By Laurindo Garcia, Content Lead – Catalyse Consulting
In times of crisis, it is expected that Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) express their duty of care in a manner and tone that is in sync with prevailing cultural norms.
Given that our interconnected age is dominated by a 24-hour news cycle, instant messaging and social media, IHLs cannot afford a slow and protracted response to a crisis. Nor is it acceptable to exclude the voices of students – unintentionally or intentionally – in significant decisions affecting campus life.
There is a greater chance that stakeholders will view processes as fair and inclusive when duty bearers include students, staff, academics and the broader community in a consultative, transparent and time bound approach. Mutual agreement between all parties may not be possible all the time. However cynicism decreases when leaders listen to the concerns and needs of all stakeholders with sincerity.
The National University of Singapore (NUS) is an excellent example of how higher learning institutions can create a safer, empathetic and productive environment for campus members through an expeditious review process that gives weight to the voices of all stakeholders. Leaders of other academic institutions can take their cue from the speed and manner in which NUS acted in a time of crisis.
By improving the portionality of policies, enhancing support procedures for victims, and empowering employees, NUS is in a better position to manage sexual misconduct more effectively.
Here are three lessons that leaders of higher institutions should consider for their own organisations:
1. NUS improved the proportionality of its sexual misconduct policies through a swift, yet consultative internal review
Why is this important?
The recommended changes were tabled swiftly after all university stakeholders – including students, staff and faculty – were invited to contribute to a consultative and transparent process. By way of introducing discretionary jurisdiction, the new policy raised the benchmark on sanctions that struck a delicate balance between: a) addressing stakeholders’ concern that sanctions are too lenient; and, b) ensuring equitable proportionality of sanctions.
Catalyse Consulting hopes to see the spirit of proportionality, inclusivity and equity “come alive” in the execution of the policies.
2. NUS enhanced its on-campus support network by training approximately 400 employees to become first responders to sexual misconduct through customised instruction delivered by Catalyse Consulting.
Why is this important?
As the first point of contact for a survivor of sexual misconduct, the quality of a first responder conversation with the survivor is significant in three ways.
Firstly, according to research from AWARE’s Sexual Assault Care Centre (SACC), good first responder conversations contribute to survivor knowing what options for justice are available and feeling in control of the situation. Bad first responder conversations can re-traumatise the survivor and prolong the healing process.
Secondly, first responders have influence on whether a victim files a formal complaint or report. Whilst seeking a report to be filed should never come at the expense of a victim’s right to choose, what is critical is that a first responder has the necessary skills to support the survivor’s autonomy of choice..
Finally, a poorly handled first responder conversation may be construed as a university being dismissive of the victim’s experiences. Therefore a university’s reputation is at significant risk while student-facing staff lack quality first responder training.
Catalyse Consulting hopes that first responder training will be cascaded down to student leaders because fellow students are often the first point of contact for victims.
3. NUS invested in setting up a dedicated Victim Care Unit (VCU) on campus and a separate unit to support offenders.
Why is this important?
In the wake of sexual misconduct victims, offenders and the public have unique and diverse needs. By working with AWARE’s Sexual Assault Care Centre, NUS is demonstrating its commitment to providing holistic care and support to survivors throughout their journey of healing. This level of commitment is equally demonstrated for offenders with the establishment of a separate and independent rehabilitation unit.
The creation of a VCU at NUS demonstrates an enlightened and progressive approach. Catalyse Consulting hopes to see more universities and other institutes of higher learning in Asia follow NUS’ leadership with dedicated and holistic care and support for victims and offenders.
Upon reflecting on NUS’ journey, Catalyse Consulting urges all leaders of higher learning institutions to consider the following five recommendations:
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