Discrimination & Harassment FAQs

The following frequently asked questions and answers are intended to provide general information on the reporting, handling and adjudication of reports and complaints of discrimination and harassment. Please review the full policy on discrimination and/or harassment for complete information.  Please check back for additional FAQs which may be added from time to time as questions arise. 

Note: We use the term "complainant" to describe the person who believes that they have been a victim of discrimination or harassment.  We use the term "respondent" to describe the person who is alleged to have engaged in discrimination or harassment.

  1. How can I learn about the University’s policies for responding to discrimination and/or harassment?  See answer.
  2. Whom can I consult for more information about the University's policies on discrimination and/or harassment?  See answer.
  3. What are Princeton's general principles on discrimination and/or harassment?  See answer.
  4. What behaviors are prohibited under the Policy on Discrimination and/or Harassment?  See answer.
  5. What are protected characteristics?  See answer.
  6. Does Princeton care about types of identity that are not protected characteristics?  See answer.
  7. What is discrimination according to Princeton's policies?  See answer.
  8. What is harassment according to Princeton's policies?  See answer.
  9. What is sex discrimination, and how does it relate to other policies about discrimination and/or harassment?  See answer.
  10. What happens if I experience harassing behavior, but the other person says that it was unintentional or a joke?  See answer.
  11. What is a "hostile environment?"  See answer.
  12. What is retaliation?  See answer.
  13. Are "microagressions" prohibited under Princeton's policies?  See answer.
  14. What role does the principle of freedom of expression play in determining whether discrimination and/or harassment have taken place?  See answer.
  15. If someone's speech is deemed offensive or demeaning, but is not subject to discipline because it is protected as freedom of expression, does that mean the University can take no action?  See answer.
  16. I feel that I have experienced discrimination and/or harassment, or I believe that someone else has experienced discrimination and/or harassment.  What are my options?  See answer.
  17. What can I expect after a consultation with a Confidential Resource?  See answer.
  18. I feel that I've experienced discrimination and/or harassment. How do I make a complaint?  See answer.
  19. Can I file a complaint against a student? Against a faculty member? Against a staff member?  See answer.
  20. My problematic experience involves a member of the University community, but occurred off campus.  Can the University take action? See answer.
  21. Are the Prospect Avenue Eating Clubs considered to be off-campus? See answer.
  22. Can the University address the overall climate or environment within a Club? See answer.
  23. I feel that I have experienced discrimination and/or harassment by someone who is not an employee or student.  Do I have any options?  See answer.
  24. Is there a "statute of limitations" on filing a complaint of discrimination and/or harassment?  See answer.
  25. Will the information about alleged discrimination and/or harassment be confidential?  See answer.
  26. What if I want to remain anonymous?  See answer.
  27. What steps will Princeton take to support my well-being if I report a concern or an investigation is launched?  See answer.
  28. What happens during a disciplinary proceeding?  See answer.
  29. Who investigates and adjudicates complaints, and how are they trained?  See answer.
  30. I've had a singular experience that I think might be part of a broader pattern of problematic conduct by an individual or of problematic interactions within a unit. What should I do?  See answer.
  31. I've had an experience that I don't feel I need to report to anyone officially and would prefer to handle independently. What is the best way to do that?  See answer.
  32. I want to file a discrimination and/or harassment complaint externally. How do I do that?  See answer.

 

1. How can I learn about the University’s policies for responding to discrimination and/or harassment?

There are several policies and procedures designed to protect members of the campus community from discrimination and/or harassment.  Princeton’s official policy is the Policy on Discrimination and/or Harassment. 

The Policy on Discrimination and/or Harassment incorporates the principles articulated in Rights, Rules, Responsibilities 1.2.1 (Respect for Others) and Rights, Rules, Responsibilities 1.2.2 (Discrimination, Bias or Harassment Based on a Protected Characteristic).  The Policy on Discrimination and/or Harassment also incorporates information about disciplinary procedures as stated in Rights, Rules, Responsibilities 1.7 (Resolution of Complaints Against Members of the University Community).  Also relevant is Rights, Rules, Responsibilities 1.3 (Sex Discrimination and Sexual Misconduct). 

