What professors need to know about sexual assault

BY HANNAH BROADBENT | News Editor | The Statesman Professors are mandated reporters. This means that if a student were to tell a professor that they were sexually assaulted, the professor would have to report it to a “reporting resource” on campus.

Professors are not mandated to know any more about the issue of sexual assault.

Three years ago all incoming students started having to take an online course on sexual harassment and alcohol safety. Students also have to attend a seminar during Welcome Week and continue to talk about it in freshman seminar classes.

Professors, on the other hand, have none of these things.

According to the Associate Vice Chancellor of Undergraduate Education, Gerald Pepper, professors are provided with several dozen workshop opportunities for things like writing, JAWS support, new training and web design tutorials. Pepper does not recall there being a workshop on sexual assault yet this year.

If there was a workshop on sexual assault--and when there is a workshop on sexual assault--it would not be mandatory for any faculty member.

“Everyone gets the emails,” Spanish literature professor Maureen Tobin-Stanley said. “Though everyone gets 100 emails, so you have to choose… are you going to the bystander intervention talk today or are you going to work on something you have to publish or grade your 50 papers on your desk?”

Tobin-Stanley is on the Sexual Assault, Relationship Violence, and Stalking Task Force and started the Tobin Peace and Nonviolence Scholarship.

"Everyone gets 100 emails, so you have to choose... are you going to the bystander intervention talk today or are you going to work on something you have to publish or grade your 50 papers on your desk?" -Maureen Tobin-Stanley, Spanish literature professor.

Tobin-Stanley said that in her classes the students discuss a lot of topics surrounding violence against women. There are very few novels that she teaches that don’t have some sort of violence against women.

“So do we specifically talk about sexual assault in my Spanish literature class? We do not,” Tobin-Stanley said. “Do we talk about women’s issues and many other issues? Absolutely.”

At some point in her classes each semester she tells students that she is on the task force. She hopes that this will help students to feel safe.

Other professors around campus uphold student safety to a high degree as well. Instructor of finance Klaus Beckmann wants students to know that they will be heard.

Beckmann, who is originally from Germany, said sexual assault and violence awareness is a very prevalent topic here in the US compared to his home country.

“When I came to the U.S., I noticed it was a lot stronger and more discussed,” he said.

Tobin-Stanley agrees that sexual assault has been a more highly discussed issue in the past few years also.

“Individuals are much more aware of it. You can’t deny it’s an issue,” Tobin-Stanley said.

When a student tells a professor that they have been sexually assaulted, the professor is to provide the student with multiple confidential source options they could report to, like the Women’s Resource and Action Center (WRAC) or UMD Counseling Services.

Then, the professor is mandated to report it to the Office of Student Conduct or the Human Resources and Equal Opportunity Office. The professor only needs to report the assault to one of these two resources.

"Individuals are much more aware of it. You can't deny it's an issue." -Tobin-Stanley

“If someone were to report to me, I would ask about the details and then talk to the head of the department,” said Beckmann. “I would take it very seriously.”

Information on the steps a professor should follow when helping a student to report, or when encouraging a student to do so themselves, is laid out in a three-page brochure entitled: “Sexual Assault: Prevention, Awareness and Reporting.”

Tobin-Stanley has had students report to her in the past and she can tell the difference in a student afterwards. She said there is a drop in performance, demeanor and affect.

“It’s clear and marked,” Tobin-Stanley said.

She once had a student who was sexually assaulted by another student in class. The victim dropped out of her class, then dropped out of the university.

Tobin-Stanley believes in a victim-centered approach, in which the victim would get to choose if it is reported, not a professor or anyone else.

“That being said, in a perfect world everyone would say “Yes, I want to seek Counseling,” “Yes, I want to report it so it can be in the books and something can be done about it,” -- but not everyone is in the same place of healing.”


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