Pomona College is trying to determine whether sponsors, the returning students who live in Pomona first-year residence halls to ease new students’ transition to college, are legally required to report sexual assaults. The question arose during this year’s sponsor training, when sponsors asked whether they, like resident advisers (RAs), are considered mandated reporters of sexual assault.
“It felt like when we asked the question, ‘Are sponsors mandated reporters?’, they had never quite thought about that before,” said Natalie Daifotis PO’15, who is both a sponsor and an Advocate for Survivors of Sexual Assault. “They just sort of said ‘yes,’ and then said, ‘We’ll get back to you.’”
Pomona Dean of Campus Life Ric Townes said that the question had not been raised before this year.
“It turns out this year there are several sponsors who are also Advocates, so it sort of surfaced,” Townes said.
He said that the legal status of mandatory reporter extends to a “resident adviser, or assistant, or someone who functions in a way similar to a resident adviser.”
Under this policy, “RAs are obligated to notify any superior person, as in a supervisor or dean, if sexual assault happens on campus,” said RA Tobi Clement PO ’14.
It is unclear whether sponsors have the same obligation, Townes said.
“Could you use the word sponsor and resident adviser synonymously? Those are the questions the lawyers are trying to sort out,” he said.
Lawyers are still researching the topic and determining how other colleges handle the situation, he added.
“It’s just not clear, because we’re the only place we know of that has sponsors,” he said. “There is no comparable situation.”
If sponsors are mandated reporters, then a survivor of sexual assault who wanted the incident to go unreported could not talk freely with a sponsor. This fact raises questions about the interactions between sponsors and first-years.
“What we don’t want to lose, which we’re all clear about, is the relationship that we want sponsors to have with their sponsees,” Townes said.
Still, legal issues may force the sponsors to report sexual assault.
“Let’s say someone reports something to the sponsor, and they don’t report it, so the college in some ways doesn’t know, doesn’t do anything, doesn’t support the survivor, does nothing,” Townes said. “The college is exposed legally, should something else go wrong, like a repeat offense.”
“If they’re not mandatory reporters, and someone tells them something, is the college exposed to legal liability? The short answer right now is yes,” he said.
Daifotis said that she is concerned about how mandatory reporting would affect her ability to act as both an Advocate and a sponsor. Advocates agree to maintain confidentiality, but this arrangement would be in jeopardy if sponsors were considered mandatory reporters, she said.
“For me personally it was hard to hear that that might be the case, because, as an Advocate, I am one of the few confidential resources,” Daifotis said.
Townes said that sponsors such as Daifotis might have to put aside their Advocate role to fulfill their responsibilities as sponsors.
“One of the questions is if they are a sponsor and an Advocate, could they wear the Advocate hat and not the sponsor hat? The sponsor hat trumps the Advocate hat, at least currently,” Townes said.
Questions also arose about whether Advocates must be mandated reporters.
As of now, the answer is no, “but it’s not a definitive no,” Townes said.