Despite a successful first year, Haverford’s Ombuds Office is still struggling with name recognition. The office, headed by Steve Watter, who spent 31 years in the student life Dean’s Office at Haverford as well as a stint as the Title IX Coordinator, hopes to offer the community a safe and confidential place to receive advice and discuss issues. However, a recent survey revealed that many community members had yet to hear about the office despite Watter’s best efforts.
“Has it caught on to the extent that I had hoped? I guess the answer is not quite,” said Watter. But, he added, “I think we’re getting there.” In hopes of drumming up interest, Watter spoke on the Student Life Podcast and advertised his services on the Weekly Consensus. Last spring, he also gave an interview to the Clerk about his role. Despite his efforts, he still finds getting the word out about his office to be the most challenging aspect of his job.
Describing his role as Ombuds, Watter said, “One way to look at [the Ombuds] is sort of an off the grid or off the record resource available to any student on campus, any member, the faculty and the staff member who has an issue or question, concern and they want to talk in a confidential way with someone to help them, one, decide, possibly decide what they might want to do about this.”
In providing advice, Watter often draws on his knowledge of Haverford resources, equipping individuals with potential recourses as well as informing people of likely potential outcomes. Watter sees himself as a place to have a “first conversation” before students go to their Deans or faculty and staff go to Human Resources.
“One thing I’ve seen is that the students and staff just want to have a conversation with a neutral person who they don’t have a formal relationship with to talk about options and possibilities,” said Watter.
With the same level of confidentiality as Counseling & Psychological Services (CAPS), Watter only needs to disclose information if he fears that someone is in danger of harming themselves or others. As a result, the Ombuds Office is a place that individuals can go to for sensitive issues such as sexual assault: Watter can provide insight about how a Title IX hearing might go before an individual wants to lodge an official complaint.
However, Watter stresses he is a neutral resource—he doesn’t take sides in conflicts and the Ombuds is not an advocate. That said, in the case of a “steep power differential,” Watter has occasionally stepped in: “Sometimes with permission, I’ll contact a professor or a supervisor and say, you know, so-and-so has a concern and would really like to speak with you but is shy by doing so or anxious about doing so.”
Watter hopes that more people will take advantage of the Ombuds Office—even more so during this abnormal time of COVID-19.
“I’m trying to make sure people are aware that the Ombuds Office is still open, and that in some ways I can be more available because, like the rest, I’m home,” he said. “The Ombuds is operating like other offices remotely.” Thus, as the semester winds down, the Haverford community can still sign up for consultations at the office’s Google Calendar link.