Whether it be regulatory or sub-regulatory guidance, resolution agreements, OCR investigations, or litigation, most institutions are well aware of the risks associated with having scant policies and procedures for addressing incidents of sexual harassment. As a result, most, if not all, institutions attempt to develop robust policies and procedures designed to address that specific issue.
However, in our sometimes-hasty approach to shore up the institution’s sexual harassment policy, we neglect to address other forms of harassment and discrimination (race, age, religion, etc.). Institutions typically focus the lion’s share of their policy efforts on student sexual harassment, carving out issues affecting faculty and staff. The result is typically a thorough, detailed sexual harassment policy for students, with faculty, staff, and their aging handbooks mixed in as afterthoughts, if at all.
Indeed, institutions often limit their stance on non-Title IX forms of harassment and discrimination to a few sentences in a stand-alone paragraph that may look more like a public service announcement than a policy. Further, there is often little or no guidance as to how an institution reviews, investigates, and resolves reported incidents in those non-Title IX areas. This disjointed approach can put the institution at great risk when it attempts to review and resolve matters using the under-developed policies, causing confusion and tension between faculty, staff, students, and administration.
So what’s the solution? Is it creating one, unified harassment and discrimination policy that applies equally to all? Or should the institution try to reconcile the language of its existing policies, procedures, and handbooks to eliminate conflicts and make sure they appropriately cross-reference each other on harassment and discrimination related issues?
Regardless of the approach, the institution should seek to create unity and harmony across policies and procedures related to all forms of harassment and discrimination, not just sexual harassment. This involves breaking down silos to design policies that apply equitably to all constituents and/or interface appropriately with existing handbooks and agreements as appropriate. One of the great things about trying to reconcile your institution’s harassment and discrimination policies is that it requires communication among a large cross-section of campus constituents and can lead to the creation of new partnerships or the strengthening of existing ones.
By taking a thoughtful and holistic approach to reviewing the harassment and discrimination policies and procedures on your campus, you can improve your campus climate and strengthen campus culture.
David J. Sipusic