Why I’m coming out to students as a survivor of sexual assault: A follow-up.

It’s been a little over a semester since I first put information and resources regarding sexual misconduct in my syllabus, and, when discussing this on the first day of class, came out to my students as a survivor of sexual assault. Did the statement in my syllabus and my disclosure to the students have any effect on them? All I have is anecdotal evidence but I’ll share a few of those anecdotes here.

Students actually dealing with sexual misconduct: A student ended up dropping my course just before the official withdrawal date. The student stayed and talked to me outside of the last class attended, and said they were having lots of problems with anxiety that was mainly due to being raped during the first few weeks of classes. Before I even brought up the fact that I needed to disclose this as a mandatory reporter, the student showed me evidence that contact had already been made with the Title IX office. I’m not sure whether or not the student had done so because of the information on the syllabus….it hardly seemed like the time to ask, “So was the information I provided you on the syllabus helpful with this?” However, just the outright admission that this incident had already been reported this told me that the student had listened on the first day and knew I was a mandatory reporter. Whether or not my information helped, though, was beside the point; the student was getting help from the right resources on campus, and that’s all that matters to me.

An unanticipated consequence: About a month into the course, a female student came to talk to me about the fact that she was not doing well in here other biology course, which was her first biology course in college with a lab. We talked about strategies that she could use to prepare better for each class, and how to study better for exams. I also asked if she was adjusting well to college: she launched into a personal story about why her transition was rather hard. She told me that she felt comfortable telling me her story because my disclosure on the first day of the course. We talked about ways that she may be a better student while facing some tough situations at home—mainly I gave her the information for campus resources that could help her do so. She also asked if I would be willing to be a female role model for her during her time at this university. I told her, of course! Come talk to me anytime; everyone needs good role models for particular facets of their life with whom they can toss around ideas, or ask for advice once in a while. The student came and talked to me during office hours for a few minutes almost every week. She eventually decided that, with my assurance that it was okay to visit other departments, a biology degree wasn’t for her and dropped the major. A few other students mentioned overtly to me that my admission on the first day of class made them feel more comfortable with me—these were all female students. The unanticipated consequence was that some female students felt more comfortable with me, and they stated such.

To sum up, I know this isn’t the tact everyone who has been through similar situations would take, nor am I saying they should take this tact. However, I think for my particular circumstances there were some positive outcomes of my 30 second admission to students in class. I guess the counter-argument could also be made: maybe making myself so vulnerable to students on the first day of the course could have negative outcomes for the classroom dynamic as well. I did not consciously perceive anything I would consider to be a negative outcome. I will say that with the 2 senior seminars I am teaching this semester, I put this information in my syllabi, but I did not make this same admission for various reasons. I haven’t thought much about what I will do in the future–I will likely evaluate this on class-by-class basis. Regardless, thinking about this before classes and consciously deciding how to deal with it ahead of time has made me deeply consider my role as a faculty member in dealing with and preventing sexual misconduct on campus.

My main point in writing a hope that anyone reading this thinks a little more deeply about the role that each of us may have in dealing with sexual misconduct on campuses. Whether it be having a list of resources ready to give to students that may come to you in this type of situation, thinking about how you will respond to a student who brings up this type of issue with you (especially if you are a mandatory reporter), or directly putting this information on your syllabus, this type of proactive thinking may help a student (or more than 1 student!) over the course of your career. And that, to me, is worth at least a little forethought on the topic.

One thought on “Why I’m coming out to students as a survivor of sexual assault: A follow-up.

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