Members of the Knox community are in the midst of collecting signatures to ask the administration to revise its mandatory reporting policy in cases of sexual misconduct.
The petition creators argue that the current requirements are not in line with both Title IX and student needs. In response, the administration points to specific language within Title IX that grants institutions the power to decide who they designate as mandated reporter for themselves.
Specifically, the petition targets the universality of Knox’s mandatory reporting policy, which mandates that all campus personnel report instances of sexual misconduct.
“The actual requirements from the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) and Title IX only requires department chairs, members of the administration and heads of student programs to be mandatory reporters,” the creators of the petition senior Jessica Howard, freshman Caroline Bye, freshman Lizz Fong and junior Erica Witzig said.
In response to these concerns, President Teresa Amott maintains that Title IX grants the college’s administration the power to decide which employees should be held responsible for reporting incidents of sexual misconduct.
“If you’re looking for a critique of our policy, you’re not going to find it in Title IX,” Amott said.
Amott referred to the line in Title IX stating that an employee “who has been given the duty to report to appropriate school officials about incidents of sexual violence or any other misconduct by students,” is considered a responsible employee.
The only employees listed as being exempt from this duty are professional and pastoral counselors.
The task of defining responsible employees for mandated reporting is in the hands of the administration. Amott explained the underlying logic behind the college’s final decision was initially to target underreporting of sexual misconduct.
“We decided upon this duty to report in order to cast a wider net and surface more reports,” Amott said, which she believes has proven itself to be effective.
As evidence, she reports that the sheer number of sexual misconduct reports coming in and the number of students utilizing interim protective measures have increased since the policy has been in effect, although she partially attributes these increases to student advocacy measures as well.
For instance, interim protective measures, such as opting for independent study in place of attending a class with a perpetrator or having the perpetrator removed from the classroom, have been implemented more often.
However, supporters of the petition express concern that requiring all staff and faculty to report deprives survivors of sexual assault a safe environment.
“Survivors who have trusted faculty members to keep information confidential have seen those professors turn around and tell the administration. Survivors who have had the bravery to tell their stories to friends have been overheard by people who reported them to the administration … survivors on this campus have been routinely forced through an often abrasive process for which they were emotionally unprepared,” the creators of the petition said.
Sophomore Yaneza Aguinaga’s concerns align with the demands being set forth by the petition.
“If I’m having a conversation with a friend and sharing very personal experiences in the Gizmo or even in my own suite, I should not have to worry that someone may overhear me and report that … it takes away authority from the victim,” Aguinaga said.
Beyond campus, alumni are also taking notice of the petition. Rana Tahir, a 2013 graduate currently living in Portland, Ore., supports the revisions being proposed.
“Knox is a small school,” Tahir said. “If a survivor’s friends are also friends with the assailant which is often the case, he or she may be uncomfortable or scared to talk to a friend. If he or she can’t turn to a professor or other mentor, then we’ve basically isolated someone who shouldn’t have to face what can be a traumatic experience alone.”
As of Tuesday evening, 150 signatures had been added to the petition. The group aims to obtain 1,000 in total. An online petition will also be established for students not currently residing on campus and alumni. Once they have gathered their signatures, the group plans to present their demands to administration and Student Senate in order to facilitate further discussion.