The policy brings optimism but concerns as well
Almost everyone remembers their residence hall community advisor from their first year at the University of Minnesota. These students live in close proximity with their residents, enforce rules, offer guidance, and, at times, provide emotional support. Many community advisors form close bonds with their students. Yet, not all information shared in this relationship can be held in confidence.
This is the first academic year in which all student employees, including community advisors and office assistants, are included as mandatory reporters. This means that these students are required to report incidents of sexual assault, sexual harassment (including comments on sexuality/gender), stalking, and relationship violence to the Title IX office.
Student employees are required to report the names of the complainant(s), respondent(s), and witnesses, as well as date, time, and location of the prohibited conduct if the incidence meets certain requirements. It must occur on University property, happen during a University employee education program or activity, be directed at a current student, and be committed by a University member.
Basically, student employees must report any sexual assault or harassment that they learn about while working. This elicits the question of whether students across campus, especially those living in residence halls, are aware that all student employees are mandatory reporters.
“I think some of my residents know that I am a mandatory reporter, as I sent it out in an email. However, I also know that many of my residents don’t actually read their emails and probably did not see that specific one,” Anna Clough, a community advisory, said.
Student employees carry the responsibility themselves of informing their residents of their mandatory reporter status. “When a resident has a question related to anything similar to that topic, I try to bring up that I am a mandatory reporter. They would only know by being told by their C.A.,” Clough said.
“When I mentioned it to two residents, they had absolutely no clue,” Lucy Pabst, an office assistant in a University residence hall, said.
Many wonder that if students don’t know that their peers who are employed by the University are required to report to the Title IX office on their behalf, would this change how freely students share their stories?
Clough thinks so.
She is a little skeptical of community advisors being mandatory reporters. She wants her residents to feel as though they can come to her with anything that they are struggling with and thinks that her obligation to report has the potential to break trust.
Pabst agrees that less desired outcomes are possible with this policy. Knowing that a student employee is required to report your situation can put up an emotional wall for some.
“I think some students may feel as though there’s a barrier if they’re not in a stable environment to have their situation brought to a mandated reporter. Whether that be a mental stability, job security, interpersonal relationship stability, I think not everyone always wants to shed light on their situation right away,” Pabst said.
As a community advisor, Clough is concerned that her status as a mandatory reporter could be detrimental to her relationship with residents who want to share things with her, especially if she has to interrupt a vulnerable moment to inform someone that she will be obligated to report their story.
“Talking about sexual assault and traumatic/triggering experiences is already very hard, and I think adding that wall and position of authority can be detrimental to building a fully trusting relationship,” she said.
Still, when asked about the positives of giving office assistants the responsibility of being mandatory reporters, Pabst highlighted how the role can serve as an accessible resource for students, especially during their first year on campus.
“I think it’s beneficial in that residents for sure have someone to talk to that can help them, and within their own residence halls, we’re a first point of connection,” said Pabst.
Clough echoed this sentiment by saying, “I think it can also be beneficial to residents that maybe wouldn’t want to approach a reporting center on their own. This way they can approach someone they already have a relationship with, rather than confiding in random people.”
In most cases, the complainant is able to decline further investigation once the incident is reported to the Title IX office. However, there are still concerns that the policy may dissuade students from discussing incidents of sexual assault and harassment with student employees in the first place.