FAQs on Discrimination and/or Harassment

The following frequently asked questions and answers provide general information on the reporting, handling and adjudication of complaints of discrimination and harassment. Please review both the full policy on discrimination and/or harassment and the provided definitions for complete information. Additional FAQs may be added from time to time as questions arise.

General Principles

How does Princeton address bias, discrimination and harassment?

Princeton University is committed to creating and maintaining an educational, working, and living environment free from discrimination and harassment. The University will address acts of bias, discrimination or harassment in accordance with its policies and appropriate disciplinary actions.

Are acts of bias illegal or prohibited by University policy?

Some forms of bias, including hate crimes, discrimination, and harassment are prohibited under law and/or University policy. Not all acts of bias are a crime or violate University policy, but they may contribute to creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment for the individuals and groups affected. You are encouraged to report all acts of bias, discrimination and harassment so that the University can take appropriate action to help improve the campus climate. The course of action taken by the University, including any resulting disciplinary penalty, will depend on the particular facts and circumstances involved.

How are bias, discrimination and harassment defined by University policy?

Descriptions of bias, discrimination, harassment, hostile environment, protected characteristics and other key concepts as defined by University policy can be found on the definitions page of this site.

What role does Freedom of Expression play in determining whether discrimination or harassment have taken place?

The University determines the most appropriate action to address bias, harassment or discrimination concerns according to University policies and the details of the incident. Behavior that constitutes discrimination or harassment is prohibited under University policy.  Disagreeable or offensive ideas or opinions that are not directed at a specific individual are allowable under the principle of freedom of expression.  The University’s Statement on Freedom of Expression, 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.” However, "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.”

How does Princeton address offensive conduct which does not violate University policy?

The University provides support and resources to affected individuals, and will consult the appropriate University officials, groups or organizations to address concerns in a manner consistent with University policies while respecting Freedom of Expression. The University may host meetings between individuals and a Dean or supervisor, sponsor debates or discussions on the topic, offer awareness programs and trainings to the campus community, and support to those who have been affected. These meetings are an opportunity to address the speech or conduct, its impact, and to communicate expectations for community interactions while protecting the Freedom of Expression. The University maintains records of reports and how they were addressed to identify trends and reporting patterns.

How does Princeton address concerns about identities that are not protected characteristics?

Princeton values all forms of identity and strives to create an environment that welcomes individuals with all identities. Some forms of identity and life experience, such as socioeconomic background, are not protected by law, but if you are being treated unfairly based on your identity, you are encouraged to consult with the Director for Institutional Equity for guidance.

Where can I find more information about the University’s policies on 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 harassment are guided by federal and state law. Discrimination and 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,  the Americans with Disabilities Act, and 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.

Contact Cheri Burgess, the Director for Institutional Equity and EEO in the Office of the Provost, clawson@princeton.edu to ask any additional questions without submitting a formal complaint.

Support Resources

I feel that I’ve experienced bias, discrimination or harassment. What are my options?

When you feel that you have been subjected to bias, discrimination and/or harassment or have observed such behavior directed at others, you have many options, including consulting with a Confidential Resource or formally reporting what happened. 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 Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity oversees Princeton’s response to concerns of bias, discrimination and/or harassment, and is made aware of all such concerns (unless they are shared only with a Confidential Resource).

I experienced harassment, but the individual claims it was a joke. What are my options?

You are encouraged to discuss your experience with a confidential resource or to submit a formal report. Behavior will be judged by its impact directly on the person affected or a third party who witnessed the behavior, regardless of intent. In assessing impact, the University considers whether a reasonable person in similar circumstances would find the behavior sufficiently severe and/or pervasive to unreasonably interfere with the individual’s educational experience, working conditions or living conditions by creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.

How does Princeton support my well-being if I report my concern?

When appropriate, prior to or during an investigation, the Director for Institutional Equity in the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity or other University officials may recommend adjustments 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
What if I prefer to handle my experience independently without filing a report?

