VIII. Policy Against Discrimination and Harassment
Select from the following to jump down the page:
- A. Policy Statement
- B. Scope of Policy
- C. Relationship to Academic Freedom and Free Speech
- D. Definitions
- E. Complaint Procedure
- F. Retaliation
- G. False and Malicious Complaints
- H. Record Retention for Discrimination and Harassment Complaints
- I. Support Resources
- Special Reporting Duties for Supervisors or Cases of Suspected Child Abuse
A. Policy Statement
Vassar is committed to the principles of integrity in an academic community, as articulated in the statement on civility and responsibility. Vassar’s policy is not to discriminate in the administration of its educational policies, admissions policies, scholarships and loan programs, athletics programs, or other College programs and activities, and not to tolerate discrimination or harassment of its faculty, administration, staff, students, or visitors.
The College prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion or religious belief, citizenship status, sex, marital status, disability, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, military service or affiliation, genetic information, age, or any other characteristics protected by law.
B. Scope of Policy
This policy prohibits discrimination against or harassment of members of the College community and guests. Its scope includes, but is not limited to, any individuals regularly or temporarily employed, studying, living, visiting, or having any official capacity at Vassar College (such as volunteers and contractors).
The filing of a complaint under this policy is independent of any external investigation or court proceeding. The College will not necessarily wait for the conclusion of any external investigation or proceeding before commencing its own investigation or proceeding and taking immediate steps to ensure the safety and well-being of members of the College community. An allegation of discrimination or harassment is not proof of prohibited conduct, and a claim will not be taken into account during performance review, promotion, reappointment, or other evaluation unless a final determination has been made that this policy has been violated or an agreement has been reached as part of an informal resolution process. If necessary and appropriate, decisions regarding extension, reappointment, or promotion may be deferred, in accordance with this policy, until any allegation is resolved.
C. Relationship to Academic Freedom and Free Speech
As articulated in the Vassar College Statement on Academic Freedom, Vassar is dedicated to freedom of inquiry in the pursuit of truth and is vigilant in defending the right of individuals to free speech. This may include the introduction and discussion of controversial and challenging matters both within and beyond the classroom. However, discrimination and harassment are neither legally protected nor excused by reference to academic freedom or freedom of speech.
Discrimination is any distinction, preference, advantage for, or detriment to an individual compared to others that is based on an individual's actual or perceived race, color, religion or religious belief, citizenship status, sex, marital status, disability, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, military service or affiliation, genetic information, age, or other characteristic protected by law that adversely affects a term or condition of an individual's employment, education, living environment, or participation in a College activity, or is used as the basis for, or a factor in, decisions affecting that individual's employment, education, living environment, or participation in a College activity.
Discriminatory Harassment is unwelcome conduct directed toward an individual based on the individual's actual or perceived race, color, religion or religious belief, citizenship status, sex, marital status, disability, pregnancy, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, military service or affiliation, genetic information, age, or other characteristic protected by law that is so severe, persistent, or pervasive that it has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's employment or educational performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, offensive, or abusive environment for that individual's employment, education, living environment, or participation in a College activity.Retaliatory Harassment is intentional action taken by an individual or allied third party, absent legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons, that harms an individual as reprisal for filing a grievance or for participating in an investigation or grievance proceeding.
Retaliatory Harassment is intentional action taken by an individual or allied third party, absent legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons, that harms an individual as reprisal for filing a grievance or for participating in an investigation or grievance proceeding.
Sexual Harassment is a form of unlawful gender-based discrimination. It may involve harassment of persons of any gender by persons of any other gender. Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome gender-based verbal or physical conduct that is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive that it unreasonably interferes with, limits, or deprives someone of the ability to participate in or benefit from the College's educational programs or activities or employment benefits or opportunities. The unwelcome behavior may be based on power differentials (such as in quid pro quo harassment where submission to or rejection of unwelcome sexual conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment or academic decisions), the creation of a hostile environment, or retaliation. The College's policy on sexual misconduct also can apply when sexual harassment involves physical contact. Examples of sexual harassment can include, but are not limited to:
- Egregious, unwanted sexual attention or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature;
- Implied or overt threats of punitive action resulting from rejection of sexual advances;
- Conditioning a benefit on an individual's acceding to sexual advances;
- Unwelcome, sexually explicit messages, statements, or materials;
- Attempting to coerce an unwilling person into a romantic or sexual relationship;
- Sexual violence;
- Intimate partner violence;
- Stalking, including cyberstalking; and
- Gender-based bullying
E. Complaint Procedure
The College has two approaches for resolving complaints of alleged discrimination and harassment: informal resolution and the formal grievance processes. Informal resolution efforts and the formal grievance processes are not mutually exclusive, and neither is a prerequisite for the other. Moreover, the informal resolution process may be ended at any time in order to initiate a formal complaint.