Princeton’s policies regarding discrimination and/or harassment are guided by federal and state law.  Discrimination and/or harassment on the basis of race, creed, color, sex, gender identity or expression, age, national origin, ancestry, religion, physical or mental disability, veteran status, marital or domestic partnership status, affectional or sexual orientation and/or other characteristics protected by applicable law are regulated by federal and state laws such as Title VI and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act,  and/or the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. 

The University’s processes for addressing and responding to discrimination and/or harassment on the basis of sex, specifically, are regulated by Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. 

 

2. Whom can I consult for more information about the University's policies on discrimination and/or harassment?

Cheri Burgess, the Director for Institutional Equity in the Office of the Provost, can offer guidance and answer questions.  You can consult Ms. Burgess without filing a formal complaint.  Cheri Burgess can be reached at clawson@princeton.edu.

 

3. What are Princeton's general principles on discrimination and/or harassment?

Discrimination and/or harassment based on a protected characteristic, as defined by the Policy on Discrimination and/or Harassment, are strictly prohibited.  Princeton University is committed to creating and maintaining an educational, working, and living environment free from discrimination and harassment.  When the University becomes aware that a member of the University community may have been subjected to or affected by discriminatory and/or harassing behavior, the University will investigate, and if a violation is found to have occurred, take prompt action to stop the discrimination and/or harassment.  The course of action taken by the University, including any resulting disciplinary penalty, will depend on the particular facts and circumstances involved.

 

4. What behaviors are prohibited under the Policy on Discrimination and/or Harassment?

The policy prohibits discrimination and/or harassment based on a protected characteristic.  It also prohibits retaliation.  Sex discrimination and sexual misconduct are also prohibited behaviors covered under a separate policy (Rights, Rules, Responsibilities 1.3).

 

5. What are protected characteristics?

Protected characteristics are those personal traits, characteristics and/or beliefs that are defined by applicable law as protected from discrimination and/or harassment.  They include race, creed, color, sex, gender identity or expression, age, national origin, ancestry, religion, physical or mental disability, veteran status, marital or domestic partnership status, affectional or sexual orientation and/or other characteristics protected by applicable law.  

 

6. Does Princeton care about types of identity that are not protected characteristics?

Princeton values all forms of identity, and wants all individuals to be able to feel welcome on campus.  There are forms of identity and life experience, such as socioeconomic background, that are not protected by law.  If you feel that you are being treated unfairly based on an identity characteristic not included in the list of protected characteristics, you can consult the Director for Institutional Equity for guidance. 

 

7. What is discrimination according to Princeton's policies?

Discrimination is adverse treatment of an individual based on a protected characteristic, rather than individual merit. Examples of conduct that can constitute discrimination if based on an individual’s protected characteristic include but are not limited to:

  • Singling out or targeting an individual for different or less favorable treatment (e.g., more severe discipline, lower salary increase) because of their protected characteristic;
  • Failing or refusing to hire or admit an individual because of their protected characteristic;
  • Terminating an individual from employment or an educational program based on his/her protected characteristic.

 

8. What is harassment according to Princeton's policies?

Harassment is unwelcome verbal or physical behavior which is directed at a person based on a protected characteristic, when these behaviors are sufficiently severe and/or pervasive to have the effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual's educational experience, working conditions or living conditions by creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.  Examples of conduct that can constitute harassment if based on an individual’s protected characteristic include but are not limited to:

  • Unwelcome jokes or comments about a legally protected characteristic (e.g., racial or ethnic jokes);
  • Disparaging remarks to a person about a legally protected characteristic (e.g., negative or offensive remarks or jokes about a person's religion or religious garments);
  • Displaying negative or offensive posters or pictures about a legally protected characteristic;
  • Electronic communications, such as e-mail, text messaging and internet use, that violate this Policy.

