valley Unified School District’s online Century Academy.

The 5-foot-9 redshirt senior had twice been named to the Pac-12 Conference’s Fall Honor Roll and playing for the youth U.S. national team, she was one of the best goalkeepers in the world in her age group. She also kicked on Newbury Park High’s football team.

Stanford Cardinal goalkeeper Katie Meyer (19) takes a goal kick against the North Carolina Tar Heels in the second half of the College Cup championship match in 2019 at Avaya Stadium.

Stanford Cardinal goalkeeper Katie Meyer (19) takes a goal kick against the North Carolina Tar Heels in the second half of the College Cup championship match in 2019 at Avaya Stadium.

Outside of soccer, her parents said she was awaiting acceptance to Stanford Law School, and she had applied to do a TEDx talk around the theme: “All we have is all we need.” On Feb. 13, 2022, Meyer released the first episode of her new podcast “Be The Mentality” in which she interviewed her father, Steven Meyer, about his journey as an athlete.

“She thrived on being busy,” her mother said. “She liked being busy and active at her school and part of that community; had lots of different friends.”

Gina Meyer added that people have speculated that Katie’s death had something to do with soccer, but it did not.

“Soccer was her happy place. She absolutely loved her teammates and her coaches. There were no red flags, zero health history of mental illness,” her mom said.

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Katie Meyer also shared her adoration for her team and the game online throughout the years. In an Instagram post from November 2021, she wrote, “One of my unusual favorite memories from this season would be each time we would try and say ‘let’s get started’ at the perfect time.”

What happened to Katie Meyer?

Katie Meyer was found dead in her dorm room on March 1, 2022. The Santa Clara County Medical Examiner’s Office determined the death to be self-inflicted on March 3, 2022.

Steven Meyer said that Katie was accused of spilling coffee on a football player who was accused of sexually assaulting a teammate of hers in 2021. Consequently, she was pulled into a disciplinary process and an investigation by Stanford’s Office of Community Standards.

The process carried on for several weeks and then “from her point of view, for three and a half months, there was silence from that office,” Steven Meyer said. “She had told a teammate or two that she thought it was over.”

On Feb. 28, 2022, she received an email from the university informing her that she was facing a disciplinary charge. A five-page letter in the email stated that her degree was going to be placed on hold less than four months from graduation and the disciplinary charge may result in her expulsion from the university, according to her father and court documents.

The court complaint also refers to Katie’s meeting with an assistant director of sport psychology on Nov. 12, 2021, when she detailed having elevated feelings of anxiety and depression during the disciplinary process.

A couple of people hug each other at the memorial service for Katie Meyer at Newbury Park High School on March 12, 2022.A couple of people hug each other at the memorial service for Katie Meyer at Newbury Park High School on March 12, 2022.

A couple of people hug each other at the memorial service for Katie Meyer at Newbury Park High School on March 12, 2022.

Her parents sued Stanford University for wrongful death in November 2022 in Santa Clara County Superior Court. Two days after the case was filed, Stanford released a statement about the lawsuit characterizing the allegations as “false and misleading.”

The statement also suggested that the allegation that the office did not communicate with Katie before Feb. 28 is incorrect. “Several days earlier, the head of (the Office of Community Standards) had informed Katie that a decision would be made by Feb. 28 whether to proceed to a hearing,” it reads.

The next hearing in the lawsuit is a case management conference scheduled for Aug. 6.

What is California Assembly Bill 1575?

According to a study published April 4 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the number of NCAA athletes who died by suicide doubled between 2002 and 2022.

Since her death, Meyer’s parents have promoted the Katie’s Save initiative and introduced it at various university campuses through speaking events. None of the universities officially adopted the policy yet.

In spring 2022, after connecting with Assemblymember Irwin, who represents their district, they started discussing legislation to have a real impact.

The AB 1575 bill, as it has materialized now, gives students who receive a disciplinary notification the right to an adviser of their choosing and requires postsecondary education institutions to provide training for the adviser. When a student is accused of violating codes of conduct, the adviser will help them navigate the process.

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If passed through the Senate and signed into law by the governor, it would be mandated at California community colleges, California State Universities and University of California campuses. However, private universities like Stanford would not have to adopt the policy.

“We can tell the Cal States what to do. And we encourage the UCs. So that’s what we have control over,” Irwin said. “But the Meyers have spoken to other universities. And I think if we can develop a model that makes sense, we’re hoping that the private universities will follow suit, especially given that this happened at one of the private universities.”

Steven Meyer said that private universities are the tricky part of the equation, and “it will be up to these private universities to understand that that is something they should adopt.”

The family has also reached out to the community on social media platforms, asking people to write letters supporting the bill.

