Guest viewpoint: Required reporting at UO undermines autonomy, academic freedom and equality

This piece reflects the views of the author, Survivor Autonomy, an anonymous UO graduate student, and not those of Emerald Media Group. It has been edited by the Emerald for grammar and style. Send your columns or submissions about our content or campus issues to [email protected].

As a victim of rape, discrimination and mandatory reporting, the potential for UO to adopt a required reporting policy scares me. With a policy like this, any information regarding sexual violence or discrimination, like racism, I disclosed to a university employee, such as a mentor, would be relayed to an official university source. Without my consent.

This possibility frightened me so much that as a graduate student I wrote an open letter to the UO Senate, detailing how such a policy would likely silence reports, rupture academic relationships between students and faculty/staff, diminish academic freedom and oppress minority students.

Since being shared on April 28, the open letter has received over 580 views. With so much circulation, I am relieved that I chose to be anonymous in this process. While I am grateful for the support I have received, I have been pained by the retaliation, dismissal, disrespect and silencing that has been directed to me as Survivor Autonomy from some faculty and staff of the university.

Most damaging to the campus community, the aforementioned issues I raised in the open letter have yet to be substantively addressed by proponents of the policy, despite two Senate meetings (May 11, May 18) and a Senate blog, in which university members are encouraged to provide feedback.

I am so strongly opposed to this policy because prior to my time at UO, I was forced to report sexual violence to the police. The police response was very harmful: I was blamed for the rape, and I was told that I was responsible for the rapes this person I loved would commit in the future because I refused to give the police his name.

In addition to that punishing response, being forced to report and share something that was so private, so hurtful and so confusing with a professional stranger was a violating betrayal. It was almost as if I was being raped again: I said no; I said please stop; I cried; I said this is hurting me. And yet, all of my protests were ignored, and I was forced against my will.

I never want that to happen again to me or to anyone else.

If I were a victim of sexual violence or discrimination at UO, my options under the required reporting policy are to not have the support of the faculty I trust because I do not tell them in order to retain my privacy and autonomy. Or, I disclose, and I put those trusted faculty in a position of having to either betray me by reporting on me, or violating university policy, thus potentially jeopardizing their job.

At this point, I believe there is no denying that UO has problems with sexual violence, discrimination and their responses to such matters. Unfortunately, adopting a policy that privileges a stance of risk management, while ignoring the rights of adults, is not a way to foster trust in a university that has numerous high profile examples of betraying that trust.

There are alternatives.

Why not institute a policy that required that a university employee must follow the wishes of the adult who disclosed?

If the person wants their experience reported, the faculty or staff member must oblige. If the adult wants their personal information to remain confidential, the employee must respect that. The campus resources could be so well advertised, while being improved and corrected when harmful mistakes are made, that members of the campus community could make informed decisions on if/when to utilize those services.

The bottom line is adults, which includes undergraduates, graduate students, staff and faculty, should have the right to decide what is and is not done with their personal information. In my opinion, the conversation around required reporting should begin here:

How do we as a campus address sexual violence and discrimination while protecting individuals’ rights for privacy and autonomy?

A university that attempts to remove the rights of adults—after they have already been violated, no less—is unethical, harmful, and in deep contrast to creating a safe, equitable, respectful, trustworthy environment for all.

Survivor Autonomy is a graduate student at UO, who has chosen to write anonymously for fear of retaliation.