 

9. What is sex discrimination, and how does it relate to other policies about discrimination and/or harassment?

Sex or gender discrimination, including sexual misconduct such as sexual harassment and sexual assault, stalking, and intimate partner violence, is defined by and prohibited under the University’s policy and disciplinary procedures for Sex Discrimination and Sexual Misconduct, which can be found in Rights, Rules, Responsibilities, section 1.3.

 

10. What happens if I experience harassing behavior, but the other person says that it was unintentional or a joke?

Intent is not relevant in determining whether or not behavior is harassing.  Regardless of intent, the behavior will be judged by its impact on the person directly affected or a third party who witnessed the behavior.  In order to assess the impact of behavior, the University considers whether a reasonable person in similar circumstances would find the behavior sufficiently severe and/or pervasive to have the effect of unreasonably interfering with the individual’s educational experience, working conditions or living conditions by creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.

 

11. What is a "hostile environment?"

The phrase “hostile environment” is often misunderstood.  Hostile environment is a form of harassment under the law.   It describes a situation created when unwelcome conduct based on a protected characteristic is sufficiently severe and/or pervasive that it creates an intimidating, offensive or disruptive educational or working environment for one or more members of the campus community.  Determining hostile environment harassment is a fact-specific exercise, and not all circumstances rise to the level of the legal definition of hostile environment harassment. 

To be considered hostile environment harassment, the conduct or speech must be (1) unwelcome,
(2) based on a protected characteristic, (3) severe and/or pervasive (recurring), and (4) unreasonably interfering with an individual’s educational experience, working conditions, or living conditions.  Persons offended by a hostile environment need not be direct recipients or targets of the offending behavior; they can be third parties, and behavior that is comfortable between direct participants may be unwelcome to others who cannot avoid observing it.

Conduct or speech is typically considered “hostile” when it goes beyond rudeness or casual joking and is intimidating, abusive, or offensive.  Isolated incidents or petty slights, while problematic, are generally not sufficient to create a hostile environment.  However, it is important to report seemingly minor conduct because it may signal climate issues that can create the circumstances which allow more problematic, harassing behavior to escalate.  It is usually simpler to address minor conduct at an earlier point than to respond to a complaint of harassment through an investigation. 

In determining whether conduct or speech constitutes hostile environment harassment, the following factors will be considered:  the severity of the conduct, how often it occurred, how it impacted the individual making the complaint, and how a “reasonable person” would objectively characterize it under similar circumstances.  

 

12. What is retaliation?

Retaliation is any attempt to seek retribution against an individual or group of individuals involved in filing a complaint or report, filing an external complaint, participating in a disciplinary process, or opposing in a reasonable manner an action believed in good faith to constitute a violation of University policy. Retaliation can take many forms, including abuse or violence, threats, and intimidation. Actions in response to a good-faith report of discrimination or harassment are considered retaliatory if they have a materially adverse effect on the working, academic or University-controlled living environment of an individual, or if they hinder or prevent the individual from effectively carrying out their University responsibilities. Any individual or group of individuals can be found to have engaged in retaliation.

 

13. Are "microagressions" prohibited under Princeton's policies?

Microaggressions can be defined as "brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to certain individuals because of their group membership” (Derald Wing Sue: Microaggressions in Everyday Life, 2010.)  Microaggressions differ from overt, deliberate acts of discrimination because the people perpetrating microaggressions often are unaware they are causing harm.  A pattern of microaggressive behavior nonetheless has the potential to constitute prohibited harassment if it is sufficiently severe and/or pervasive.  

 

14. What role does the principle of freedom of expression play in determining whether discrimination and/or harassment have taken place?