Sometimes an issue or concern can be resolved by direct communication. You should never feel it is your responsibility to directly confront the offending person. However, if you feel comfortable, you can explain your concerns to the offending person, tell them to stop the problematic behavior, and document the conversation in writing. If the behavior continues, consult a confidential resource or the Director for Institutional Equity in the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity about your options.

It can be hard to resolve problematic behavior independently if there is a power differential between the parties. The Ombuds Office can confidentially assist you to think through your options or provide formal conflict resolution.

Reporting Options

Why should I report bias, discrimination and harassment?

All University members are encouraged to report all acts of bias, discrimination and/or harassment, despite whether the conduct constitutes a crime or policy violation. The University will identify the appropriate response to help resolve the conflict and improve the campus climate, such as facilitating programs, private meetings and/or other actions to educate the community in ways that are respectful of free speech and expression.

How do I submit a formal report of my concerns of bias, discrimination and/or harassment?

File a report or contact the Director for Institutional Equity in the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity.

What information should I include in my report?

Please include your name and contact information and be as descriptive as possible about the event(s) that occurred. Include details regarding the date of the event(s), approximate time, location, parties involved and any witnesses or individuals who may have knowledge of what occurred, and any other information relevant to the event(s).

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

No, there is no “statute of limitations” or deadline for reporting bias, discrimination and/or harassment. You are encouraged to submit a report as soon as possible to aid the University’s ability to respond.

Can I submit a report anonymously?

Yes, you may submit an anonymous report through the University’s EthicsPoint Hotline. Reports of bias, discrimination and/or harassment submitted anonymously to the EthicsPoint Hotline will be referred to the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity. The University may not be able to conduct a full investigation of anonymous reports due to limited information or access to the individual who submitted the report.

Will my report be kept confidential?

If you submit a formal report, the University will act in accordance with its policies to respond to bias, discrimination and/or harassment. If the alleged conduct results in an investigation, and an individual requests that their identity not be disclosed, the investigator will consider how to proceed. However, investigations may require disclosure to the accused individual and to other witnesses to gather further information, in which case, disclosures will be limited to the extent possible.

Can I submit a report or file a complaint against a student, faculty member, or staff member?

Yes, any member of the University community may submit a report or file a complaint against any other member of the community.

I’ve experienced bias, discrimination and/or harassment by a non-University employee or student. What are my options?

You are encouraged to report all acts of bias, discrimination or harassment. The University responds to all reports of bias, discrimination and/or harassment, however, the University’s ability to address an individual who is not an employee or student (such as a vendor, contractor, or unaffiliated individual using social media) is limited. Please contact the Director for Institutional Equity in the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity.

How does the University address a concern about an anonymous perpetrator?

You are encouraged to submit a report about anonymous behavior or conduct, such as graffiti, messages sent through social media, or offensive comments by a stranger. The University may be able to respond in some cases.

How does the University address concerns about conduct that involves a University member, but occurred off-campus?

The University regulates student conduct that occurs on campus and in the local vicinity. All actions by University community members that involve the University’s computing and network resources from a remote location, and University-sponsored programs or activities, such as travel, research, or internship programs are considered to be on campus.

Can the University address concerns regarding harassing conduct at an Eating Club?

The Prospect Avenue Eating Clubs are private, independent, nonprofit corporations with their own governing bodies, funded and operated by students and alumni which the University does not operate or control. However, they are in the local vicinity, and therefore the University regulates student conduct at Eating Clubs.

According to 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. 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 streets outside the clubs. 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).”

I’m concerned about a broader pattern of problematic behavior or interactions by an individual, department or unit. What are my options?

Some experiences may not meet the definition of discrimination or harassment, but could be part of a problematic pattern. If you are experiencing a problematic pattern, please contact the Director for Institutional Equity in the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity. The Director maintains and monitors reports to identify patterns that could indicate a hostile environment, and may initiate a climate review, or other actions, to provide programming or remedial training. If appropriate, the University may recommend adjustments to your living, academic, or working situation.