Individuals who believe that they have been victims of sexual or some other form of harassment can contact an EO/AA officer who will meet with them to hear their concerns and review available options for informal and formal resolution. Discussing a concern does not commit one to making a formal charge. However, an individual reporting harassment should be aware that the College may decide that it is necessary to take action to address the harassment beyond an informal discussion.
The College encourages the prompt reporting of any potential violations of this policy so that it can take appropriate steps to maintain an environment free of harassment and can ensure that its procedures are effective. While no fixed reporting period has been established, early reporting and intervention has proven to be the most effective method of resolving actual or perceived incidents of sexual and other forms of harassment.
Complaints alleging discrimination or harassment related to a faculty member's review for extension, reappointment, tenure, promotion, or post-tenure review may be submitted before, during or after the review. If a review is ongoing or upcoming when the complaint is made, the review is stopped or delayed until the complaint is resolved in accordance with this policy. Complaints alleging that discrimination or harassment contributed to a negative outcome of a faculty review should be made within sixty (60) days of receiving notification from the President of the outcome of the review.
- Informal Resolution Process
Whenever possible and perceived to be safe by all parties, informal resolution is encouraged but is not required. Informal resolution efforts may include, but are not limited to, presentation by complainant of her or his concerns and desired outcome to the respondent in writing or in a meeting convened by the EO/AA office, or mediated discussion between the complainant and respondent.
In cases of requests for mediation, the EO/AA officer(s) will assess the situation to determine whether mediation is appropriate and whether it will be conducted by a trained mediator, and/or in the presence of EO/AA officer(s), supervisor, dean, senior officer, human resources administrator, or other appropriate member of the College community. The complainant and the respondent may refuse mediation or may end mediation at any time. No adverse inference is to be drawn from either decision. Mediation is never appropriate in cases of alleged sexual assault. The EO/AA Office will document all informal resolution efforts.
Informal resolution outcomes may include, but are not limited to,
- Explicit agreements about future conduct;
- Changes in the working, learning, or living environment;
- Targeted educational and training programs; and
- Other forms of corrective action, as appropriate.
2. Formal Grievance Process
A formal grievance process may be initiated by meeting in person with the EO/AA Officer or the Faculty Director of Affirmative Action for matters involving the faculty, or by writing to the EO/AA Office. The College strongly encourages submission of grievances in writing after a grievance is initiated through an in-person meeting. The preferred mode of delivery for the formal grievance is via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. It may also be hand delivered, or sent by certified mail to the attention of either the Faculty Director of Affirmative Action or the EO/AA officer, as appropriate, at: Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, Vassar College, Campus Box 645, 124 Raymond Ave, Poughkeepsie NY 12604-0645. A formal grievance must identify and include the following information:
- Complainant's signature and the date signed;
- Name of the respondent, his or her position or status, and contact information, if known;
- Clear and concise description of the alleged incident(s), and when and where it occurred;
- Description of all informal efforts, if any, to resolve the issue(s) with the person involved. This includes names, dates, and times of attempted or actual contact along with a description of the discussion and the manner of communication made in the course of each effort;
- Supporting documentation and evidence; and
- Names of witnesses or individuals who may have direct and relevant information about the specific allegation (with accompanying addresses, email addresses, and telephone numbers).
The privacy of all parties to a complaint will be respected, except insofar as it interferes with the College's investigative, grievance, and appeal processes as described in this document. Dissemination of information and/or written materials to persons not involved in the complaint procedure is not permitted except to those listed in Section IX of this policy. Violations of privacy of the complainant, the respondent, support persons, or parties to the investigation by any member of the EOAA office or any member of an investigative, grievance, or appeal panel may lead to disciplinary action by the College.
