Responding to Discrimination and Harassment in Teaching

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By: Dr. Sara Kafashan and Dr. Nasreen Sultana

In our day-to-day work and teaching at Conestoga, we may come across a rare occurrence of harassment or discrimination, such as Islamophobic, transphobic, anti-black, anti-Indigenous, anti-Semitic, and/or homophobic comments or actions. What should faculty do if discrimination or harassment shows up in their teaching contexts? The College has policies and steps to protect those who are targeted by discrimination and/or harassment.  

What Constitutes Discrimination and/or Harassment?

Before we discuss these College Policies and Procedures, we must first come to a shared understanding of what we mean by discrimination and harassment. On Pages 1 and 2 of Conestoga College’s Discrimination & Harassment Prevention Policy, discrimination, and harassment are clearly defined as:

Discrimination: Action(s) or behaviour(s) creating harmful, adverse, or differential treatment related to the prohibited grounds. Common examples are refusal to provide goods, services, or facilities, exclusion from employment or employment benefits, refusal to work with, teach, or study with someone, and/or failure to provide physical access.

Harassment: One or a series of vexatious comments or conduct related to one or more of the prohibited grounds that is/are known or might reasonably be known to be unwelcome, offensive, intimidating, hostile, or inappropriate. Included in this definition are behaviours or messages, both verbal and non-verbal, from individuals or groups that, in the determination of the College, could result in psychological distress, discomfort, or feelings of harassment/discrimination to vulnerable populations and/or protected identities. Examples include, among others: gestures, remarks, jokes, taunting, innuendo, verbal assault, hazing, shunning, or exclusion related to the prohibited grounds. (Note: While the definition covers a wide range of conduct, violations of the Criminal Code such as threats and/or physical assault will be reported to Security.”

To expand on this, it is important to note that under the Ontario Human Rights Commission, discrimination takes place when an individual encounters behaviour based on prohibited grounds such as race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, marital status, family status, genetic characteristics, disability, etc. Some examples may include comments on religion, excluding someone based on their gender, using verbal words and non-verbal gestures to humiliate someone based on their cultural background, mocking people because of their sexual orientation, etc. So, one of the first steps would be to identify if the action falls under the prohibited grounds identified in the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Safety Concerns

Please note that if you are concerned for the immediate safety of yourself or another member of the Conestoga community, you should contact Safety & Security right away at 519-748-5220 ext. 3357 or ext. 5555 for emergencies.

What Should Faculty Do If They Encounter Discrimination and/or Harassment?

In your teaching and College interactions, if you encounter any circumstances that could constitute as discrimination or harassment, Conestoga’s Discrimination & Harassment Prevention Policy outlines the rights of the individual and the responsibilities of the College. For a shared understanding and consistency with the Policy, we define key terms used in the next section of this resource: “Complainant” refers to the person reporting, who may or may not be the target of unwelcomed behaviours; “Respondent” refers to the alleged person engaging in unwelcomed behaviours; and “Complaint” refers to the reporting of discrimination and/or harrassment.

In addition to the over-arching Conestoga Policy, there are two distinct procedures and forms to report discrimination and/or harassment. These forms are based on the role of the “Respondent” (i.e., whether the alleged person engaging in unwelcomed behaviours is an employee or a student) at Conestoga College.

Discrimination or Harassment Complaints Against Employees

If discrimination and/or harassment is experienced because of unwelcomed interactions with an employee, any faculty or member of Conestoga can submit a discrimination and/or harassment report against that employee. Conestoga has outlined clear steps in the Discrimination & Harassment Prevention Procedure – Complaints Against Employees. If an informal resolution is likely and possible, this is recommended. But, of course, at times, informal resolution is inappropriate and/or not safe for you to do so. In such cases, formal complaints should be immediately considered by filling out the Discrimination and/or Harassment Complaint Form For Complaints Against Employees. This form will be directly sent to Human Resources, of which you can contact if you experience technical difficulties with or have questions about the form via HRpolicy@conestogac.on.ca

Discrimination or Harassment Complaints Against Students

If discrimination and/or harassment is experienced because of unwelcomed interactions with a student, any faculty or member of Conestoga can submit a discrimination and/or harassment report against that student. Conestoga has outlined clear steps in the Discrimination & Harassment Prevention Procedure – Complaints Against Students. If informal resolution is likely and possible, this is recommended. But, of course, at times, informal resolution is inappropriate and/or not safe for you to do so. In such cases, formal complaints should be immediately considered by filling out the Discrimination and/or Harassment Complaint Form For Complaints Against Students. This form will be directly sent to Student Rights and Responsibilities, who will contact you within two business days of receiving this complaint.

Care for the Person Harmed

It is important to support the person harmed by unwelcomed harassment and/or discrimination. If you or someone you know at Conestoga has or is experiencing emotional distress due to harassment and/or discrimination, please review the below resources and supports.

Supports for an Employee Harmed by Discrimination and/or Harassment

All employees have access to the Conestoga College Employee Assistance Program (EFAP). Homewood Health is Conestoga’s EFAP provider. This service provides confidential, short-term counselling services to employees and their eligible family members who may be experiencing personal or work-related problems. Employees can call toll free 1-800-663-1142 to request confidential counselling. This line is staffed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Support for a Student Harmed by Discrimination and/or Harassment

The College offers confidential, one-to-one appointments with counsellors to help students work through issues affecting their mental health. There is no cost to meet with a counsellor and appointments can be in-person, virtual, or by telephone at all campuses. Students can access Conestoga’s Student Success Services webpage to access more information about counselling.

Sexual and Gender-Based Violence

Please note that if the discrimination or harassment is sexual or gender-based in nature, Conestoga College has a Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Policy and Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Resource Kit to support our Conestoga community.

Unsure About Discrimination and/or Harassment?

At times, discrimination and/or harassment is not blatant. It is, instead, a general unease and discomfort that we sense through interactions, actions, and behaviours we experience.

If the respondent in this case is a Student, please consult with Student Rights and Responsibilities (SRR) at srr@conestogac.on.ca (responds within 2-business days) or check our the SRR Website.

If the respondent in this case is an Employee, please consult with Human Resources by either contacting your HR Advisor (displayed in your portal record) and/or contacting hrpolicy@conestogac.on.ca (responds within 1-business day)

As always, please know that Teaching and Learning is here to support you.

You can reach out to our general Teaching and Learning email for support or queries at teachingandlearning@conestogac.on.ca

Sara Kafashan

Sara Kafashan, PhD, has worked in post-secondary education since 2009. With a Master’s in Neuroscience and Cognitive Applied Sciences and a PhD in Applied Social Psychology, she has prior teaching experience within the field of Social Sciences. Sara brings a lens of equity, diversity, and inclusion, and a focus on wellness strategies, to teaching and learning. She has expertise in inclusive and accessible educational practices, including curriculum development, resource creation, and engagement with various campus stakeholders.

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