Irwin said that the UC system previously adopted a model similar to the proposed legislation. The UC’s case management model involves police, confidential advocates, respondent coordinators and the Title IX office.

Rachel Zaentz, spokesperson for the University of California Office of the President, confirmed in a statement that as of 2015, every UC campus is required to appoint a Coordinated Community Review Team, composed of local community and campus partners; including student representatives, to help prevent and respond to sexual misconduct.

Clinical psychologist Carrie Hastings got to know the Meyer family after she heard about Katie’s death and reached out. She has since collaborated with them on some advocacy events related to mental health among high-performing student athletes.

A former University of Notre Dame track star, Hastings is now the team psychologist for the Los Angeles Rams and Angel City FC and founder of Sport Psychology, a counseling clinic in Westlake Village.

Trying to make sense of what happened with Katie Meyer, her parents spoke with different therapists. They said they learned that her actions were an “acute stress reaction,” which can happen to anybody.

Hastings explained that it an occur as an immediate response to a perceived threat and causes the person to go into fight or flight mode, having a huge impact on the nervous system. The heart rate increases and the brain is flooded with the stress hormone, cortisol. This reduces or eliminates the person’s ability to think clearly, make sound decisions or problem-solve and increases the propensity to act impulsively.

They’re working to bridge this gap where “the student is all alone” experiencing something stressful on campus.

“It’s been shown in research that just having one person in your corner can make all the difference,” Hastings said.

She added that even without disciplinary action, it can be an overwhelming time for student athletes, especially with the workload of college, with the transition of being away from home and the rigorous schedule of practices and competitions.

Coping with the loss of a child

Cross-country runner Sarah Shulze, 21, died on April 13, 2022, in Wisconsin. Her parents shared in a website posting that their daughter “took her own life.”

Shulze went to the University of Wisconsin where she was on the track and cross country teams. Her senior season for Oak Park High included a Coastal Canyon League title, a CIF-Southern Section Division 3 championship and a runner-up finish in the CIF-State Division III finals. At season’s end, Shulze was named The Ventura County Star’s Runner of the Year for 2018.

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The Meyer family connected with the Shulzes when they first met other parents of other young people who died by suicide. Steven Meyer said that many of the families expressed their support for Katie Meyer’s Law and they have gotten very close to Sarah Shulze’s family since they first met.

“I think the bill is a great first step in protecting college students,” said Sarah’s mom, Brigitte Shulze. “Clearly, colleges and universities need to do a better job supporting their students’ mental health. I think this bill empowers the students and their families in getting more information from colleges.”

Community is what helps families deal with loss and trauma like this, Hastings noted.

“I’ve said to them, ‘I know that this would make (Katie) so proud that they are engaging in this advocacy and taking action and putting this idea into motion in her honor,’” Hastings said of the Meyers. “And I think it’s also helpful in just dealing with the loss,”

‘I just miss her’

Emily Williams played soccer in high school with Meyer. She was a senior at Newbury Park High School when Meyer was a freshman. They lost touch until 2017 when Williams became the assistant varsity girls’ soccer coach at Newbury Park High School.

Williams said the Meyers came back into her life when she took the coaching job as Katie’s younger sister, Siena, was on the high school soccer team. When she learned about Katie’s death, being close to the Meyer family added a degree of heaviness.

“I immediately started crying and didn’t believe that it was real,” said Williams, now head coach. “The main word that comes to mind is just devastating. And that’s how I felt the first day I found out, and that’s how I still feel today.”

Williams believes Katie Meyer’s Law has a strong purpose and is “a great way to honor Katie.” She said she sees the Meyers multiple days a week and can tell it hasn’t been easy on them.

Gina Meyer said she and her husband became grandparents in November when their eldest, Samantha Meyer, had a baby. Gina Meyer believes Katie would have been an amazing aunt.

“I’m so sad that she’s missing this,” the mother of three said. “There’s a lot that’s hard as you go forward. All those small moments and some of the big things, of course, the holidays, the anniversaries, the birthdays, that stuff is always hard.

“But it’s a lot of the day-to-day. It’s just, I miss just calling her. I miss hugging her. I miss our Facetimes. I miss the little things, going on a walk with her, going to get coffee with her. I just miss her.”

Her dad spoke about memories that come back to him frequently now, like how Katie used to hold his hand when walking, how they would sit in the soccer stadium together and chat or how she would sing along to the car radio.

“I would love if she were to walk in the front door right now and see that electric smile on her,” he said.

VC Star reporter Joe Curley contributed to this report.

Dua Anjum is an investigative and watchdog reporter for the Ventura County Star. Reach her at dua.anjum@vcstar.com. This story was made possible by a grant from the Ventura County Community Foundation’s Fund to Support Local Journalism.

This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: How ‘Katie Meyer’s Law’ would aid college students in crisis

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