As Biden Administration Reviews Title IX Regulations, We are Reminded that Universal Mandated Reporting Creates Increased Risk for Marginalized & LGBT+ Sexual Violence Survivors
M. Colleen McDaniel, M.A.1 and Jennifer M. Gómez, Ph.D.1, 2
1Wayne State University
2Center for Institutional Courage
16 June 2021
“We must prioritize human life over institutional reputations.”—Tayler Mathews
With Title IX rules and regulations under review by the Biden Administration, now is the perfect time to change how universities respond to survivors of campus sexual violence.
Blanket mandated reporting in which most university employees—faculty, staff, and students—are required to report sexual violence to Title IX Coordinators does not show survivors that the university believes them. Nor does it succeed in mandating trust in violently oppressive universities.
Because such universal mandated reporting further oppresses us by framing, defining, and creating policies about survivors’ trauma through their lens.
Here is a typical conversation with a university’s Title IX Coordinator
“If you hear anything that sounds like it was violent…”
“Especially if the survivor gives you a name, place, or time…”
“Definitely if it happened on campus and during their time as a student…”
“Even if they say they don’t want to report… you must.”
“This way, we have more pieces of the puzzle to find out who are the dangerous people on campus.”
In these conversations, we get a glimpse into their world.
In their world, sexual violence is only a problem for cisgender women, and those women need to be saved. In their world, they need to identify those rare university members who stifle reports of sexual violence. For them, it doesn’t make sense that a survivor would not want to seek so-called justice via the Title IX Office.
In their world, they need to protect survivors from themselves.
Unsurprisingly, their world consists of the few with power in the university: the upper-level administrators who are predominantly the combination of White, cis-gendered, able-bodied, heterosexual, and male. Their intentions in requiring all university employees to report any instance of sexual violence is ostensibly meant to safeguard survivors. However, it is simultaneously a gross overreach of Obama-era guidance on Title IX that serves to first protect the legal interest of the university.
What’s The Harm of Their World?
Imagine a marginalized student who discloses sexual harassment from a renowned—and tenured—faculty member. There are two options that are likely for this student survivor who does not want to formally report to a university that has discriminated against them in the past:
1. Instead of disclosing to a trusted graduate student who is a mandated reporter, the student survivor keeps the harassment to themselves, thus dealing with the mental health consequences all alone.
2. Conversely, the student survivor discloses this to a graduate student, who formally reports the harassment to the university—thus subjecting the student survivor to the harm of removing their autonomy and agency.
In their world, what the Title IX Director may not realize is that all students are not at equal risk of these institutional betrayals because oppression dictates that students with majority identities are less likely to be in the situation of this survivor.
But this isn’t just a student issue.
Imagine another scenario in which a faculty member is sexually assaulted by their same-sex partner. This violence includes a harmful cultural betrayal from both parties being marginalized in society. Upon disclosing to a trusted faculty colleague—who is also a mandated reporter—the Title IX Office reaches out to the faculty survivor without their consent. In doing so, the office not only outs the faculty’s sexual assault experience, but also their sexual orientation.
The fear of further physical danger, stigma, and social isolation that is associated with coming out as an LGBT+ individual heighten the risks that survivors already face: victim blame, disbelief, betrayals, stigma, social exclusion.
There can be no compromising survivor’s choice and autonomy.
As a graduate student and faculty member with different marginalized identities, we are both members of the Academic Alliance for Survivor Choice (ASC). ASC’s goals include creating and implementing “evidence-based reporting policies that prioritize survivor choice and autonomy.”
We are academic advocates for change because we know the harms of policies made under the assumptions of his world.
Our world is different.
In our world, universities—marked by structural inequality from their inception—are unsafe spaces for those of us who are both marginalized and most at risk for sexual violence victimization: cisgender White women, community members with disabilities, international students, people of Color across genders, LGBTQ+ individuals, and others. In the midst of overt and covert discrimination, we are all too aware of the risks and potential harm that universities can do to us and our stories.
In our world, the above student and faculty survivor scenarios happen all too often.
In our world, we are fighting for something better.
Like what happens in sexual assault, survivors’ agency and autonomy are again taken away when the university removes their ability to disclose to trusted professors, staff members, and graduate students by mandating that they report our private, vulnerable stories to lawyers whose very job description is to prioritize the legal needs of the university.
Though it can be easy to get discouraged by the status quo, sexual violence and harassment—and the institutional response to it—is a fixable problem for all universities.
Because higher ed has systemic inequality both within its foundations and echoing through every contemporary hall, the only way to create trust between survivors and universities is to make the institution a safe place. This starts with upholding and valuing the autonomy of all members, particularly those who are marginalized both within and outside the university. This means creating, advertising, and implementing reporting policies that are trauma-informed and culturally competent.
We, the people who make up our universities, can change our institutions from being cowardly and risk-averse to institutionally courageous universities that foster safety and trust, while also being legally compliant. Everyone—not just those who are marginalized—can and should contribute to much needed Title IX policy change for the betterment of survivors:
1) Read, sign, and share the “Support, Not Report: Making Title IX Mandatory Reporting Policies More Survivor-Centered” letter from the Academic Alliance for Survivor Choice in Reporting Policies: an open letter to the US Secretary of Education & Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights that includes recommendations for survivor-centered, evidence-based reporting policies
2) Urge university administrators to revisit their mandated reporting policies and examine how they might be disadvantaging marginalized university members
3) Create an advisory team at your university to adopt a survivor-centered reporting policy that removes blanket mandatory reporting requirements in cases where the survivor does not want to report to the Title IX Office
4) Require trauma-informed education for faculty and staff on how to respond to survivor disclosures of sexual and dating violence
5) Refer to campus climate data on diversity, equity, and inclusion to identify and address gaps in meeting the needs of marginalized university members
7) Remember, we have the power to create the universities that we want to live, work, and thrive in. We just have to do it.
Together, we can create the world we want to live in—for survivors and all of us. We are in the right place. And now is the exact right time.
About the Authors:
M. Colleen McDaniel, M.A., is a Doctoral Candidate in the Social-Personality Psychology Program at Wayne State University. Most recently she has published Title IX Best Practice Recommendations and empirical research on men's self reports of sexual aggression perpetration.
Social Media: @violence_femme
Jennifer M. Gómez, Ph.D., is an incoming 2021-22 Fellow at the Stanford University Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS). With a contract with APA Books, she will spend the Fellowship year writing her academic book on cultural betrayal, sexual violence, and healing for Black women and girls (from Black Lives Matter to Me Too).
Social Media: @JenniferMGmez1
McDaniel, M. C. & Gómez, J. M. (2021, June). As Biden Administration Reviews Title IX Regulations, We are Reminded that Universal Mandated Reporting Creates Increased Risk for Marginalized & LGBT+ Sexual Violence Survivors (online). https://mcmcd.blogspot.com/2021/06/as-biden-administration-reviews-title.html
For further reading, check out: Freyd's Compelled Disclosure- Compilation of Articles & Resources and the Academic Alliance for Survivor Choice in Reporting Policies (ASC)
To learn more about institutional courage, check out: Freyd's Center for Institutional Courage
To take action: Circulate and sign ASC's Open Letter to Miguel Cardona, Ed.D. (Secretary of Education) and Suzanne B. Goldberg, J.D. (Acting Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights).