To the Denison Community,
I am writing to you as the messenger of unfortunate circumstances, but also as a concerned and passionate student hoping to organize, mobilize and effect change.
For many years, SHARE Advocates have served our campus community as educators, information resources, and providers of personal support to survivors. Due to a political and legal climate beyond SHARE and the university’s immediate control, SHARE’s role for survivors of sexual harassment and assault is changing. We are expanding our work as educators and activists while stepping back from a formal role as providers of survivor support.
To provide a little context, SHARE has been working with Whisler, the Title IX office, and various members of Student Development since last spring to gain information so we may better understand what incarnation of SHARE provides the fullest support to our student body as the legal and regulatory environment changes. We have talked to other universities, attorneys, the Sexual Assault Resource Network of Ohio (SARNCO), and the Licking County Prosecutor in addition to researching the guidelines set forth by the Ohio Department of Higher Education and Ohio law.
Our clear finding is that, under current circumstances, students serving as SHARE Advocates cannot be considered confidential resources under Ohio law, and asking them to receive confidential reports of possible crimes could put the Advocates themselves at legal risk, because this area of law has become so challenging.
While this finding is frustrating to us, we have also come to realize that confidentiality is granted by the State of Ohio in association with extensive professional training (for social workers, therapists, physicians and others) and that, by virtue of our less comprehensive training, student advocates could contribute unnecessary emotional trauma for survivors. This is very serious stuff. The first line of SHARE’s Code of Ethics obliges us to “recognize the interests of the survivor as a primary responsibility.”
The last thing we intend to do is open survivors up to more harm. Students who seek support following any kind of sexual misconduct can seek confidential care through Denison’s Counseling Center and local clergy, and SHARE is still available to point survivors in the right direction to find the care they need. Though we are not confidential currently, we are looking into how we could regain this status in the future so we may best support student survivors.
To be clear, SHARE is not taking confidential reports, but is still available to direct students to resources, supports, etc. Additionally, we are exploring options that could restore the confidential status
By this point, you’re probably thinking, “There are no clear state or federal policies about student advocacy groups?” Or maybe “How has SHARE existed for so long without running into these issues?” Believe me – so are we. Policies on sexual misconduct and how universities are required to handle such cases have been subject to a lot of change in recent years, not always with clear guidance from legal authorities. This is confusing, frustrating, and frankly demeaning; sexual assault is a serious problem on college campuses and it deserves proactive, driven, and creative problem solvers to address it. One thing I can say, though, is that Denison’s administration is just as frustrated by this as students are. I believe that it is important to recognize the times when students’ and administration’s interests align, and this is one of them. Whatever direction SHARE goes moving forward, it will be vital that students understand the necessity of maintaining open lines of communication with Title IX, Student Development and, especially, Whisler.
So, what does this mean for Denison? Does SHARE still exist? Yes. Wholly. Enthusiastically. We are officially in a time of change, and as we shape a new future for the organization, we want your help. We want to be activists. We want to be drivers of policy. We want to be the school everyone is talking about for taking a collective stand against sexual assault. We want to write letters and show up at the state capital: We demand better for each other and for ourselves.
With Denison’s Sexual Assault Awareness month right around the corner, we challenge our classmates, faculty and staff to consider their role in ending sexual violence at Denison and to act on it. Maybe it’s as simple as being an active bystander at parties or finding time to discuss survivor support in class. If you’re mad, I am too, and I want to hear about it. That fire is the key to kickstarting a movement that’s been a long time coming.