By Ernst Stumbo
As Berea students, I am sure most of our readers are familiar with the concept of “Mandatory Reporters.” If not, I will explain who they are.
Mandatory reporters are usually faculty or students in positions of power. When told certain information, they must report what was said to higher authorities even if the student explicitly asks to keep the conversation confidential. The information is typically sensitive, such as a victim of sexual assault revealing what happened to them or someone not mentally well revealing that they are depressed. After the incident is reported, the authorities to whom it was reported will email the student to “address the situation.” If someone is emailing you about a situation, they know who you are. This invasion of privacy is directly harmful to the student since their anonymity has been compromised.
I think the readers can figure out that this is a gross violation of privacy and trust on the part of the mandatory reporters. Not only is the mandatory reporter going against the student’s wishes, but they are also revealing information that is potentially harmful to the student. All of this while the student trusted the person so much that they would make known something so intimate.
The end result of placing these constraints on confidentiality is clear; victims will remain silent about things that happened to them, and vulnerable students who want to get something off of their chest will be silenced by the threat of unwanted intervention. I don’t think it is unreasonable to believe that when you tell someone something, and you want to keep something between you and them, it is kept under wraps. Not only is the ability to keep quiet about something a virtue, but I believe it is the only decent thing to do when you are asked to do so.
One can’t put the blame entirely on the people who are mandatory reporters. If you gave most of them a choice, they would choose not to be mandatory reporters. The blame for the perpetuation of mandatory reporters, and the culture of silence caused by it, falls squarely on the school administration. This is because, ultimately, the administration decides the policy when it comes to things like this. In the words of one of those mandatory reporters who will not be named, “I wish it wasn’t this way. The administration only makes us be mandatory reporters so they can cover their asses.”
The point is that mandatory reporting creates a culture where people do not speak up because they cannot trust any higher authorities not to spread sensitive information about them. This erodes trust in the community and ironically makes sexual assault more likely, and depressed people less likely to speak about their problems because of the threat of their identity being exposed.
The solution to this is simple. Get rid of mandatory reporters. The policy should be reformed to state that they should be reported only if the student is harmful to other students around them. If the student is not a threat to others, their wishes should be respected. Ultimately, this is a matter of autonomy. Suppose the college wants to take students seriously and respect their independence. In that case, they must allow students to choose whether or not they wish to report something.
Every student who doesn’t speak up about their negative experiences because of the egregious policies of the college is a person who was silenced by bureaucracy and victimized by mandatory reporting.