‘Creating a safe learning environment’

university speaks on responsibility of mandatory reporters

Illustration by Sarah Rogers

Carrie Wright scrolled to the bottom of the syllabus on her computer screen to the section labeled Title IX. Wright said this was the language that every professor wrote in their syllabuses as the university required.

Whether the students actually read through the paragraphs was something else entirely.

The geology instructor said it is worth noting in her classes that the simple paragraph informs students their professors are mandatory reporters for any violations of Title IX.

A mandatory reporter is a member of the university faculty and administration who reports violations of the sexual misconduct policy, Title IX, to the Title IX coordinator.

“Mandatory reporting is a way to take it to a higher authority and make sure that due process is followed,” Wright said. “And the student who’s reporting can take full advantage of our process and make sure whatever needs to happen, happens to create a safe learning environment.”

Wright said it’s important for students to be aware that they can always talk with their professors, but the professor has an obligation to report.

“That communication is really important,” Wright said. “That’s why all faculty members need to be aware that if someone reports something to you, you have to step forward.”

Wright said it’s important to take students’ experiences seriously and make sure the appropriate actions are taken.

“If there’s an event or incident on campus I think it’s the faculty member’s responsibility to make sure that incident gets reported to the people in charge who are more capable to do something about,” Wright said.  

Wright believes that she is responsible for her classroom learning environment.

“If there is some sort of situation going on among my students, it affects my ability to teach,” Wright said. “If they are feeling unsafe, they are not going to be paying attention. If there’s something going on, that completely impacts the professor’s ability to teach.”

Wright said it’s important that the university does call for action from faculty. Wright said in the past, most people wanted to shove these issues under that rug and pretend it was not a big deal.

“Our culture is moving to a point where it is no longer okay, and we are not pushing it under the rug, even the minor incidents that cause fear, anxiety, the feeling of being unsafe,” Wright said. “Even if there’s no physical contact, those incidents need to be dealt with.”

Nicholas LaRowe said there is a natural human tendency to be passive.

The interim dean of students said this is a serious issue where reporting is key.

“If you create a culture of proactivity and taking initiative, that’s an important tool in combating or preventing these things from happening over a long period of time,” LaRowe said.

LaRowe said the campus policy is taken very seriously and the university works on the behalf of students to bring justice to the difficult issues.

“It can be tough because it’s a hard situation where people for various reasons don’t want to report,” LaRowe said. “But we have a legal obligation too. I have an ethical responsibility to look out for my students and act in their best interest whenever I can. If (students) know that there is a process in place where they know that if something does happen to them that the university has resources and makes investigating cases like this a priority.”

Amy Chan Hilton said without mandatory reporting, violations might fall through the cracks as many people might feel uncomfortable with the responsibility of being a reporter of such incidences.

Without reports of violations to the Title IX, there is no further action taken and students do not receive the support they need.

“It’s taking care of things that happen and minimizing future events and thinking about individuals and the community,” the director of Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning said.

Chan Hilton said this duty that faculty members must uphold makes them more aware of what their students are encountering.

When these issues are reported, the university is also made aware, allowing them to help those who need it and create a comfortable and safe community on campus.

“I think that all professors are interested in the success of our students,” Chan Hilton said. “Not only that the students do well in the classroom, but what happens within a student’s life outside of the classroom and inside the classroom are all part of our students. We care about our students. It’s not only that they pass and do well in the class but everything about our students lives.”

With the university bringing people from multiple units to the Title IX campus office, Chan Hilton said this shows the university values the Title IX policy beyond just a requirement.

“We can feel comfortable that we are in a place that the university takes seriously any reports related to sexual misconduct,” Chan Hilton said. 

Title IX coordinator Carrie Lynn said professors are in a unique position.

“They see students on a regular basis. They develop closer relationships with students than I would,” Lynn said. “A student may feel more comfortable disclosing something to a professor that they see on a regular basis than coming to an unfamiliar office like mine and speaking to someone they’ve never met before.”

Similar to students’ online Title IX training at the beginning of their first semester, mandatory reporters are required to complete an online training course every year. “It’s a good reminder that they are responsible employees,” Lynn said. “It reminds them of what to do if a student is going to disclose a violation.”

Lynn commented that students may feel less free to share during open discussions in a classroom if they are afraid they might be reported. However, Lynn said these policies are not supposed to limit classroom discussions.

“You can talk about sex and consent and things like racism and sexism,” Lynn said. “Things that might lead to a possible civil rights issue in a classroom. These policies weren’t meant to be oppressive or limit any type of creative or academic freedom. There really for people who have experienced some type of dramatic event or some type of treat because of a characteristic.”

As our society becomes more aware of sexual violence, Lynn said it’s important for students to know they have a place to go where they are supported.

“People are becoming less afraid to speak out when something like that happens,” Lynn said. “I think it’s important that we as a university are prepared to respond in a good way when people do choose to speak out. I think it’s important for them to know there are people on campus who are generally concerned about their safety and wellbeing. We really do care.”