Faculty and administration clashed over the school’s interpretation of Title IX — disagreeing in particular over requiring faculty members who learn of a possible incidence of sexual assault to report it even if it is told to them in confidence — at this week’s faculty meeting.
The meeting was unusually long, lasting three hours. Although faculty continued to trickle away as it went on, roughly two dozen stayed until the very end of the discussions.
The matter at hand was Federal Title IX legislation. Under that law, Knox, and all schools that receive federal funding, are required to investigate all incidents that they should have “reasonably known about.”
The heart of the dispute lies in the interpretation of that phrase.
Knox currently interprets it to mean that all faculty and staff members of the school, with the exception of three confidential counselors, must inform a trained member of the Title IX team if a student tells them that he or she has been assaulted. From that point, the Title IX team contacts the student and moves forward with an investigation.
The administration argues that mandatory reporting is necessary to ensure that the school is able to identify and deal with the small number of serial assaulters who compromise the majority of sexual assault on this campus.
“We want to break the culture of silence on this campus,” President Teresa Amott said. She argues that the school has a duty to protect all of its students by finding these repeat offenders and that mandatory reporting requirements are helping them to do that.
Amott also mentioned that all schools equivalent to Knox that she has looked at have similar mandatory reporting policies in place.
She further pointed to some new policies designed to help accommodate survivors, including allowing them to not attend the disciplinary hearing if they do not wish to.
A large number of students came to the meeting to in a show of opposition to mandatory reporting.
“Rape,” she said, “is fundamentally about power and control. Demanding that all professors, staff and RAs be mandatory reporters strips survivors of all power and control over if, when and how they wish to report.”
The letter argued that mandatory reporting actually interfered with Title IX compliance because of the unhealthy atmosphere it created on campus.
“If survivors cannot own their deeply personal and political experiences without those experiences being automatically subject to administrative review, then their access to full participation in classes is traumatically limited.”
“We have to preserve safe spaces for students,” concluded Kennedy, requesting a reduction in the amount of mandatory reporters on campus.
The students’ concerns were echoed by many faculty members.
Professor of Chemistry Mary Crawford, for example, spoke of “fear” and “broken trust.” She said that students who once were able to talk to her are now afraid to that she is a mandatory reporter.
“We’ve been their voices, we’ve been their advocates. … You’re taking that voice away.”
Echoing these sentiments, Professor of Political Science Karen Kampwirth said the policy created “lots of bad feeling, feelings of distrust.”
Instructor of Gender and Women’s Studies Kelly Shaw said that she has already seen students who were about to tell her something but then stop once they are reminded that she is a mandatory reporter.
Professor of Psychology Tim Kasser criticized the small number of confidential counselors available and wondered why there weren’t more.
“I don’t understand why students can’t have that,” he said.
Others mentioned that they felt not enough was being done to tell students when they even have something they should report. Visiting Assistant Professor of Physics Nathalie Hauberg said, “There is a gap in the education.”
That is true of faculty members as well. Some did not know that they could fill out an anonymous reporting form (known as a John Doe/Jane Doe report) that protects student privacy while still helping to create accurate data as required by federal Cleary Law requirements.
Amott acknowledged the student concerns and said that “it is painful to hear student say that they feel they’ve been silenced,” but continued to maintain that mandatory reporting is the best policy for the campus.
“I am not going to retract the policy here at this faculty meeting,” she stated firmly.
She did say that the possibility of adding more confidential counselors could be looked into.
Another concern is that if the Office of Civil Rights were to be displeased with Knox’s Title IX compliance, the school could lose all of its federal funding. Amott hastened to mention that this has never happened, but it remains a possibility that the school needs to be aware of.