“Wait! Are you telling me that I have to share information with the university that a student shared with me in private? How will this student trust me ever again?”
If one of your job responsibilities is training faculty on their required reporting responsibilities, this is probably a worry you hear a lot.
And it is a reasonable concern–after all, many faculty have chosen their career track because they value the unique relationships that are formed in the classroom, and because they genuinely care about the well-being of their students. Learning about new responsibilities to report information can feel like an unwanted, and perhaps even damaging, interruption in the faculty/student relationship and in their ability to give students their care and support.
And yet, many if not most colleges and universities–driven in part by federal guidance and regulations–have adopted policies that require some or all faculty to report information about possible sexual harassment or assault to campus authorities.
While these new reporting responsibilities may not be welcome news–at least initially–there are effective strategies that you can share with faculty that can help them BOTH comply with institutional policies, and safeguard (and perhaps even strengthen) their relationships with students.
Let Students Know About Reporting Responsibility at the Beginning of the Relationship
I strongly encourage faculty to share their reporting responsibilities at the beginning of the course, or when they first start to work with a student. Some faculty share a short message in class or on a syllabus. The University of Michigan’s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching provides several excellent examples of syllabus statements that can be very helpful. With early information, students can make an informed decision about what information they share with faculty and what they do not.
Frame The Reporting Message in Accurate and Non-threatening Terms
Encourage faculty to adopt language that is non-threatening when it comes to reporting responsibilities. There is a world of difference between saying to a student that “I have to share information with a few others at the university so that they can make sure that you and other students are safe and so that you can get appropriate support and care” and saying “I am going to have to report this information.” The latter, while true, conveys the message that the reporting is the most important concern, while the former conveys that the student’s needs are the most important concern.
Outline the Limits of Who Will Know What and Why
Be specific in letting students know exactly who you are going to tell, what you are responsible for telling them, and who else will know. Students often hear “I need to report this to the University” and imagine their private story and experience suddenly being spread across the student newspaper headlines. Take time to emphasize that only those with a legitimate need for the information will be informed and that the student’s right to privacy is going to be protected to the greatest extent possible.
Remind Students of their Rights And Options
As faculty share their reporting responsibilities, encourage them to also let students know what their choices are in this process–that they can choose to not provide further information or not speak with others, and that they are in control of what else and whom else they speak to about their experience.
These four strategies can transform a student’s to a faculty member’s disclosure from one of fear, anxiety, and possible trauma, to one of care, support and connection. They can also alleviate a faculty members own fear, anxiety, hesitation, or resentment at fulfilling their reporting responsibilities on campus and lead to more consistent policy adoption and more positive survivor experiences with university responses.