b. Initial Investigation
The EO/AA Office will investigate any reported grievances regarding harassment or discrimination promptly and impartially. The investigation may include, but is not limited to, individual interviews with the parties involved and, where necessary, with individuals who may have observed the alleged conduct or may have other knowledge relevant to the investigation. Based on the investigation, the EO/AA Office will determine if there is sufficient evidence to support reasonable cause1. The Office will inform the complainant and respondent of the outcome of the investigation and provide a summary of the investigative process, determination, and possible sanctions if appropriate. At this point, both parties may accept or reject the outcome and determination(s) of the investigation. If both parties accept a determination that there is insufficient evidence to support reasonable cause, then the case is closed. If both parties accept a determination that there is sufficient evidence to support reasonable cause, then the respondent’s senior officer will assign sanctions and take corrective action designed to end the discrimination or harassment, prevent its recurrence, and remedy its effects on the complainant and the College community. A finding of the EO/AA Office that is accepted by both parties is final. Either the complainant or the respondent may reject the determination of the initial investigation, in part or entirely, and request a grievance hearing by sending a written request to the EO/AA Office within five (5) business days2 of receiving the written decision. The preferred mode of delivery for the grievance panel request is via email to email@example.com. It may also be hand delivered, or sent by certified mail to the attention of either the Faculty Director of Affirmative Action or the EO/AA officer, as appropriate, at: Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, Vassar College, Campus Box 645, 124 Raymond Ave, Poughkeepsie NY 12604-0645.
c. Grievance Hearing
Upon receipt of a written request, the College will act expeditiously to convene a grievance hearing panel, ordinarily within ten (10) business days.2 The panel ordinarily is chaired by the respondent's senior officer when there is no conflict of interest as determined by the EO/AA officer(s) in consultation with the President. The hearing panel will review testimony from the complainant, the respondent, and any other relevant witnesses and will consider the determination of the investigation and any documentary evidence that the EO/AA officer(s) and the panel may deem appropriate. The determination of the initial investigation by the EO/AA office will be forwarded to, but is not binding on, the members of the panel.
The panel convened to hear a formal grievance against a student is the College Regulations Panel. All applicable College Regulations rules and procedures for the hearing will be applied. The Grievance Hearing Panel (hereafter the “panel”) convened to hear a formal grievance against a member of the faculty is composed of three voting members of the faculty and the panel convened to hear a grievance against a member of the administration is composed of three administrators. In consultation with the EO/AA Officer, the Chair appoints an appropriate panel from a pool of trained faculty and administrators who are of equivalent or higher rank than the respondent to the grievance.3
In the case of a formal grievance against an EO/AA officer in the performance of his or her duties, the grievance will be forwarded to the President who will investigate (or assign an investigator) and render a decision as to whether there has been a violation of the Policy. A decision may be appealed to the Chair of the Board of Trustees in accordance with the grounds for appeal outlined below. In the case of a formal grievance against a senior officer, the EO/AA Office will forward the grievance to the President who will investigate (or assign an investigator) and render a decision as to whether there has been a violation of this policy. A decision may be appealed to the Chair of the Board of Trustees in accordance with the grounds for appeal outlined below. In the case of a formal grievance against the President, the EO/AA Office will forward the grievance to the Chair of the Board of Trustees who will investigate (or assign an investigator) and render a decision as to whether there has been a violation of the Policy. The decision rendered by the Chair of the Board of Trustees is binding and final.
d. Determination of the Panel
The Panel will deliberate in private session and will decide by closed vote whether a violation of the College's Policy Against Discrimination and Harassment and/or other College policies has occurred, based on the preponderance of the evidence. The Chair does not vote. A decision that a violation has occurred requires majority agreement among the members eligible to vote. In the case of a determination of a violation, the Chair will determine the appropriate remedy or sanction, in consultation with the Panel, except where the appropriate remedy or sanction may require changes to the procedures or conduct of a faculty review.
If a remedy or sanction may require changes to the procedures or conduct of a faculty review for extension, reappointment, tenure, promotion, or post-tenure review, then, following the determination that a violation occurred, the case is referred to the faculty Appeal Committee by the EO/AA office and the Dean of the Faculty. Based on the investigation and determination of the Panel, the Appeal Committee decides what changes, if any, to established review procedures are necessary to address the determination. While responding fully to the determination, the Appeal Committee strives to maintain the normal review process to the extent possible. The Appeal Committee may consult with the Faculty Policy and Conference Committee for clarification in weighing the effects of changes it is considering or in determining what established review procedures are.
The Appeal Committee provides a written statement of its decision to the President. Upon the approval of the President, the decision of the Appeal Committee is forwarded to Dean of the Faculty who incorporates it without change into any other sanctions or remedy. If the President objects to portions of the decision of the Appeal Committee, then the President asks the committee to reconsider those portions, explaining his or her concerns in writing and in a formal meeting with the committee. If the President still objects to the reconsidered decision, the matter is transmitted to the Academic Affairs Committee of the Board of Trustees, whose decision is final. In cases where the Appeal Committee decides that all or part of a past negative review must be repeated, it may also recommend to the President that the complainant receive a contract for a supplemental year. The President issues any specific instructions necessary to implement the decision of the Appeal Committee.
