A new policy requiring all faculty, staff, administrators, coaches and resident advisers to report all information regarding sexual assault cases to the campus Title IX Coordinator has generated controversy among faculty and student groups. The change, which faculty members claim was made without their consultation, runs counter to a recommendation by the Sexual Misconduct Advisory Board (SMAB) that faculty remain confidential sources for survivors.
Title IX Coordinator and Associate Dean Ruth Jones announced Occidental’s decision to designate faculty as mandatory reporters (formally known as “responsible employees”) during a May 15 faculty meeting. Institutions are required by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy, among other laws, to notify students and faculty of which staff members are responsible employees.
“This is a complex issue. It’s a matter of law and policy,” Jones said. “Though the decision was essentially made last school year, the implementation is an ongoing process to have the people in the community understand the difference between responsible employees and confidential sources.”
The policy change was met with mixed responses, as some faculty felt the decision was made without their consultation.
“Proponents believe that this will allow the institution to be aware of all incidents and deal with them,” Faculty Chair Nalsey Tinberg said. “Opponents feel that the relationship between faculty and students who come to them for this purpose might see a decline in the numbers that do so, driving some of this underground.”
To craft the policy, Jones reviewed the United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights’s report on Title IX and sexual violence, released on April 29. According to Jones, this document provided the most up-to-date information on the designation of responsible employees and confidential sources, and included a specification that the Title IX Coordinator is to receive all information from community members, except confidential sources, about incidents of sexual violence.
“Having faculty as responsible employees is consistent with Title IX and also consistent with the best way to protect the members of our community, ” Jones said. “The designation of responsible employees and confidential sources allows the college to balance the dual objectives of providing survivors with trained, confidential support with assessing the risks to the community as a whole.”
Jones also reviewed the SMAB’s 2013–2014 draft report and the relevant legal documents referenced in the report. The report recommended against designating most faculty members as responsible employees, because this decision would prioritize institutional concerns over the victims’ concerns.
Hailey Jures ’14, one of the authors of the SMAB report, said that Jones consulted with the authors on the report’s recommendations and initially seemed to be in agreement. However, Jones ultimately determined that allowing faculty members to remain confidential sources would be a liability to the school.
“I was shocked when she said this,” Jures said. “It felt as if her motives were to protect the college from lawsuit, not to protect the survivors from retraumatization through the reporting process.”
Furthermore, the report mentioned the faculty’s lack of trust in the management of sexual assault cases and their distaste at becoming responsible employees.
“The issue of whether faculty should be mandatory reporters is tricky when we’re working at an institution that doesn’t yet handle sexual assault cases well,” politics professor Caroline Heldman said. “I have worked with sexual assault survivors who would still be at Occidental had I not recommended that they go through campus adjudication and face Occidental’s institutional betrayal.”
In order to improve the handling of sexual violence reports and clarify the distinction between responsible employees and confidential sources, all responsible employees are required to attend one Title IX training session conducted by Jones. During these training sessions, Jones clarifies the difference between confidential sources and responsible employees, emphasizes the importance of informing students of their options and reminds faculty that a report to the Title IX office does not necessarily start a disciplinary proceeding.
Jones explained that the designations are not only institutional policy decisions but also must be consistent with the law. Other colleges, including Amherst, Claremont McKenna and Barnard, also interpreted the law to designate faculty, administrators and staff as responsible employees.
“Based on my more than 30 years of legal experience, I believe that the current designations are the most consistent with Title IX,” Jones said. “Based on my concern and commitment to a safe Occidental, I believe that these designations balance the needs of individuals with risk assessment for the community.”
But Jures believes the change may exacerbate existing problems between faculty and the administration.
“I think that the decision, combined with its delivery, will further distance faculty and administration,” Jures said. “There are severe trust issues at this college and this decision is not going to make those any better.”
Occidental’s remaining confidential sources are 24/7 Sexual Assault
Survivor Advocate & Project SAFE Coordinator Naddia Palacios,
psychological counselors at Emmons Student Wellness Center, clergy and
pastoral counselors at the Office for Religious & Spiritual Life and
the Occidental 24/7 Confidential Hotline.