This issue, we published reporting on the revisions to state-wide Title IX requirements that went into effect at the start of the month. Of these updates, the most important may be the new consequences for mandatory reporters.
Faculty and staff members have been considered as mandatory reporters; however, according to the updates made to this state law, these mandatory reporters now risk termination if a report is not made.
This is seemingly a good thing. If a student is afraid to report sexual misconduct, this new policy transfers that responsibility to an uninvolved, trusted person: a mentor, an adviser, a favorite professor. Students don’t have to go directly to the intimidating office of an administrator.
The requirement is good for tracking patterns. Keeping track of instances of sexual misconduct, even if there is no investigation, allows the university to be proactive about protecting students — in the future.
However beneficial this revision may be, though, it fails to acknowledge the current situation of students.
Sure, there are students who would rather tell their story to someone who could relay that story to a higher level without living and reliving the ordeal. But what about those who trust their mentors and want to speak with them in confidence? This law threatens that trust.
What about marginalized students who already don’t have many safe spaces on campus and will now have fewer? Or students who have found a go-to confidante in a professor’s office hours?
And what about the mandatory reporters? What if a student comes into their office to tell a once-trusted mentor about an assault? Should that mentor stop the student halfway to tell them, “Stop there. If you tell me more, I’ll have to report it”?
Trinity is a small school. Sure, students have friends to talk to. Sure, there are other adults they can speak with.
Students can go to Counseling Services, where the staff who will listen can protect students with doctor-patient confidentiality. Students can speak with their friends or to their loved ones. But what if they don’t have the time to book an appointment and wait for that day to come around? What if they don’t feel comfortable telling their closest friends and family members about instances that are so personal?
Title IX and its enforcers intend to protect students. We know the goal is to provide the safest space on campus, but students will lose trust if their mentors are required to make reports to the Title IX coordinator. There are few spaces on campus where students can feel confident in sharing details of personal trauma or struggle; now there are fewer.