Editor’s note: Some sources in this article have been given pseudonyms to protect their identity for reasons relating to job security and wanting to keep survivor status private.
In order to promote the University, the Admissions Office discourages AdvoCats from discussing “tricky and difficult” topics in-depth, according to several AdvoCats and their training materials.
Some said they are discouraged from bringing up sexual violence on tours, despite recent controversies. Several also said they are disappointed that UVM markets itself as being more sustainable than they feel it actually is.
AdvoCats are trained to redirect questions about sexual assault to counselors and other administrative officials if parents and students want more information, AdvoCat John said.
“Safety section of the tour should start off something like this,” the “Tricky Topics and Difficult Situations” training website stated. “‘The health and safety of the students is the first priority here at UVM, this will be your home for the next four years and we make sure that you always feel safe.’”
“I was told on multiple occasions to not put scenarios in people’s minds, to not bring it up,” said AdvoCat Jess, who is as a survivor of sexual assault.
Jess said she is planning to quit the AdvoCats program, as it is an uncomfortable environment for her, she said.
The AdvoCat training website instructs tour guides to emphasize that sexual assault happens everywhere and that UVM handles it differently and is better about reporting instances.
The webpage provides no specific data about UVM’s handling of sexual assault in comparison to other universities.
If parents or students bring up sexual assault on a tour, the “Tricky Topics and Difficult Situations,” AdvoCat training web pages state to, “stay positive,” and, “less is more.”
“I think it is really frustrating because UVM continues to fail survivors on so many different levels,” Jess said.
Jess said that she feels information about the climate on UVM’s campus is important for incoming students to be aware of. She said she felt frustrated she could not provide this information.
The AdvoCat Trainging Manual stated information on the Blue Light System, the modules students complete before they arrive on campus and UVM’s implementation of the LiveSafe App, but no specific mention of sexual assault prevention strategies that came from recent student demands.
Jay LaShombe, senior assistant director of admissions, and Kayla Goldberg, assistant director of admissions and tour guide program coordinator, referred requests for an interview to Moses Murphy, director of undergraduate admissions.
“Group tours are not an effective opportunity to unpack complex, difficult, detailed subjects,” Murphy stated in an Oct. 5 email. “Aside from providing personal financial aid information, the AdvoCats are never directed to avoid answering questions about specific topics.”
Some AdvoCats agree with the protocol for conversations relating to sexual assault.
“That conversation is really important, but perhaps not as conducive to an entire group setting,” AdvoCat Max said.
He said conversations about sexual assault can be facilitated in more personal settings with guidance counselors and other staff, if parents or students feel the need to discuss it.
AvoCats are also instructed to direct their tour groups away from protests to avoid “distracting” visitors, according to the website. The training website also instructs AdvoCats to say UVM does not have forced triples, despite their existence on campus.
AdvoCat Susie expressed disappointment in how UVM markets itself as sustainable. According to the AdvoCat Training Manual, one of the four themes tour guides are instructed to focus on throughout the tour is “Sustainability: Environmental Stewardship.”
“We’re supposed to talk about how amazing and sustainable and green UVM is,” Susie said. “I’ve worked on environmental aspects of things and I know what the sustainability aspect of the school actually looks like, and it’s not all that it’s made up to be.”
Susie said UVM is “greenwashed,” through it’s tools and promotional materials.
AdvoCats have a choice in their framing of sustainability programming at UVM, Robert said.
“I think [information given on tours] paints a pretty accurate picture of what happens on campus, knowing that the student government has been responsible for the implementation of a lot of sustainability measures on campus,” Robert said.
AdvoCats should never ignore an awkward conversation or question, but to balance personal views with the views of the University, according to the AdvoCat training webpage “Tricky Topics and Difficult Conversations.”
“At the end of the day, being an AdvoCat is a marketing job,” Susie said.