Behavior that constitutes discrimination or harassment under the policy is prohibited.  There may be other instances, however, in which individuals express disagreeable or offensive ideas or opinions that do not constitute discrimination or harassment (typically because those ideas or opinions are not directed at another specific individual), but which are rather allowable under the principle of freedom of expression.  In responding to complaints, the University considers the circumstances and works to assess the balance between eliminating discrimination and harassment while protecting freedom of expression.  

The University’s Statement on Freedom of Expression, which can be found in Rights, Rules, Responsibilities 1.1.3, states: “Although the University greatly values civility, and all members of the University community share in the responsibility for maintaining a climate of mutual respect, concerns about civility and mutual respect can never be used as a justification for closing off discussion of ideas, however offensive or disagreeable those ideas may be to some members of our community.  The freedom to debate and discuss the merits of competing ideas does not, of course, mean that individuals may say whatever they wish, wherever they wish.  The University may restrict expression that violates the law, that falsely defames a specific individual, that constitutes a genuine threat or harassment, that unjustifiably invades substantive privacy or confidentiality interests, or that is otherwise directly incompatible with the functioning of the University.  In addition, the University may reasonably regulate the time, place and manner of expression to ensure that it does not disrupt the ordinary activities of the University.”  

 

15. If someone's speech is deemed offensive or demeaning, but is not subject to discipline because it is protected as freedom of expression, does that mean the University can take no action?

No. The University may take a variety of actions apart from discipline.  For example, the University may call the individual in for a meeting with a Dean or supervisor, in order to explain the concern with the speech, expectations for campus interactions, and the impact the speech is having on others.  The University also may sponsor debates or discussions on the topic, or offer awareness programs and trainings to the campus community, in whole or in part.  The University may offer resources and support to those who have been offended.

 

16. I feel that I have experienced discrimination and/or harassment, or I believe that someone else has experienced discrimination and/or harassment. What are my options?

You are encouraged to report all incidents of discrimination and/or harassment.  When you feel that you have been subjected to discrimination and/or harassment or have observed discrimination and/or harassment of others, you have many options, including consulting with a Confidential Resource or filing a formal complaint.  The University recognizes that deciding among these options can be difficult.   Individuals are encouraged to seek assistance from a Confidential Resource before deciding how to proceed.  See this resource list for information about how to contact Confidential Resources or other trained campus professionals. 

The Director for Institutional Equity in the Office of the Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity oversees Princeton’s response to concerns of discrimination and/or harassment, and is made aware of all such concerns (unless they are shared only with a Confidential Resource).

 

17. What can I expect after a consultation with a Confidential Resource?

Confidential Resources are not authorized to engage in fact-finding or take action on behalf of the University; nor will they maintain formal or detailed records of confidential consultations.  If after speaking with a Confidential Resource you do not wish to initiate an internal complaint, the Confidential Resource will take no action.  If you do wish to make a complaint, the Confidential Resource will put you in touch with an appropriate University administrator.

18.  I feel that I've experienced discrimination and/or harassment. How do I make a complaint?

Consult the Director for Institutional Equity in the Office of the Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity, who can respond to any complaint and assist in directing it to the appropriate disciplinary process.  These additional individuals are also trained to respond to or refer complaints:

  • Directors of Student Life in the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students
  • Associate Deans in the Office of the Dean of Undergraduate Students
  • Associate Deans in the Office of the Dean of the Graduate School
  • Associate Deans in the Office of the Dean of the Faculty
  • Senior Human Resources Managers in Human Resources

A complaint can also be submitted to the Director for Institutional Equity using this complaint form.

 

19. Can I file a complaint against a student? Against a faculty member? Against a staff member?

Yes, any member of the University community can make a complaint against any other member of the community.

 

20. My problematic experience involves a member of the University community, but occurred off campus. Can the University take action?

 

It depends on the facts of the individual situation.  The University regulates student conduct that occurs on campus and in the local vicinity.  All actions by a member of the University community that involve the use of the University’s computing and network resources from a remote location are considered to be on campus.  In addition, actions by a member of the University community occurring in a University-sponsored program or activity, such as travel, research, or internship programs, are considered to be on campus.  

