Updates to Title IX threaten termination


Photo credit: Oliver Chapin-Eiserloh

Photo by Oliver Chapin-Eiserloh

Texas updated Title IX regulations over the summer in Senate Bill 212, with the Texas government mainly updating definitions of old policies. The biggest change, however, is to the Policy on Mandatory Reporting Requirements as of Sept. 1.

While faculty were already mandatory reporters under the agreement to be responsible employees which was included in the previous Policy on Mandatory Reporting Requirements and has been updated in the current policy, the new Texas law including a large consequence. Under the updated policy, employees risk termination if they fail to report all information they have on sexual misconduct. “Confidential” employees, including chaplains, health services providers at health services and mental health counselors at counseling services on campus, must only report the type of incident.

Angela Miranda-Clark, Title IX coordinator, suspects the change was made to avoid any instances of non-reporting.

“My guess is that they’d heard enough stories about university employees who did not report or refused to report, and they did not want that to happen in the future. I mean there’s been of a lot of Title IX cases in the news lately. Baylor [University] and Michigan [State University] just to name a couple, and in both of those, there have been allegations that people knew about it but didn’t report,” Miranda-Clark said.

The Texas law lists four categories where mandatory reporting is required — sexual assault, sexual harassment, stalking and dating violence. Trinity’s own policy, Sexual Misconduct policy and Anti-Harassment Policy, also require mandatory reporting for domestic violence. These additional situations will be subject to the mandatory reporting policy as well.

“We have different delineations in our policy, so we talk about non-consensual sexual intercourse, non-consensual sexual contact and sexual exploitation, but those things kind of fit under the four things that Texas listed. They’re just not called the same,” Miranda-Clark said.

On Aug. 14, Trinity approved policy updates to be compliant with Senate Bill 212. The new pressure of expulsion has some faculty concerned about what they need to report.

“A lot of the faculty are a little bit concerned about this just because it’s really unclear about what that means for all of us when we encounter things. I think for those of us who teach courses where people are likely to discuss personal stuff it’s likely to come up more,” said Erin Sumner, associate professor for the human communication and theatre departments.

Sumner teaches classes called “Interpersonal Communication” and “Conflict and Negotiation.”

“We discuss things like harassment and stalking and intimate partner violence and obsessive relational intrusion — all these things that are within this policy. And what can sometimes happen is that people will make comments without realizing what they’re saying. If we’re talking about a topic in class and someone says, ‘my roommate, there’s this really creepy guy who keeps emailing her.’ This can now qualify me wondering if her roommate, who’s a Trinity student, is being stalked,” Sumner said.

Miranda-Clark suggests that they report everything, even if they don’t know all the details.

“The safest course of action is to report anything because then you won’t be accused of not reporting. My background has been that we’ve always trained that even if you don’t know everything — if you don’t know who’s involved if you overheard something but you didn’t see who was speaking, if you heard it third-hand, if you’re not sure — [report it],” Miranda-Clark said.

After a report is made, it is sent to Miranda-Clark, who will asses it and determine if the behavior could be a violation of the policy. She will then reach out to the person affected and let them know their rights and resources. They are not required to go through with a whole investigation.

“If the person who experienced bad behavior wants to file a formal complaint and go through the process, then there’s a more formal investigation that is more involved and longer,” Miranda-Clark said.

Although faculty members are not required to tell students that they are mandatory reporters, many are choosing to disclose this information to them verbally as well as including it in their syllabi.

“I think for myself and many others, we don’t want students to feel like they can’t talk to us if they need help. We don’t want to shut down conversations about these issues because the more they get shut down, the worse it is,” Sumner said. “But also [have] the awareness that if you talk about it to me, I’m going to file a report. [The policy is] ideally geared to help get resources to people who need them when they need it.”

Alli Roman, the director for the Diversity and Inclusion Office, agrees with Sumner that the new policy is meant to make sure students get the help and resources they need.

“Ultimately, we want to make sure that students feel supported through whatever process and experience that they’re experiencing. If there are issues, how do we respond to those things in the best way for students? It’ll be interesting to see how it unfolds,” Roman said.

Miranda-Clark agrees that the right intentions are there, but there may be consequences as well.

“There’s definitely a fear that it’s going to decrease reporting, that it’s going to decrease people making a disclosure that might lead to them getting help, but the motive behind mandatory reporting is to make sure that we get help and information to someone who [has] experienced something negative,” Miranda-Clark said.