This essay is part of The Spectrum, a forum in our Opinion section for marginalized voices to share their perspectives. The author of this piece chose to remain anonymous. To submit a piece for The Spectrum or discuss story ideas, please email [email protected]
In response to both national news (the Ford hearing, the #WhyIDidntReport hashtag) and campus news (the return of Sigma Alpha Epsilon, the updated Title IX guidelines), it’s time for a conversation about reporting sexual misconduct on campus.
When I was in college, a man on campus sexually assaulted me. I went to a trusted professor for help — I wanted to know what resources were available, to find a counselor and maybe to hear a kind word from an authority figure I looked up to. But the professor, it turned out, was a mandated reporter (or a “responsible employee,” as the Title IX euphemism goes). The administration was informed and badgered me into participating in an internal investigation. What ensued were the worst two years of my life.
I’m older now, getting my Ph.D. and teaching on Northwestern’s campus. The assault I experienced no longer affects me (we react to trauma in different ways — thankfully I seem to have bounced back). But my college’s investigation still haunts me: the utter lack of confidentiality, the involvement of my friends as witnesses, the eventual verdict of “not enough evidence.” There were worse elements as well — my college was much seedier than NU — but the basic process is the same at any university that complies with Title IX. As NU’s guidelines tell us: “the University cannot promise complete confidentiality in its handling of harassment complaints.”
My purpose in writing this letter is twofold. First, students at NU need to know that their instructors are mandated reporters. They need to know that Center for Awareness, Response, and Education and Counseling and Psychological Services are confidential resources, but their instructors are not.
Second, I want to urge any instructor who might read this to reconsider the guidelines set forth by the University on mandatory reporting. The professor who reported my case — well-intentioned as he may have been — did so without my consent. This is the last thing that a student who has just been subject to a nonconsensual sexual encounter needs. NU’s suggested fix of putting your “responsible employee” status on your syllabus isn’t much help either — what about survivors who aren’t comfortable speaking to a stranger at CARE before they’ve spoken to an adult they know and trust? It feels like slamming the door.
I’ll close by saying that I understand that Title IX and NU’s policies are both well-intentioned. Yes, the under-reporting problem needs to be solved. But it’s one thing to wish more survivors would report, and quite another thing to force their instructors to report on them, even when the student doesn’t want an investigation, or doesn’t understand the full implications of reporting. Our responsibility to our students should outweigh our responsibility to the system.
The author of this story is a Weinberg teaching assistant who would like to remain anonymous. They can be reached through [email protected] If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opini[email protected]