The following article was written by Khaela C. Villar and published on Rappler on 7 August 2020.
After alumni and students came forward on social media with allegations of sexual harassment from the school faculty, Miriam College has turned to its community for suggestions on how to ensure safe spaces on campus.
Throughout July, a series of town hall meetings were conducted that gathered up to 700 Miriam College administrators, faculty, alumni, student council members, and office employees from both the Quezon City and Nuvali campuses.
The meetings allowed for community members to openly discuss their understanding of safe spaces, identify existing systems, cultures, programs, and activities that either promote or prevent this on campus.
These were done to help the administration get feedback and formulate concrete plans and policies in ensuring safe spaces on campus.
“What we wanted them to do is to open up and talk about what they understood about safe space [because] we want to have a common understanding… We wanted everyone to be on the same page,” Aurorita Mendoza, Director for Alumni Engagement and Strategy and Planning Officer of Miriam College, said in a mix of English and Filipino.
Miriam College came under fire earlier in June when an influx of tweets about sexual harassment from the school’s faculty surfaced online under the viral hashtag #MCHSDOBETTER. The administration has since assured students that they have initiated investigation and will take appropriate steps to resolve the issue.
Tasked to ensure that the future protocols and guidelines will be aligned with the Safe Spaces Act, the school’s Institutional Committee on Ethics and Protocol (ICEP) is studying and integrating the results of the town hall meetings into the school's handbooks and other relevant platforms for students, faculty, and employees.
The school administration will also be holding legal talks for faculty and staff that will be taking place in the second half of August. These will discuss the existing laws seeking to address sexual harassment.
These include the Anti-Sexual Harassment Act of 1995, the Safe Spaces Act, and the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation, and Discrimination Act, which Mendoza said will serve as the “overarching legal framework” for their policies.
“[Our] faculty and staff will be meeting with lawyers as our resource person so that we understand what are the requirements of the law, what our obligations [are], and also what goals do we have in order to enforce the requirements of the law,” Mendoza said.
Implementation of a 'grievance channel'
Aside from the legal talks, the administration will also be setting up a helpline for students, where they can report cases with confidentiality.
In line with the implementation of the safe spaces act, Miriam College is also setting up the Institutional Committee on Decorum and Investigation (CODI) for the incoming school year.
As mandated by law, this committee that will be composed of representatives from the MC faculty, administration, parents, students and alumni will investigate and address complaints of gender-based sexual harassment on campus and other public spaces.
The MC administration will also be strengthening the enforcement of their policy prohibiting faculty and students from having interactions on social media. With the shift to online classes, MC has designated an online portal where teachers and students can discuss their courses. One of its features includes guidance and counseling services for students who want to avail of psychosocial support.
Already in effect is a confidential email-reporting channel that students can use to report incidents that are referred to the Truth and Justice Committee (TJC). All aggrieved parties can send reports of sexual harassment to the email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Miriam College President Laura Quiambao-Del Rosario said hat the recent developments have “opened [their] eyes to the need to listen and seek the truth” behind the sexual harassment cases on campus.
“The town hall meetings were crucial to hear out observations, opinions and recommendations to create and maintain safe spaces in our institution, moving forward,” Del Rosario said in a statement.
Mendoza said that the cooperation of all members of the community is important in ensuring the campus remains a safe space for students.