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ASU uses mandatory reporting to fight sexual misconduct on campus

The University says its Title IX policies have increased the number of reports


"Under ASU policy and Title IX, all employees are mandatory reporters of unwelcome sexual conduct." Illustration published on Wednesday, March 28, 2018. 

An anonymous survey meant to bring attention to sexual harassment in academia has generated more than 2,400 responses, including some that refer to cases at ASU. 

A prominent ASU physics professor, Lawrence Krauss, was placed on paid leave after allegations of sexual misconduct generated national attention and a University investigation. The Cronkite School has launched a speaker series to address sexual misconduct in the workplace.

And on Monday, March 26, the University Senate approved a proposal to require all professors to include Title IX and mandatory reporter notices in their syllabi. This notice will be standard across syllabi, similar to requirements to include policies regarding academic integrity and resources for students with disabilities. 

Recent attention to sexual harassment and assault in the wake of the #MeToo movement has brought renewed scrutiny to sex-based discrimination, which is prohibited by Title IX regulations on college campuses. It's leading to demands for strengthened sexual violence prevention and response efforts at the University level. 

One of these initiatives, which ASU began around 2015, designates all employees as mandatory reporters of unwelcome sexual conduct. The State Press explored the legal basis, purpose, controversy and training behind ASU’s mandatory reporting requirement — and the obligations it creates for student workers. 

What is mandatory reporting? And who is a mandatory reporter?

Under ASU policy, ASU employees, including student employees, are mandatory reporters of unwelcome sexual conduct. That means when someone alleges they've experienced sexual assault or harassment, employees must immediately report that information to the Title IX Coordinator or the Office of Equity and Inclusion

Prior to 2015, ASU policy did not clearly indicate which employees were mandatory reporters. The University decided to make all employees mandatory reporters in order to reduce barriers to reporting, an ASU spokesperson said. 

“We didn’t want students, faculty or staff who had experienced assault or harassment to have to track down someone they could tell,” the spokesperson wrote in an email. "We wanted it to be easy to report."

Some employees are exempt from this blanket requirement, including the ASU Police Department victim's advocate and employees of Health Services, Counseling Services and the Employee Assistance Office. According to ASU policy, these employees are allowed to have confidential conversations with victims of sexual assault or harassment.

Kevin Salcido, ASU’s chief human resources officer, said the Office of Equity and Inclusion — the branch of ASU Human Resources charged with handling complaints regarding employees — has seen at least a three-fold increase in the number of reports made over the past three or four years.

In general, an increase in reports indicates increased awareness and trust in the system, according to an University statement.

ASU’s blanket mandatory reporting policy is similar to that in other university systems nationwide, including Michigan State University.

Brett Sokolow is a leading Title IX consultant and the president of the Association of Title IX Administrators, known as ATIXA, a non-profit organization that provides resources for Title IX coordinators and administrators. 

Sokolow said mandatory reporting requirements are governed by a variety of laws, including Title IX, Title VII, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 and the Clery Act, which often creates what his organization calls a “confusing and inconsistent set of overlapping standards and expectations.” 

He said institutional policies that make all employees mandatory reporters simplify and standardize sometimes confusing expectations for the practice.

“It’s become easier to say we have a culture of reporting on college campuses,” Sokolow said. “When you are an employee of an institution, you’re part of this culture, and you have an obligation to everyone in the community.” 

How do student workers fit in?

Student workers at ASU aren’t traditional employees — many of them are paid with stipends and don’t receive benefits — but they are nevertheless bound by mandatory reporting requirements. 

ASU has nearly 12,000 student workers, according to a University spokesperson. 

Salcido said student workers are only mandatory reporters of incidents they become aware of during the course of their employment at ASU, which means they have no obligation to report incidents brought to them outside of their capacities as an employee. 

He acknowledged that some student worker positions may not involve set hours or locations, such as a research assistant who codes from home or a student journalist who writes stories from a coffee shop, and he recommended student workers use good judgment. 

“If there’s any question, we prefer that student employees air on the side of caution and report,” Salcido said. 

Is there risk to mandatory reporting?

Mandatory reporting policies face criticism from those who say they don’t address student needs and may lead to involuntary reports.  

Jill Engle, a law professor at Pennsylvania State University, argues against blanket mandatory reporting requirements in an article published in 2015, for example.

“University policy must be specific and should presume that someone hearing a disclosure works directly with the victim to ascertain a path to reporting that is safe in all manners for that victim,” she wrote. 

ASU said it was not concerned about incidents being reported against a victim’s will, noting that mandatory reporting requirements are only intended to ensure victims are connected with appropriate resources. 

“Just because someone is obligated to inform the Title IX office, the Office of Equity and Inclusion or Student Rights and Responsibilities, does not mean that the original sexual assault or harassment survivor has lost all agency in the process,” an ASU spokesperson wrote in an email. 

“Rather, it means our University advocates are able to get engaged and offer support for whatever decisions the survivor and university ultimately make,” the spokesperson wrote. 

Sokolow said reporting to the Title IX office does not mean the office will automatically launch a full investigation against the reporter’s wishes. 

