Ortner Student Fellow
During my undergraduate career, I spent a great deal of time studying the issue of sexual assault on college campuses. I worked with student activists and survivors through the campus rape crisis center and prosocial bystander trainings, and I worked with university staff on the Title IX Task Force. I came to realize a voice was missing from the greater conversation––faculty. For my senior honors thesis, I sought to understand how professors perceive and respond to sexual assault at one university. To begin my research, I completed the university’s online Title IX training for professors. I then interviewed ten professors (four women and six men) from the university’s four core academic disciplines: Humanities, Social Sciences, Sciences, and Arts. My semi-structured interviews centered on three main questions: 1) Do you know about the issue of campus sexual assault? 2) If a student approaches you, do you know the resources? 3) Do you see yourself as having a role in addressing campus sexual assault in some capacity?
All of the professors were very aware of campus sexual assault. They attributed their awareness primarily to faculty meetings and the recent publication of the Campus Climate Survey; some professors also referenced student activism and the press. Faculty recognized their status as mandated reporters under Title IX, but knew little about reporting options for students. In addition, professors lacked knowledge of campus resources, specifically the campus support services for survivors. Findings are not unique to this university, as they overlap with national data.
In the interviews, we spoke at length about their experiences with having a student disclose a sexual assault. Six out of the ten professors (one or more from each of the four disciplines) reported having received at least one disclosure. Four of the disclosures were by undergraduate students and two were by graduate students. In addition, one professor received a disclosure from a student who was accused of sexual misconduct. Of the professors who received disclosures, three spoke of the emotional impact of hearing about their students’ experiences. Two of these professors discussed their empathy because they themselves had been sexually assaulted or harassed.
Although most professors intended to connect students to additional campus support, only two spoke with students about which resources were best. I found a similar trend among professors who talked to students about reporting. They did not discuss the many options available to students because they did not know many of them. I attribute this to both the lack of comprehensive information in the online Title IX training as well as the lack of university-wide dialogue about the implications of responding to sexual assault. The professors were familiar with the resources outlined in the training, but the training does not cover the scope of all reporting avenues available to students.
I concluded that even professors who want to support survivors might not have the tools to do so effectively. If these findings hold true at other locations, universities would be wise to provide more substantial mandatory Title IX training and opportunities for faculty and staff to discuss their role in preventing and responding to sexual assault. This would enable faculty and staff to collaborate to ensure best practices for supporting students and dealing with disclosures.