In June, the College welcomed Julissa Fernandez as its first confidential resource advisor. Fernandez works with the Title IX Office to hold confidential conversations with students, faculty and staff regarding sexual harassment and sexual assault. Her role focuses on discussing available resources and helping determine potential next steps.
“It’s important for students to feel like they don’t have to go directly to Title IX to seek out resources and various options of what they can do after experiencing something like interpersonal violence,” Fernandez said.
The position was created in response to new Maine legislation mandating that colleges and universities designate a confidential resource advisor to provide support for students and staff who have experienced sexual assault, intimate partner violence or stalking. The legislation took effect on July 1.
Under the new legislation, Fernandez keeps confidentiality and legal privilege, which means that without express permission from students and staff, she cannot share information about the conversations she has with them, even in a legal setting. Previously, the only people on campus with such privilege were clinicians in Counseling and Health Services.
The College continues to have other non-reporting staff members to whom sexual harassment reports may be made and who will not disclose identifying details of those reports to the Title IX Coordinator. These staff members will hold information in confidence in most circumstances but do not have legal privilege, which means these staff would have to disclose confidential information if asked for it in a legal setting.
Fernandez graduated from Amherst College in 2022 with a degree in Black Studies and Sexuality, Women and Gender Studies. She is currently pursuing an M.B.A in Human Resource Management and most recently worked in housing advocacy in Boston, Mass. When she saw the confidential resource advisor position at Bowdoin, she immediately knew it was right up her alley.
“I’ve always been really interested in advocacy in a general sense, along with social justice,” Fernandez said.
While Fernandez works closely with the Title IX Office, she is officially an employee of the Office of Inclusion and Diversity. Her goal and her position is to help students, even if they don’t want to file an official report with the Title IX Office yet. Other steps can include seeking out mental health treatment or local off-campus resources.
“When you go through a crisis, you don’t always want to go directly to reporting. You might want to seek out various options. You might come to me just because you don’t know what to do,” Fernandez said. “It’s important to be able to access those resources without having to have people know your name or know that you’re seeking those things out.”
Fernandez is excited to be a part of the Bowdoin community and wants students and staff to know that she is ready to help.
“I’m an advocate, and my office is completely non-judgmental. It’s a place where people can come and talk and do whatever they need to. I’m here for them,” Fernandez said.
Director of Institutional Equity and Compliance and Title IX Coordinator Kate O’Grady highlighted the importance of the new position.
“When somebody has a traumatic experience, one of the best things you can do is restore a sense of agency to them,” O’Grady said. “We want people to have the autonomy and the ability to decide what is right and best for them in terms of next steps.”
O’Grady is confident that Fernandez is the ideal candidate for the role.
“We were really fortunate to have a talented and deep application pool for this position. The fact that we were able to select [Fernandez] is amazing, and we feel really fortunate that she chose to come work with us at Bowdoin,” O’Grady said. “She’s approachable, and she’s very steady and calming. I think she’s going to be a tremendous resource for the community.”