After months of serving as mandated reporters in matters related to sexual misconduct, the Peer Counselors (PCs) regained their Title IX confidentiality last week.
While carrying the status of mandated reporters, the PCs were required by federal law to report to Andrea Goldblum, civil rights and Title IX coordinator, any instance of sexual misconduct brought to their attention. Goldblum said the PCs lost this confidentiality in the fall of 2015 because they did not have the proper training required under Ohio state law, though she was unable to remember the exact mandate.
“To paraphrase it, it says you must have sufficient training and knowledge to be able to do that job,” Goldblum said of the mandate. “While they had lots of training as PCs, they didn’t have specific training in sexual violence issues.” Though this had been true of the PCs’ ability to handle cases of sexual violence, their ability to speak confidentially about any other sort of case remained unaffected.
After the PCs became mandated reporters in September, they, along with their faculty advisor, College Counselor Lindsay Miller, contacted the administration to ask how they could regain confidentiality in issues that fell under Title IX, a section of federal law banning sex-discrimination at institutions of higher education.
The College offered them an extensive training program that involved the impact and dynamics of sexual violence, and how to provide support for those students who have experienced it, according to Miller and Goldblum. Since their conversation with the administration, they have met in the Horn Gallery for over 10 hours of training on issues concerning sexual harassment and misconduct.
As of Feb. 21 the PCs completed their training, and now meet the requirements under Title IX to maintain confidentiality when students speak to them about issues of sexual harassment or violence.
Laura Messenger ’16, one of the six student leaders of the PCs, said the group’s main concern with being mandatory reporters was students could unintentionally mention a Title IX violation while talking to them about depression or stress, which they would then be forced to report to the administration.
“We didn’t want to be in a position where we have to report anyone who didn’t want to disclose in the first place,” Messenger said. “So the hope is that people who might have been concerned about talking to a Peer Counselor, or just scared about the mandated reporter title, now will come to us.”
PC Thaís Henriques ’17 agreed, saying student confusion about the PCs’ obligations involving Title IX issues could have caused some students to hesitate before approaching them.
“There was that sort of weird limbo where we weren’t sure what the confidentiality status was, so maybe that was keeping students back,” Henriques said.
Henriques said PCs also help guide students to Sexual Misconduct Advisors (SMAs) and other resources on campus, so it was hard to tell if their lack of confidentiality caused any students to delay seeking help.
Henriques and Messenger both hope the PCs regaining confidentiality with regard to Title IX issues will make the PCs more effective in assisting students experiencing emotional distress, though both said they never ran into any issues concerning Title IX confidentiality in the previous months.
“We kind of consider ourselves a catch-all support network for students,” Messenger said. “So we hope to be a generally more approachable resource.”