Two years ago, the Office of the Vice President and University Counsel, collaborating with representatives from the Dean of Students, Office of the Intercessor and Human Resources, spearheaded the review process of the University’s Policy Against Discrimination and Harassment. Such policies are reviewed every few years as part of a general review process; however, the University recognized a need to revise the policy. Ultimately, the work of these various offices culminated into a pamphlet detailing the policy in order to inform the UR community. Approximately 27,000 copies have been distributed to all full- and part-time students, faculty and staff.
The need to revise the policy primarily arose from the University’s concern that the community is not properly informed about what constitutes discrimination or harassment.
“We recognized a need to be clear about the definition of discrimination, harassment and sexual harassment. We felt that we addressed sexual harassment pretty well, but felt the others should be better defined,” University Intercessor and Coordinator of Disability Resources Kathy Sweetland said.
Sweetland emphasized the importance of the “because of” clause in explaining how the University sought to better educate students, faculty and staff.
The policy defines discrimination and harassment as a type of conduct that was the result of, or “because of,” a victim’s “age, color, disability, ethnicity, marital status, military status, national origin, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation, veteran status, or other status protected by law or because of their perceived or actual affiliation or association with individuals or groups identified by such characteristics.” Understanding this “because of” statement is especially important in order to distinguish the difference between harassment and sexual harassment, since sexual harassment meets the same criteria as harassment but “involves unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.”
“The University takes a more educational point of view for communicating this policy so the community can understand its importance… We can educate people on more appropriate ways to behave,” Sweetland said.
Informing the UR community on the actual definitions of discrimination and harassment was an important first step in creating the handbook. Sweetland explained that in many cases involving discrimination or harassment, the person responsible for the inappropriate behavior is often hard to identify. This makes it difficult to fairly resolve such occurrences.
In addition to providing better definitions and examples for discrimination and harassment, Sweetland commented on other additions to the policy that affect faculty and staff.
“We have included a more formal process to make a formal investigation for faculty and staff,” Sweetland said. “It was not necessary to do so for students because the judicial process is already established.”
Furthermore, Sweetland noted that the pamphlet includes a tear-off report form so community members can make a formal complaint. The form is also available online.
Ultimately, Sweetland hopes that the UR community will find this booklet useful and comprehensive.
“We made this booklet to use for future reference. It serves as a reminder to the University community that the University has a good policy on this topic and deals with it seriously,” Sweetland said. “Nothing was taken out. We just said it better.”
Although the policy will continue to be put up for review, major changes will only be made on an as-needed basis.
“I’m really proud of it – it was a lot a work. We really feel like it’s in good shape, which is why we decided to inform the whole community,” Sweetland said.
Squires is a member of the class of 2010.