 

 

21. Are the Prospect Avenue Eating Clubs considered to be off-campus?

The Prospect Avenue Eating Clubs are deemed to be in the local vicinity, and, therefore, the University regulates student conduct at the Eating Clubs. As stated in Rights, Rules, Responsibilities:  “Standards of behavior by University students in the independent Prospect Avenue clubs are to conform with established standards in the University as a whole. In particular, club members are to act with considerate regard for the rights, privileges, and sensibilities of others. It is expected that they will show due consideration for the property of their fellow members and guests, as well as for the property of the club itself. Physical violence, intimidation of others, or offensive and disorderly behavior will not be tolerated in any club or on the walks and streets outside clubs. It is also the immediate obligation of those in the presence of a severely intoxicated person to contact appropriate University or local medical or safety personnel (see section 2.2.9). University policy in cases in which misconduct is alleged to have taken place in the clubs is governed by the provisions set forth concerning off-campus activities (see section 1.4.2).”

 

22. Can the University address the overall climate or environment within a Club?

The Eating Clubs are private, nonprofit corporations with their own governing bodies, funded and operated by students and alumni; they are independent from the University.  As such, the University does not operate or control the Eating Clubs.  The University does make available to the Eating Clubs a variety of services and programs, including trainings by the SHARE office and the Department of Public Safety.  If the University becomes aware of concerns regarding the possibility of a hostile environment in an Eating Club, the University will review those concerns them to the extent it is able, and will relay those concerns to the Club’s governing body.

 

23. I feel that I have experienced discrimination and/or harassment by someone who is not an employee or student.  Do I have any options?

The University’s ability to discipline an individual who is not an employee or student (such as a vendor or contractor) is limited by the degree of control, if any, that the University has over such individual.    Nonetheless, the University will seek to take appropriate action in response to allegations of discrimination and/or harassment.  The Director for Institutional Equity in the Office of the Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity can meet with you to discuss your concerns.

 

24. Is there a "statute of limitations" on filing a complaint of discrimination and/or harassment?

There is no “statute of limitations” or deadline for filing a complaint of discrimination and/or harassment.  The University encourages prompt reporting of complaints because late reporting may limit the University’s ability to investigate and respond.  

 

25. Will the information about alleged discrimination and/or harassment be confidential?

Any allegation of discrimination and/or harassment brought to the attention of the University will be discreetly addressed in some manner.  Investigations will be conducted in a confidential manner to the greatest extent possible.  However, the investigation of complaints may also require disclosure to the accused individual and to other witnesses for the purpose of gathering pertinent information.  In such case, disclosures will be limited to the extent possible.

 

26. What if I want to remain anonymous?

Anonymous complaints can be made through the University’s EthicsPoint Hotline.  It can be difficult for the University to fully investigate anonymous complaints due to lack of information and inability to interact with the complainant.  The EthicsPoint Hotline provides a mechanism for individuals who wish to remain anonymous to communicate with the University, if they are willing.

If an individual self-identifies but asks that their identity not be disclosed during the investigation, the investigator will consider how to proceed, taking into account the individual’s wishes, the University’s commitment to provide a non-discriminatory environment, and the rights of other involved parties to have notice of the allegations. 

 

27. What steps will Princeton take to support my well-being if I report a concern or an investigation is launched?

When appropriate, prior to or during the investigation, the Director for Institutional Equity or other University officials may recommend that adjustments be made to your living, academic, or working situation in order to protect your safety and well-being and/or that of other members of the University community.  The Director for Institutional Equity or other University officials can also take these steps even if you choose not to pursue a formal complaint, or the matter does not lend itself to investigation.  Adjustments might include:

  • Access to counseling services
  • Rescheduling of exams and assignments
  • Change in class schedule, including the ability to transfer course sections or withdraw from a course
  • Change in work schedule or job assignment
  • Change in campus housing
  • Imposition of an on-campus “no contact order,” or “Persona Non Grata” order, administrative remedies designed to curtail contact and communications between or among individuals.

