BU Creates Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy

Stately Clark Hall. (Ashlyn Pearce/The Quill)

Collaboration between the Brandon University Student’s Union, Student Services and Human Resources has elicited a new Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy and Procedures; a document seeking to address issues of discrimination and harassment in the work and learning environment at BU.

Although the document is published, community consultation will be sought over the upcoming academic year to provide feedback and refinement of the policy and procedures.

Previously, discrimination and harassment was covered under the Respectful Environment Policy (REP), a policy that encompassed a broad spectrum of issues including those now covered in the stand alone Sexualized Violence Policy.

Newly appointed Diversity and Human Rights Advisor, Lisa Park, outlines the policy’s intended effect on the BU community:

The Quill: What are the main goals of the Discrimination and Harassment Prevention policy and why are they important?

Lisa Park: In the 2015-2020 Academic Plan, Brandon University has articulated that diversity and inclusion are priorities, and that we are working to “create and develop a positive, safe space across the university” to support this goal. Having fair and transparent policies that are easy for all members of the university community to understand and activate when needed is key to achieving this. This policy and its procedures are in place to support and protect those who are most vulnerable, and to ensure that they are treated fairly and judged on their own merits. In other words, we want to avoid situations where people are treated unequally because of a stereotype or because of their membership (or perceived membership) in a particular group.

It is also important to understand that the Discrimination and Harassment Policy, and the procedures that go along with it, largely have to do with legislative compliance. Acts of discrimination and harassment contravene the Manitoba Human Rights Code and/or the Workplace Safety and Health Act and Regulations of the province. Workplaces in Manitoba must have written harassment policies, and defined ways of dealing with harassment in the workplace.

The Quill: Why was the Respectful Environment Policy replaced with multiple stand-alone policies?

Park: When the Respectful Environment Policy was originally approved in 2008 many institutions were producing this type of far-reaching policy that covered many different areas; conflict, harassment, discrimination, workplace accommodations, sexualized violence. It was meant to simplify things for staff and students, so that they only had to refer to one policy. Unfortunately, this approach meant that procedures were difficult to follow, and the policies were difficult to update when this was needed.

With the requirements of the Accessibility for Manitobans Act and the Sexual Violence Awareness and Prevention Act, new policies and procedures were being developed which would replace sections of the REP. When my position of Diversity and Human Rights Advisor was created in May 2016, it seemed perfect timing to pull discrimination and harassment out and give it a stand-alone policy as well. For me this also meant removing conflict resolution from an official policy and putting it into a “guide” to help clarify that conflict is responded to differently than discrimination or harassment.

The Quill: What are the major differences between the sexual harassment area of this policy and the sexualized violence policy?

Park: All aspects of sexualized violence, including “sexual harassment”, are now covered under the Brandon University Sexualized Violence Policy. That was the decision made by the Sexual Assault Advisory Group, with my input. This year is a year of consultation for that policy and the Discrimination and Harassment Prevention Policy, so we will see if this is an effective way to handle these issues. Both policies will be reviewed and probably revised in the spring of 2018 once we get more feedback and “field experience” with them, as we feel that continuous improvement is critical to getting them right.

The Quill: What will the training be like for staff/faculty, and those in positions of authority, and when will that be instated?

Park: I will be providing training on the policy to both employees and students. I have already provided 3 hours of training to the Residence Assistants and residence programming staff, and you will see me at the new student orientation on September 5th where I will give a brief introduction to the policy and my role at the university. I am working on scheduling session for other student groups such as BUSU and the Student Leaders.

On the staff side training will start at the top with the President’s Advisory Council, and will cascade down through the various faculties and departments through the year. Some open sessions, for which both employees and students will be able to register, will be scheduled throughout the academic year.

In addition to training specific to BU’s policy and procedures, we are working on a plan to bring in outside experts to the university to go more in depth on topics such as the Human Rights Code and being trauma informed. Details of these sessions will be posted and advertised as they are confirmed.

The Quill: Is there a way students can get involved with prevention?

Park: I hope to have an ongoing dialogue with students about their role in preventing acts of discrimination and harassment, but also about addressing conflict in a healthy and productive way. What comes across my desk many times is interpersonal conflict that people are unsure how to address. If I can give more people the tools to manage their conflicts in a constructive way that will make a big difference, and may prevent some of the negative interactions that leave people feeling they have been discriminated against or harassed.

The Quill: How will the policy change campus life for students and faculty?

Park: My hope is that having the new policy and procedures, and having someone in a role like mine to advise and support people in a way that is solutions focused, we can all respond appropriately to the inevitable challenges we will face. This is a university, and we need to be open to different opinions and values, and we need to challenge and be challenged intellectually. These challenges, however, cannot take the form of personal attacks, which I think most people understand.

In other words, one important role for this policy is to support academic freedom and freedom of expression, while also protecting the dignity and rights of each member of the Brandon University Community.