“When there is an allegation of sex or gender discrimination, then the Title IX coordinator would be required to conduct what we call a preliminary inquiry,” he said. “Part of what we train Title IX coordinators to do during the preliminary inquiry is to assess whether the reporting party wants an investigation to move forward or not.”

The preliminary inquiry, Sokolow said, allows investigators to determine whether it is reasonable for the Title IX office to respect a reporting party’s wishes to avoid a formal investigation or disciplinary procedure.

Sokolow said there are some situations in which coordinators may not be able to give discretion a to reporting party’s preferences, including if the complaint is against an employee – in which case Title VII and employment law would come into play – or if the complaint represents a legitimate risk of ongoing harm.

“We’re allowed to give a lot of discretion to the victim’s wishes on a student-on-student claim, and we probably have to give less discretion when the student is alleging misconduct by an employee," Sokolow said. "How much less is a legally debatable question."

Despite campus officials' efforts to support and provide resources, investigations can be draining for victims, who have to recount traumatic experiences.

An ASU senior on the Downtown Phoenix campus, who asked to remain anonymous, wrote in a statement that having to recount her traumatic experience to counselors and investigators put pressure on her academic, professional and personal life. Some days, she would have to go directly from counseling to class, where her professor wasn't aware of what she was going through, she wrote. 

"When someone is assaulted ... it is not the responsibility of that person to announce their trauma. How could I look my respected professors and bosses in the eye and explain my assault?" she wrote. "It's one thing to be sexually assaulted, it's another trauma to live through it in investigations, phone calls and emails."

Tasha Menaker, the director of sexual violence response initiatives at the Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence, said it's important to tailor responses to sexual violence to the needs of the person who has experienced that violence.  

“It’s critical for us to keep in mind that justice looks different for everyone," she said. "Not every survivor wants to go through a school disciplinary process or through a criminal justice process.”

Menaker said it is crucial to make sure survivors can access support while still feeling like they have control over whether, when and how they want to report their experiences.

Is there mandatory reporter training?

In order to learn about their mandatory reporting obligations, all ASU employees are required to complete a 15-minute training course called “Title IX and Your Duty to Report” via Blackboard. 

The training explains that if the complaint is against a student, the report should be brought immediately to the dean of students. If the complaint is against an employee, the report should be brought to the Office of Equity and Inclusion. Any allegation can be brought to the Title IX office. The training stipulates that employees should not try to investigate allegations on their own. 

To complete the training, employees also have to score at least a 75 percent on a four-question quiz. The test allows multiple attempts.

Part of this PSA video, released by the Obama White House, is used in the mandatory reporter training. 

Supervisors are in charge of making sure their employees complete the training, and failing to do so can have negative repercussions on an employee’s annual evaluation, said a University spokesperson. 

Victims' advocates say training is crucial to ensure appropriate and sensitive responses to victims who tell their stories. 

Menaker said the first response to someone who shares their experience with sexual violence sets the path for how that person will decide to move forward with their report. 

“When it comes to a sexual assault disclosure, if you just remember active listening and emotional validation, those are the two most important things,” Menaker said. 

Menaker said training is most effective when it is done in person, on multiple occasions and over an extended period of time.

Sokolow said one of the key issues facing university training initiatives is how to categorize classroom disclosures. He said many schools teach faculty that if someone writes about an experience with sex discrimination in an assignment or discusses it in class, that student is giving notice to the faculty member, who is then required to make a report to the Title IX office. 

“That’s a non-lawyer’s understanding of how notice works — it’s a blunt instrument that, legally speaking, is not really how notice works,” he said. “I think that simply stating to all faculty members that everything you hear about and everything you know that’s disclosed in your classrooms is required to be reported under Title IX is an overstatement of what the law actually requires.” 

Sokolow said mandatory reporters are required to make a report when they are given notice, which he defined as "...the disclosure of an allegation of discrimination coupled with an intention by the person disclosing it to have it acted upon."

Still, he said many universities use blanket requirements to avoid forcing faculty members to make complex legal determinations they may not be trained to make.

How do universities educate non-employees?

The University Senate's vote to require all professors to put Title IX policies in their syllabi could help educate non-employees — those who would be at risk for involuntary disclosures — about mandatory reporting requirements. 

Prior to the requirement, the ASU provost would send out recommended language for syllabi that included Title IX notices. But a State Press review of syllabi across ASU departments revealed variations in the extent to which that language was included.

Daniel McCarville, chair of the Student-Faculty Policy Committee that introduced the proposal, said the fact that Title IX language and mandatory reporter notices weren’t already required in syllabi could have been oversight.

McCarville said while he thought requiring Title IX language in syllabi was a no-brainer, he isn’t sure how much of a substantive difference it will make because it will depend on students reading those parts of syllabi. 

“Can it help with awareness? I don’t know. I can always sit there and say I hope so. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t hope so,” he said. “You kind of hope it becomes such an everyday expectation from everyone at ASU that ... someday it’s not needed to be written down.” 

ASU President Michael Crow said he supported the syllabus requirement and other education initiatives in an interview with The State Press on March 2. 

“I support putting (Title IX and mandatory reporter notices) in every syllabus," Crow said. "I support putting it out everywhere, so that people understand that ... conduct like this on these matters is not going to be a part of our culture." 

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