University News

University clarifies role of responsible employees

Title IX Office to rely on knowledge reported to students designated as responsible employees

Senior Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Updated October 7, 2015 at 10:30 p.m.

The University has clarified the designation of Residential Peer Leaders, Brown University Dining Services student supervisors and Meiklejohn Peer Advisors as “responsible employees,” dictating that they must report any knowledge of cases of sexual misconduct or harassment to the Title IX Office, said Title IX Program Officer Amanda Walsh.

The Title IX Office will use this reported knowledge to provide survivors with resources intended to aid them in deciding whether or not to take a case to the Title IX Conduct Board, said Executive Vice President for Planning and Policy Russell Carey ’91 MA’06.

The designation is not new to any group but BuDS student supervisors — both RPLs and Meiklejohns have been responsible employees in the past. But the administration has increased clarity regarding the role this year, Walsh said.

In the past, some students designated as responsible employees may not have fully realized what the role entailed. Upon realizing that they were obligated to report incidents of sexual assault, some students — particularly RPLs — came forward to the University with concerns about the circumstances in which they must fulfill the role, said Sazzy Gourley ’16, president of the Undergraduate Council of Students.

“Students have expressed frustration about what it means to be a responsible employee and how the information was communicated,” Gourley said.

All Meiklejohns and RPLs contacted for this story declined to comment, with RPLs citing an email from a community director asking them not to speak to The Herald.

In deciding which employees would be classified as responsible employees, the University was bound by federal guidance. “Those designated employees in a leadership or supervisory position, or who have significant responsibility for the welfare of students or employees” are designated as responsible, according to the University’s Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment, Sexual Violence, Relationship and Interpersonal Violence and Stalking Policy.

As BuDS student supervisors had previously been trained to report incidences of sexual harassment, it was logical to train them in reporting cases of sexual misconduct as well, Walsh said.

Responsible student employees have expressed a need for greater training so they can better understand and fill this role, Gourley said, adding that the Title IX Office will need additional resources in order to provide this training for such an extensive number of employees in light of all the other major responsibilities of the office.

Walsh said she and Carey will participate in a mid-semester fall orientation, which all Meiklejohns will be required to attend, to train them about responsible reporting.

Walsh clarified that while the role of a responsible employee is not confidential, it is private — employees are only obligated to report these incidences to their direct supervisor or the Title IX Office.

The role of RPLs at Brown is construed from the equivalent role of a residential advisor at the University’s peer institutions, making RPLs’ roles as responsible employees “more complex,” Walsh said.

RAs at other institutions are assigned clear shifts during which they are on duty, Walsh added, noting that “at Brown, RPLs are on duty all the time … making their reporting obligations become burdensome.”

Under current policy, the Title IX Office may conduct a safety risk assessment to detect repeat offenses by a certain group or person. If the office does find there to be a risk, “the University may step in as the complainant,” Walsh said.

The University will decide when to step in on a “case-by-case basis,” Walsh said. For example, if a case involved any weapons, the University would likely step in as the complainant, she said.

If such a decision were made, the University would “revisit those conversations” with students who could potentially act as witnesses, while acknowledging that some of those students would not want to participate, Walsh said.

Walsh acknowledged that a conflict of interest would inevitably arise in cases in which the University acted as the complainant. “Having an external investigator would be essential,” she said, adding that hearing decisions and sanctions are now given by a Title IX panel, rather than by the vice president of campus life, which further mitigates this conflict.

In the past, students designated as responsible employees may have chosen to report to a community director in the Office of Residential Life, the sexual assault resources and education advocate or the Office of Campus Life, Walsh said. The creation of the Title IX Office has streamlined this process, allowing responsible employees to report all cases to one place, she said.

Some students worry that there is a dearth of confidential resources. “The fact that there is currently, on campus, not a single confidential student authority or leadership support role is really distressing,” said Anastasiya Gorodilova ’16, a member of the Title IX Oversight Committee.

The University currently offers six confidential resources: the Sexual Assault Response Line, SHARE advocates, Counseling and Psychological Services, the Office of the Chaplains and Religious Life, Brown Emergency Medical Services and Health Services.

“Brown does not have the legal power to create confidential resources,” said Justice Gaines ’16, a member of the Sexual Assault Task Force.

Under Brown’s policy, the term “confidential” refers to certain groups like counselors, social workers and medical workers who have privilege under Rhode Island state law, Walsh said.

While this legal designation makes it difficult to certify students as confidential resources, Walsh noted that though the general student body is not confidential, it is also not required to report.

Gourley said many students have expressed the need for confidential resources tailored to their unique identities on campus. “If it were possible to have confidential resources in the Brown Center for Students of Color, the LGBTQ Center and the Sarah Doyle Women’s Center, that would be best,” he said.

At the end of the academic year, the University will conduct a review of all new Title IX policy updates, including the responsible employee policy, Carey said.

A previous version of this article misstated that the University is bound by Rhode Island state law when designating responsible employees. In fact, it is bound by federal law. A previous version of this article also misstated that the University cannot create confidential resources. The Herald regrets the errors.


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