By: Maggie Warnick
The St. Mary’s College of Maryland Title IX website states that college mandatory reporters are “Faculty, staff, coaches, Public Safety, Resident Assistants (RAs), Residence Hall Coordinators (RHCs), etc.” This definition makes it a bit ambiguous as to who is a mandatory reporter under Title IX, especially for student leaders. Mandatory reporters are required to report the details of any unsafe situation they are told about to Michael Dunn, Title IX coordinator for SMCM.
Among students in leadership positions there are discrepancies between who receives formal Title IX training and what the protocol is for reporting anything they are told related to sexual assault or harassment. For peer mentors–upperclassmen assigned to new student seminars to “ensure that students are adjusting to the academic expectations of St. Mary’s” according to the St. Mary’s website–their role as it relates to Title IX is especially unclear.
As of now, peer mentors have received no detailed information regarding their responsibilities in this area. They were all sent a section of the handbook to review that emphasized student confidentiality, but told nothing about Title IX and whether or not peer mentors are mandatory reporters. Darah Schillinger (‘22), a second-time peer mentor, recalled that in the past she was spoken to by a representative of the Title IX office, but did not have any formal training. A Q&A session for the peer mentors with Helen Ann Lawless, Assistant Director of the Office of Title IX Compliance and Training, is scheduled for later in the semester. “If a student came up to me or emailed me telling me something concerning, I might not be equipped to handle it, especially if I were a first-time mentor.” Schillinger went on to explain “I know what I personally would say and do, but it is very unclear to me now if the college wants me to report what I am told and to whom.”
Emily Frieman (‘22), also a peer mentor, has received Title IX training many times, but for her other roles as a Peer Health Educator, a varsity athlete and a member of the orientation team–not for being a peer mentor. Though she is well versed in the purpose of the Title IX office and the college’s stance on sexual discrimination and harassment, she too is unsure of where peer mentors fit into that, and wishes her role was clearer. “I think that it is important that all student leaders on campus receive the Title IX presentation.” Frieman remarked, “The presentation itself is really great, and while it can be a bit repetitive, it is helpful to know what your responsibilities are if someone were to approach you.”
On the other hand, career center peer-to-peer mentors were given the Title IX presentation this year on September 8 and 10. Peer-to-peer mentors for the Center for Career and Professional Development are sophomores, juniors and seniors in paid positions who serve as T.A.s in career navigation core classes and assist students in proofreading their professional application materials. Kayla Sherfey (‘22) has held this position for two years, and said that in the Title IX presentation, Lawless made it clear that Career Center mentors are mandatory reporters, and went through what that means and how mentors should proceed if they were presented with sensitive information by another student.
Despite the requirements put in place for Title IX training among other student leaders, core class peer mentors receive no definitive answer with regard to their place within Title IX and mandatory reporting. Schillinger stated of the college, “They want us to be the bridge between the students and the school or the professor, but how can we be that bridge if we don’t know how we are supposed to handle things students tell us in confidence.”