A year ago, social media posts bearing #MCHSDoBetter, accusing some faculty members of sexual harassment, flooded Twitter. It was a painful time for the institution that led the community into a serious reflection as well as concrete and committed action. Today, as the healing continues, Miriam College remains to keep to its promise to do better in ensuring the school is a safe and nurturing space for its students across levels and campuses.
Concrete steps have been undertaken to create more awareness and deeper understanding of the issue, open up new communication channels, improve structures, policies, processes and systems, and change mindsets in order to genuinely protect the interest of the students.
Immediately, firstname.lastname@example.org was announced as the dedicated email address for lodging gender-based sexual harassment-related complaints from present and former students.
This was followed by more specific actions:
1. Committees were promptly created to look into all formal complaints as well as social media posts, and to review existing policies and structures of the school:
a. The Truth and Justice Committee (TJC), an independent body composed of external experts, was formed to investigate formal complaints on gender-based sexual harassment and those aired out on social media that involved Basic Education faculty. Part of the TJC’s tasks is to make necessary recommendations to the school, moving forward. To perform its mandate of conducting administrative investigations, the TJC later reconstituted itself as the Ad Hoc Committee on Decorum and Investigation (Ad Hoc CODI) as the immediate response of the school focused on the resolution of the cases brought to fore via social media and by those who took courage to come forward to tell their stories through the safe space email address.
b. The Institutional Committee on Decorum and Investigation (CODI) was also created to handle complaints involving Higher Education faculty and now serves as the permanent CODI of the school in compliance with the Safe Spaces Act. Henceforth, the CODI shall handle investigations of all gender-based sexual harassment complaints from students, faculty, and other personnel across units and campuses.
c. The Institutional Committee on Ethics and Protocols (ICEP) was formed to review internal processes to promote and sustain safe spaces for students and community members. A school-wide review of programs, policies, processes, and practices was conducted in order to create and maintain safe spaces for all. This review process also considered issues raised by the TJC/Ad Hoc CODI over the period of its investigations. School policies and manuals and other documents have been updated accordingly. Among the policies and manuals reviewed and updated are the Employee Code of Conduct and Policy on Sexual Harassment to cover relevant provisions under the Safe Spaces Act.
d. The Institutional Hiring Committee (IHCOM), which carries out an oversight function on the selection processes of employees was established to ensure compliance of all units with the standard hiring procedure, assessment of applicants, cross referencing of credentials, and vetting of assessment results.
2. Dialogues with and Education Sessions for the Community
a. A series of Town Hall Meetings was held to consult stakeholders on the concept of safe space and how this can be created, promoted, and sustained. These were conducted for the faculty, administrators, staff, students, guidance counselors, professionals, parents, and alumni. Inputs from these meetings were considered in strengthening programs, policies, processes, and practices that relate to creating a safer learning environment for all.
b. Talks for Faculty and Students on Pertinent Laws and Issues provided by legal experts, advocates, and psychologists were organized for different groups to strengthen awareness, raise questions, and arrive at a common understanding of the pertinent laws and issues related to #MCHSDoBetter.
3. Management Mechanisms
a. A Safe Spaces Primer, a compilation and an expansion of guidelines, rules, and sanctions on all acts of sexual harassment, was put together for the community to easily understand the subject matter. It includes a description of the steps for reporting and the safe and confidential means of reporting untoward incidents to prevent inappropriate behaviors and abuses.
b. Apart from the dedicated safe space email, an additional reporting mechanism was created through the Safeline, an institutional helpline for students, faculty, and staff to access counseling services and to report any kind of harassment.
c. Surveys that aim to aid in policy formulation were conducted by the Center for Strategic Research. These are A Survey on Sexual Harassment and Reporting Responsibility in Miriam College and Usapang Kaligtasan: A Study on Safety & Security in an All Women Higher Education Institution towards Curriculum Integration & Instructional Materials Development. These researches served as bases for the BEU and HEU agenda on promoting safety and security in school and addressing related concerns.
d. As a tangible commitment to protect its students and provide a safer space in school for all, Miriam College will be establishing this year the Child’s Rights and Advocacy Center. The Center will provide service to the community and help other schools develop better child protection policies and mechanisms with proactive parent engagement. The Center also aims to create, promote, and sustain a child-responsive school environment within Miriam College for all students.
Upon the conclusion of its work, the TJC/Ad Hoc CODI submitted 18 observations on the school based on the cases and complaints posted on social media it handled, including those involving teachers who are no longer connected with Miriam College. Together with these, the Committee offered 24 recommendations to help the school become a truly safe space for all students and the rest of the community, of which some have been addressed by the above initiatives. A few of the important recommendations are: adoption of clear and definite zero-tolerance policies against any form of sexual misconduct; strengthening of the screening process for hiring teachers; intensification of training for administrators and faculty members on gender-based sexual harassment and how to handle related concerns; creation of a multi-access grievance procedure; educating students on sexual misconduct; adoption of a whistle-blowing policy against retaliation; specific recommendations for the guidance centers in order to make them more responsive to students’ needs, among many others.
All formal complaints were pursued as administrative cases, except those that are not gender-based sexual harassment related and those which involved teachers who are no longer connected with MC. Non gender-based sexual harassment complaints were referred back to the school for appropriate investigation while those which involved teachers no longer with MC were still reviewed by the Committee for appropriate recommendations to the school as communicated to the complainants. Formal investigations that could not be delved further into due to lack of participation from the complainant were still pursued based on available information. Overall, all complaints were carefully looked into and considered in the consolidated recommendations submitted by the Committee to the school.
Due process was followed in the investigation of formal complaints and decisions have been/will be communicated to parties concerned. Based on the thorough administrative investigations conducted, three teachers have already been dismissed by the school. Unfortunately, many of the alleged serious offenders are no longer with Miriam College. This has brought about important and deep lessons for the school which are currently being incorporated in the enhancements being implemented.
Thorough fact-finding on all teachers named only in social media posts was also conducted by the Committee. Specific recommendations were provided for each one, including putting reports/findings in their 201 files. Teachers who have allegedly been involved in more serious complaints, but who were already separated from the school, were also invited formally to dialogue with the Committee. However, these teachers did not respond to the Committee’s invitation.
While the school has made progress in several aspects, there is much still to be done. As experienced by the TJC/Ad Hoc CODI in the course of its work, of the many individuals who posted on Twitter, only very few came forward. This, despite invitations from the Committee through public and private messages to submit formal reports on their complaints. Most were not ready to share their stories due to trauma while some simply wanted to move forward and found closure in voicing out their sentiments on social media. Regrettably, response to their concerns is therefore limited by available information as the school is bound by policies and laws. Information they shared, however, formed part of the Committee’s overall investigation of the larger issue and went into its detailed report and recommendations towards actively and comprehensively bringing forward a safe space approach for the institution, which include provision of psychosocial services for the protection of students.
Moving forward, the school is in the process of completing the set up to fully implement the recommendations presented by the TJC/Ad Hoc CODI to ensure action on all concerns raised in relation to the issue.
Miriam College is called to advocate for the students and to be their trusted guardian. Students need to be empowered to let their voices be heard, for the school to seek redress for their concerns. With reforms in place and continued awareness-building and vigilance by the entire community, this shall be the enduring commitment and duty of Miriam College.