Section: News

New policy revisits College’s discrimination guidelines

Deputy Civil Rights/Title IX Coordinator Linda Smolak proposed a new discriminatory harassment policy on Jan. 25. The policy intends to present a clearer process for addressing cases of discriminatory harassment, as well as create a unified definition of discrimination for students, faculty and staff.

Unlike in sexual harassment cases, there are no clear guidelines for instances of discriminatory harassment. Smolak’s policy is designed to eliminate this disparity. “We do want them to be uniform across the three handbooks [and] everybody to be working under the same policy and same process just like they do for Title IX,” Smolak said. Title IX is a federal amendment that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs

“Harassment is harassment under the law … so this new definition uses that standard for defining discriminatory harassment,” she said.      

Smolak’s proposal guarantees a generalized discriminatory harassment process for all members of the community, regardless of  position. Campus Senate President Ben Douglas ’18 said this update will help create a campus that feels more equitable.    

“It’s not just students that will feel the impact,” Douglas said. “It’s also that our faculty and staff and students are all being held to the same standard, which in some ways levels the playing field. Everyone has the same rules to follow.”

Smolak wrote the updated policy, which the Board of Trustees will vote on in April, to match the format of the College’s Title IX policy. “It’s really going to be virtually identical to Title IX,” Smolak said.“It’s going to give you all of those options and all of the protections.” Smolak aims to make it easier for people with discrimination concerns to find the right resources by following the template used in Title IX cases.   

Smolak said some faculty members have suggested changes to the proposed policy. “They wanted a line in there, which we have added, to make it clear that this policy doesn’t interfere with the free exchange of ideas in the academic enterprise,” Smolak said.

In an email to the Collegian, Robert A. Oden, Jr. Professor of Biology Joan Slonczewski, who is one of the two faculty members on Campus Senate, wrote, “The Discriminatory Harassment policy will be discussed in faculty meeting on Monday [Feb. 19]. Since the Faculty has not yet completed its discussion, it would not be appropriate for me to comment on their perspective.”

By making it easier for people to reach out in cases of discriminatory harassment, Smolak hopes to increase comfort and understanding about cases of discrimination. “We thought that people could get the impression that if you had a Title IX violation to report you got all these protections and options whereas if you had discrimination based on race, ethnicity, age, religion, you were not going to get all of those, “Smolack said. “Here, it’s all laid out in front of you. You know what’s going to happen before you start.”     

“I’m hoping that people will feel more comfortable [and] more knowledgeable coming to the civil rights office,” she said. “I’m hoping that this policy and the discussion about it will bring more attention to our ability to help out in issues of other forms of discrimination also.”

Smolak said that upholding civil rights is at the core of this proposal.

“We really wanted to give the same opportunities and supports and protections to everybody for all forms of discrimination,” Smolak said.

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