Author: Fiona Eustace
Occidental students, faculty and administration gathered April 12 for a town hall regarding the revised discrimination, harassment and retaliation (DHR) policy. The town hall was led by DHR revision coordinators Erica O’Neal Howard, interim dean of students; Ella Turenne, assistant dean for community engagement; Ruth Jones, Title IX coordinator; and Leora Freedman, college general counsel.
Howard opened the town hall by highlighting the policy’s similarity to Occidental’s sexual misconduct policy, which prohibits sex- or gender-based discrimination, harassment and misconduct. The DHR policy prohibits discrimination, harassment or retaliation based on protected classes such as race, color, religion, disability and military or veteran status by the college as well as by federal and state law. The updated DHR policy is similar to the old one, but is designed to be more detailed regarding policy and procedures.
Jones, who spoke briefly after Howard, explained that the policy covered during the meeting would only apply to students.
“In the following months we will be working on similar procedures that are applicable to faculty and staff, but the focus of the procedures today is students,” Jones said.
The previous policy, Howard said, had broader definitions around discrimination and was difficult for students to navigate. Turenne added that the updated DHR procedures focus specifically on making the process of reporting discrimination clearer and more accessible to students. Jones explained that the new policy can be thought of in two parts.
“There’s the policy that describes the prohibited conduct; the policy provisions apply to all community members,” Jones said. “The other piece of this process is the procedures, which only focus on students.”
Howard said she believes the new policy will progressively foster an inclusive community where all students feel comfortable and respected in their beliefs.
Jones said Occidental values academic freedom, and that although the institution encourages all community members to express personal ideas, even if controversial or provocative, intentional harassment does not qualify as protected speech under the updated policy.
“[Discrimination] can be displayed in a number of different ways, including exclusion, harassment, threats, all of these are covered in the DHR,” Jones said.
In the upcoming academic year, the updated policy may potentially allow DHR coordinators to create opportunities for institutional training and prevention education against discrimination as well as Occidental community programs and activities that are directed toward exploring diversity and inclusion, Howard said, although she did not mention specifics.
Turenne, who works directly with students who report discriminatory complaints, discussed the procedures of the updated DHR policy. The procedures are now similar to the conduct process on campus. Since the policies are beginning to mirror each other, Turenne said they will be easier for students to navigate.
Turenne said that under the new DHR procedures, students can file complaints not just against other students, but also against Occidental staff members.
Parties can expect a timeline of 60 days for the resolution of a complaint. Students are able to file anonymous complaints online or directly contact a DHR coordinator or member of Campus Safety, according to Turenne. Once a complaint has been filed, a preliminary investigation will be launched by a DHR coordinator to collect facts around the initial complaint. Turenne specified that at this stage of the process no conclusions are being made, and gathering evidence is the only task being carried out. A final report is produced after this investigation, followed by sanctions and an opportunity for parties to appeal.
Turenne said she values the integrity of the process, which allows complaints to receive the proper attention they deserve.
After describing the DHR policy revisions, the coordinators asked attendees whether they had any questions.
Lani Cupo (sophomore) raised concerns over who would be conducting the investigations. Coordinators said that trained internal or external investigators or administrators will be involved, and each case will be assigned two.
The 60-day policy procedure was addressed by Rahul Menon (sophomore), who said this allotment may be too extensive and time consuming for students academically. Coordinators said that students will be given full support throughout the process and that academic obligations will be considered while investigations are conducted.
After the town hall, Howard extended an invitation to all Occidental students to visit the online forum and provide thoughtful feedback regarding the updated DHR policy.
“This process of revision will work if people participate,” Howard said.
Howard and the other DHR coordinators plan to incorporate student feedback over the summer and have a final version of the policy ready for the start of the 2016–17 school year. Currently, the revised policy draft is available online and is open to community feedback until May 20.
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