 

28. What happens during a disciplinary proceeding?

In cases where someone makes a complaint of discrimination and/or harassment (other than sex or gender discrimination) against a student, the disciplinary case will be handled according to the procedures specified in Rights, Rules, Responsibilities 1.7.  

In cases where someone makes a complaint of discrimination and/or harassment (other than sex or gender discrimination) against a faculty or staff member, the disciplinary case will be handled according to the procedures specified in the Policy on Discrimination and/or Harassment.

In all cases where there is an allegation of sex discrimination and/or sexual harassment, see Rights, Rules, Responsibilities 1.3 for the relevant disciplinary procedure.  

 

29. Who investigates and adjudicates complaints, and how are they trained?

In disciplinary proceedings when the respondent is an undergraduate student (and separation from the University is an unlikely outcome), the investigator would usually be a Director of Student Life.  The case would be adjudicated by the Residential College Disciplinary Board.  In disciplinary proceedings when the respondent is a graduate student (and separation from the University is an unlikely outcome), the assistant or associate dean for student life would investigate and adjudicate the case.  Disciplinary proceedings that may result in separation from the University, for both undergraduate and graduate students, would be investigated by an independent investigator employed on a contract basis by the University to review such matters.  The case would be adjudicated by the Committee on Discipline, which includes faculty and students.  

In disciplinary proceedings where the respondent is a faculty or staff member, the investigator(s) would usually be a trained member of the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity, the Dean of the Faculty, or Human Resources.  The case would be resolved by the investigators, who also act as adjudicators.

All individuals involved in investigating or adjudicating cases receive training in discrimination, harassment, and bias.  This training includes terminology and concepts such as identity and protected characteristics, unconscious bias, microaggressions, and cultural competencies.  Investigators and adjudicators are also trained to conduct effective investigations, and to review information according to appropriate evidentiary standards.   

 

30. I've had a singular experience that I think might be part of a broader pattern of problematic conduct by an individual or of problematic interactions within a unit.  What should I do?

If you have had a singular experience that would not meet the definition of discrimination or harassment but that could be part of a problematic pattern, you can inform the Director for Institutional Equity in the Office of the Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity.  The Director for Institutional Equity will record the information.  The University monitors reports in order to identify patterns that could indicate a hostile environment.  When appropriate, it will initiate a climate review.  The climate review, which might include surveys, interviews and/or focus groups, may result in a structured plan to provide programming or remedial training. 

Depending on the circumstances, it may also be appropriate to support you with an adjustment to your living, academic, or working situation.  

 

31. I've had an experience that I don't feel I need to report to anyone officially and would prefer to handle independently.  What is the best way to do that?

It can be hard to resolve problematic behavior independently if there is a power differential between the parties.  How you prefer to handle an experience is your decision, however.  The Ombuds Office can confidentially assist you to think through your options.  It can also provide formal conflict resolution.

There are times when an issue or concern can be resolved by direct communication.  If you feel comfortable, tell the offending party to stop the problematic behavior and document the conversation in writing.  If the problematic behavior continues, consult the Director for Institutional Equity in the Office of the Vice Provost for Institutional Equity and Diversity or a confidential resource about your options.

If you feel that the problematic behavior may have been unintentional or uninformed (for example, based on unconscious bias or a stereotype), you can explain your concerns to the offending party and see if you can reach an understanding.  However, you should never feel it is your responsibility to directly confront the offending party.

 

32. I want to file a discrimination and/or harassment complaint externally.  How do I do that?

In addition to or instead of filing an internal complaint, you may file a discrimination and/or harassment complaint with an external body, including a federal or state agency authorized to investigate such claims. The appropriate agency will depend on the status of the complainant and the nature of the complaint.  Examples of such agencies include:  the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the Office for Civil Rights at the United States Department of Education, and the New Jersey Division on Civil Rights.