Baylor policies focus on confidentiality, amnesty

Over the past year, two terms related to student protection have repeatedly been at the center of conversation: amnesty and confidentiality.

However, some students still may not be sure of the difference between the two policies and the departments they affect on campus.

Dr. Jim Marsh, director of Counseling Services, said one has to do with privacy, while the other pertains to absolution.

Confidentiality is a policy that comes into play in Counseling Services and the Health Center, Marsh said. It simply means information about students’ activities and records in either of these places cannot be shared with anyone beyond the patient and their counselor or physician.

“It means your information is private,” Marsh said.

Marsh said it’s important that students understand how confidentiality works, especially for those who have experienced assault and may not be confident that counselors will keep the information anonymous.

“If a student comes to the Counseling Center, everything about them is confidential,” Marsh said. “The fact that they have an appointment, came for an appointment, didn’t come for an appointment, is confidential.”

Patty Crawford, Title IX coordinator, said confidentially is part of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPPA), and must be upheld by medical professionals on campus.

Marsh said he takes confidentiality seriously, and he won’t even acknowledge his patients if they run into each other outside of an appointment.

The university’s confidentiality policy is so strict that, should a student report an assault to Baylor, staff in the Title IX office are not even allowed to ask the student if they have received counseling. This does not, however, mean they cannot make recommendations.

“Title IX staff provide information about support services at Baylor and also connect students with counseling resources in their own respective communities, including the Waco community,” Crawford said.

While confidentiality pertains to sensitive information, amnesty deals with something entirely different – being pardoned from violations of the Student Conduct Code.

Marsh said, historically, some victims have not reported violence because of conduct violations, like underage drinking, that occurred at the time of the assault. Students have feared that being punished for their actions would overshadow the abuse that occurred.

“Amnesty says you’re not going to be punished for drinking,” he said. “Most of that has historically applied to student conduct.”

Crawford said Title IX’s policy, Sex Discrimination, Sexual Violence, and Sexual Harassment, was adopted in August 2015 and includes the amnesty clause.

“In order to encourage reports of conduct prohibited under this policy, the University will offer amnesty to the alleged victim or reporting witness with respect to any alcohol and minor drug use violations of the University’s student conduct code,” according to the Title IX amnesty webpage.

At the end of August, Baylor launched an online tracker that documents the progress being made on the 105 recommendations given to administration by independent law firm Pepper Hamilton following its investigation of Baylor’s mishandlings of sexual assault cases. The tracker currently lists Baylor’s amnesty policy as under revision.

“The policy is currently under an annual revision, which is a common practice to ensure the university’s compliance with the Department of Education’s updated guidelines,” Crawford said. “The revised policy will add clarifications to the amnesty section, and this includes specific language specific to sexual assault.”

It was the Pepper Hamilton investigation brought the necessity of these confidentiality and amnesty to light. Both Marsh and Crawford said they want students to know their departments aim to serve.

“I encourage students to contact the Title IX Office with their questions and concerns. As our awareness campaign states, ‘It’s On Us,’” Crawford said. “We need the students’ voices and feedback to grow our education and prevention programs to truly affect change.”