Section: Opinion

The balance between mandated reporter and friend is hard to find

In the first few weeks of classes, first years face a bombardment of names they will not remember and resources they will lose in an alphabet soup of abbreviations. Peer Counselors (PCs), Sexual Misconduct Advisors (SMAs) and Community Advisors (CAs), just to name a few, serve as peer educators to help students participate in campus life, and they share a common purpose: to create a safer, more welcoming campus environment.

When these groups introduce themselves, the phrase “I am a mandated reporter,” gets repeated, sounding more menacing each time — though the meaning of this is not always clear. If any information related to sexual misconduct or a potential violation of Title IX is brought to the attention of a PC, SMA or CA, then they must report the information to the Office of Civil Rights and Title IX. This policy parallels requirements for any other employees of the College, by which employees must report on information about incidents occurring on Kenyon’s campus or under the College’s supervision.

Clearly, the words “mandate” and “report” can sound intimidating. Many  are also disheartened by the idea that survivors who choose to seek help or solace from a peer will find their information traveling to the ears of some stranger. The mandatory reporting policy is not to discourage students from seeking help when struggling to keep their pain to themselves; on the contrary, by implementing mandated reporting and recording of information, the College hopes to improve the safety and experience of anyone who decides to call the Hill home.

Mandated reporters are not permitted to share personal information of their peers with each other, allowing the survivor to maintain full agency over what they decide to do. Survivors who have reported their information will receive up to two emails from the Title IX office, to inform them that the office has been notified of a potential Title IX violation. The student can choose to ignore them or respond and take action.

There is a flaw in this system, however. It is expected that PCs, SMAs and CAs be mandated reporters at all times — even when they are just with their friends in casual conversation. Not everyone is ready to admit that they’ve experienced sexual assault, so informing the Title IX office might be preemptive. While informing the Title IX office of misconduct can help the student body as a whole, it is unfair to expect that all survivors take that step immediately. When a PC, SMA or CA sits with their friends at Peirce Hall on a Friday night, personal information can often arise organically —  especially when the expectation of being a mandatory reporter has been forgotten.

These moments are not the same as office hours or open-door sessions with faculty and staff, when it is clear that the mandated reporter is in a position of power or authority. To expect a PC, SMA or CA to decide between potentially betraying their friend’s confidence and their status as a mandated reporter is irrational and unprincipled.

Granted, there are potential reasons that student employees of the College should maintain their mandated reporter status. As it stands, every employee from professor to KAC desk attendant is a mandated reporter when on duty. In some sense, CAs are considered to always be on the job, and are paid significantly for their duty. So it may make more sense for them to be considered full-time mandated reporters.

But for PCs and SMAs, there are specific times when they are expected to perform their duties as peer educators, and there are times when their status as a PC or SMA is totally irrelevant to the situation. While I fully believe that mandated reporting is a positive rule, its potential to jeopardize friendships and student relationships, needs to be addressed. At the very least, upperclass students should receive better communication about the new reporting process and confidential alternatives to the current system.

Elizabeth Iduma ’20 is a film major from Silver Spring, Md. You can contact her at iduma1@kenyon.edu.

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