Trust me…no never mind

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Rear view of four students walking awayToday, Inside Higher Ed published an article titled “Endangering a Trust”. The article focused on the increasing practice of colleges and universities creating blanket “mandatory reporting policies” that make all faculty required to report disclosure of any incident related to sexual misconduct.  Increasingly we are seeing that blanket “reporter” policies are being implemented that are inclusive of multiple potential survivor resources on campus. The unfortunate outcome is that schools are limiting access to the most critical resources for survivors… trusted partners, like faculty.

As a faculty member at a community college in Los Angeles, I have a relationship with my students that is based on trust in my ability to provide opportunities for learning by engaging in important dialogue and creating a safe classroom environment where we can explore topics that aren’t typically discussed outside of the classroom.  My students often tell me, after critical conversations about topics like racism, sexism, homophobia and…of course…interpersonal violence, that they really learned something because it was a discussion that applied to their lives.  Students trust that they can engage fully in our learning partnership because they trust that I will always ask hard questions and that I will always find a place to ensure that their personal life experience is relevant.

We have heard from students directly, and student advocacy groups as a whole, their critique of the model that increases mandatory reporting requirements because it limits student access to helpful people and has a chilling effect on help seeking.  We have also seen,  in our experience with survivors, community partners and faculty that these policies have a profound impact on whether or not a school environment feels safe, and that students feel like they can’t speak about their experience and are holding secrets, that many of us have spent years shining the light on.

Broad policies requiring faculty to report “knowledge of sexual misconduct” can impact the classroom learning environment significantly and can move from creating an environment of student engagement to an environment of student fear of disclosure.  What happens in discussions about sexism when a female student talks about her experience of looks and comments related to her body as an illustration of how sexual harassment is a part of the everyday lives of women?  What happens with a student seeks out resources from a professor who has just invited a guest speaker to discuss domestic violence?  What happens when a student relays, in a paper or essay, that they are proud of their commitment to their education because it was difficult to return to school after their assault?  By creating blanket mandatory reporting policies we continue to create a chilling effect on disclosure, damper an environment of active learning and engagement in the classrooms and students more often read it as a focus on university liability and not as a way to help students address sexual assault.

We continue to encourage universities and colleges to seek out opportunities to break the isolation on campus related to the experience of sexual assault.  Create partnerships both on and off campus that provide more opportunities for student help seeking and disclosure, not fewer.  Ensure that policy changes don’t decrease survivor options and that survivors have access to a range of services both on campus and in the community. This approach provides survivors with autonomy over their own experience and sends a message that the university takes survivors access to support seriously.

Denice Labertew

Denice Labertew, J.D., Director of Advocacy Services at CALCASA, has been an advocate for sexual assault survivors for over 19 years. During law school, she developed and lead the first sexual assault civil legal program in California housed within a rape crisis center. She has worked to protect the legal rights of survivors in immigration cases, housing cases, educational settings and accessing veteran’s benefits, has contributed to a national manual to help attorneys understand how to represent sexual assault survivors and has served as faculty in the National Sexual Assault Law Institute. Over the past 19 years as an advocate, Denice has also been a hotline counselor, rape prevention educator, self defense instructor and served in executive positions within sexual assault and domestic violence organizations. Denice has a B.A. in Sociology, Women’s Studies and a law degree. She currently works as part of the team that provides training and technical assistance to universities and college campuses around the country in developing their responses to sexual and domestic violence and works directly with California Rape Crisis Centers and Sexual Assault Programs in supporting their advocacy work

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