A written summary of the decision, prepared by the Chair, will be conveyed to the complainant, the respondent, and the EO/AA Office, ordinarily either within ten (10) business days after deliberations have been completed or, in cases that require consultation of the Appeal Committee, with thirty (30) business days after deliberations have been completed.
e. Corrective Action
The College will impose prompt remedial and/or disciplinary action against any respondent found to have violated this policy. Responsive action may include, for example, targeted educational and training programs; the development and enforcement of explicit contractual agreements about future conduct; changes in the working, learning, or living environment; formal censure; reassignment or removal from an appointed position; suspension or expulsion; termination of employment; or other measures as the College believes will be effective in ending the misconduct and correcting the effects of the harassment.
f. Time Frame and Grounds for Filing a Request for Appeal
- Procedural error(s) that substantially affected the outcome of the hearing (e.g., substantiated bias or material deviations from established procedures that resulted in significant prejudice);
- New evidence unavailable at the time of the original hearing or investigation that could substantially alter the outcome of the hearing. A summary of this new evidence and its potential impact must be included;
- Sanction(s) that are disproportionate to the severity of the violation and substantially outside the parameters set by the College.
In any request for an appeal, the burden of proof lies with the party requesting the appeal, as the original determination and sanction are presumed to have been decided reasonably and appropriately.
Sanctions will take effect immediately, notwithstanding an appeal. A request may be made to the hearing panel chair to defer the effective date of sanctions in exigent circumstances. In cases where the appeal results in reinstatement to the institution or of privileges, all reasonable attempts will be made to restore the individual to his or her prior status, recognizing that some opportunities may be irretrievable in the short term.
The EO/AA Office will provide a copy of the appeal to the other party, who may file a response within ten (10) business days. All appeals and responses are then forwarded to the appropriate appeal body for initial review. If the appeal body determines that the appeal meets the limited grounds and is timely, the documentation is taken under consideration.
If the respondent in the original complaint is a faculty member, the elected faculty Appeal Committee hears all appeals, except for appeals of a remedy or sanctions determined by the Appeal Committee itself, which are heard by the Academic Affairs Committee of the Board of Trustees. If the respondent in the original complaint is a student, the College Regulations Appeal Panel, chaired by the dean of the college, hears all appeals. If the respondent in the original complaint is a non-faculty employee, the vice president for finance and administration hears all appeals unless the initial grievance panel was chaired by the vice president for finance and administration. In this case, the president appoints another senior officer to hear the appeal.
g. Determination by Appeal Bodies
The appeal body ordinarily will render a written decision within seven (7) business days from the hearing of the appeal. The appeal body may take the following actions:
- Determine that new evidence raised on appeal should be considered and return the complaint to the original hearing panel to reconsider in light of the new evidence only.
- Determine that a material procedural or substantive error occurred, and return the complaint to the original hearing body with instructions to reconvene to address the error. In rare cases, where the procedural or substantive error cannot be addressed by the original hearing body (as in cases of bias), the appeal body may order a new hearing on the complaint with a newly constituted grievance hearing panel.
- Determine that the sanctions imposed are disproportionate to the severity of the violation and substantially outside the parameters set by the College. The appeal body will return the complaint to the Chair/senior officer of the Grievance Hearing Panel, who may then increase, decrease, or otherwise modify the sanctions.
- Deny the request for appeal.
1 “Reasonable cause” is the preferred usage in civil cases and refers to inferences that can be drawn from specific and articulable facts.
2 The term “business days” refers to College business days when the College is in operation not including holidays or academic/institutional recesses.
3 Detailed rules and procedures of the Grievance Hearing Panel and College Regulations Panel are available from the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action upon request.
Retaliation against any person, including the complainant or the respondent, for making a complaint, cooperating with an investigation, or participating in a grievance procedure is a violation of College policy. Retaliation includes, but is not limited to, intimidation, coercion, harassment, making of threats, and any other adverse educational or employment action. Retaliation should be reported promptly to the EO/AA Office for investigation, which may result in disciplinary action independent of any sanction or interim measures imposed in response to the underlying allegations of discrimination and/or harassment.
G. False and Malicious Complaints
False and malicious accusations of harassment or discrimination, as opposed to complaints that, even if erroneous, are made in good faith, may be the subject of appropriate disciplinary action.
H. Record Retention for Discrimination and Harassment Complaints
The Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action is responsible for maintaining records relating to discrimination and harassment reports, investigations, and resolutions. Records will also be maintained in accordance with College records policies, generally for at least seven (7) years after the date the complaint is resolved. Records may be maintained longer at the discretion of the EO/AA officer in cases where the parties have a continuing affiliation with the College. All records pertaining to pending litigation or a request for records will be maintained in accordance with instructions from legal counsel.
I. Support Resources
- Confidential Support and Counseling: Individuals are encouraged to contact on-campus and off-campus counselors, or members of the clergy and chaplains for confidential counseling regarding any harassment matter. Employees and faculty members are encouraged to contact Vassar's Employee Assistance Program (EAP), (800) 828 6025, to access off-campus counseling resources, or to contact members of the clergy and chaplains for confidential counseling regarding any harassment matter. Seeking counseling is not meant to take the place of instituting the informal resolution or formal grievance processes described above.
- Support Person: The complainant and the respondent each may have a support person present with them during the informal resolution and formal grievance processes to provide moral support. The support person cannot be a party to the grievance or serve as a potential witness (character or factual). This support person must be a member of the college community. Except as directed by the investigator or Chair, a support person will limit his/her role in a hearing to that of a support person to the complainant or the respondent. That is, a support person will have no speaking role at a hearing. A request may be made to the EO/AA officer(s) for special consideration to bring a support person who is not a member of the college community in extraordinary circumstances. Witnesses and others involved in an investigation are not entitled to have a support person. Support persons must be identified to the EO/AA officer at least two (2) business days before the date of the meeting with the EO/AA officer or the hearing.
- Legal Counsel: It is the complainant’s and the respondent's decision whether to seek the advice and assistance of an attorney at their own expense if they need legal advice. Although anyone has the right to seek legal advice, neither the complainant nor the respondent may be represented by legal counsel at investigatory interviews, informal resolution processes, or a college administrative hearing.
Special Reporting Duties for Supervisors or Cases of Suspected Child Abuse
Supervisor Responsibilities: All supervisors, faculty department chairs, and program directors who become aware of behavior that may be in violation of the Policy Against Discrimination and Harassment must contact the Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action for guidance on how to respond appropriately to allegations of discrimination, harassment, sexual harassment, or sexual misconduct.
Special Duties Involving Child Abuse or Mistreatment of a Minor: Individuals should report suspected child abuse and neglect, including sexual assault, to law enforcement and/or to the New York Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment (sometimes referred to as the State Central Register or SCR) by calling one of the numbers listed below. It is not the responsibility of any employee, student or volunteer to investigate child abuse. This is the role of child protective services and law enforcement authorities. Vassar College must act quickly regarding all accusations of sexual or physical abuse. The source of abuse does not need to be known in order to file a report. If you suspect child abuse or neglect, do the following:
- If a child is in immediate danger, call the police (911) immediately.
- College employees and students should notify local law enforcement immediately when these situations are suspected. Town of Poughkeepsie Police: (845) 485-3670.
- Members of the college community may also contact the Vassar College Safety and Security Department at (845) 437-7333, but not before they contact local law enforcement.
- Call the Child Abuse Hotline. Mandated Reporters should call (800) 635 1522. All others should call (800)-342-3720 if there is concern about abuse of a child by a parent or custodian.
Title IX Reporting Duties: The following officers and individuals are designated as mandated reporters when they receive reports or complaints of alleged gender-based discrimination including sexual harassment, sexual assault, and other forms of sexual misconduct involving students. All mandated reporters must report the incident to the College's Title IX Officer, who will determine the most appropriate course of action to ensure a prompt and equitable response.
- Senior Officers (Dean of the Faculty, Dean of Strategic Planning and Academic Resources, Vice President for Finance and Administration, Dean of the College, Vice President for Alumnae/i Affairs and Development, Vice President for Communications,;
- Director of Equal Opportunity/Title IX Officer and Faculty Director of Affirmative Action;
- Campus Safety and Security;
- Human Resources Administrators;
- Other deans, associate deans and administrators with supervisory responsibilities;
- Student Conduct Administrators;
- Residential Life Professional Staff and Student Conduct Administrators;
- Academic Department Chairs and Program Directors; and
- Faculty and other employees supervising overnight domestic or international student trips.