How do I file a discrimination and/or harassment complaint externally?

In addition to or instead of filing an internal complaint, you may file a complaint of discrimination and/or harassment 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.

Review Process

What happens after I submit a complaint of bias, discrimination or harassment?

You will receive confirmation that your complaint has been submitted and information about support resources available on campus.  (If you make an anonymous complaint to the EthicsPoint hotline, reply communications will be made via EthicsPoint.)  The vice provost for institutional equity and diversity will conduct an initial assessment of the information provided in the complaint.  The purpose of the initial assessment is to consider whether the alleged conduct, if substantiated by a preponderance of the evidence, would constitute prohibited conduct under the University’s Policy on Discrimination and/or Harassment.  You will be notified if additional information is needed from you.  Based on the initial assessment, the vice provost may determine that the complaint may proceed to investigation or, if appropriate, refer the complaint to another office with jurisdiction over the matter.  If the alleged conduct would not, even if substantiated, constitute prohibited conduct in violation of the Policy, the vice provost may dismiss the complaint from further review.  The dismissal of a complaint during the initial assessment is final and not subject to appeal.

What if a respondent is accused of multiple types of harassment or discrimination?

It depends on the circumstances.  Applicable University policies, as well as requirements under federal and state laws, such as Title IX, the ADA/Section 504, Title VI and Title VII, influence how investigations are handled.  The Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity responds to all allegations of discrimination and harassment and takes steps to ensure that each is handled according to applicable policies and legal requirements.

In instances when a respondent is accused of engaging in multiple types of harassment or discrimination in the course of a single incident, the alleged behaviors are typically investigated together. However, the applicable investigative framework may vary based on the circumstances.  For example, where a respondent is accused of engaging in sexual misconduct/discrimination and another form of discriminatory behavior in the course of a single incident, those two allegations of discrimination may be investigated and adjudicated together, as specified in the Policy on Sex Discrimination and Sexual Misconduct 1.3.10#7.  And where a respondent is accused of engaging in racial and religious discrimination in the course of a single incident, those two allegations may be investigated and adjudicated together, as specified under the Policy on Discrimination and Harassment.

In the rare instance when a single respondent is accused of engaging in dissimilar incidents of discrimination or harassment over time in unrelated contexts, those allegations typically are investigated individually. Introducing unrelated allegations in an investigation may be considered unfair to the respondent and may be seen as inadvertently prejudicing the decision-maker from deciding the case on the relevant factual evidence. However, if there were to be findings of responsibility with respect to both incidents, those determining penalty would take the first policy violation into account in determining the additional penalty.  It would not typically be appropriate for the University to use information about previous conduct violations to determine responsibility in a new matter.  

Multiple allegations of similar incidents over time can be investigated jointly in some circumstances. For example, Title IX regulations provide for doing so where potential patterns of sexual misconduct may be identified. However, even under these circumstances, each finding of responsibility is determined independently, and evidence of a pattern of behavior would only be utilized in determining the appropriate penalty.

It is important to note that every circumstance is fact specific, and the applicable University policies and procedures may vary.

For more information, see Rights, Rules, Responsibilities section 1.3.10#7 and Policy on Discrimination and/or Harassment.

What happens during a disciplinary proceeding?

In cases where someone makes a complaint of discrimination and/or harassment 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 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

Who investigates and adjudicates complaints in disciplinary proceedings, and how are they trained?

In disciplinary proceedings when the alleged perpetrator (i.e., “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 complaint would be investigated and adjudicated by trained investigators assigned by the University's central Investigations Unit.  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.

What if I am accused of bias, discrimination or harassment?

If a formal complaint is brought against you, you will be notified by a University investigator and will have an opportunity to respond. The investigator will conduct a fact-finding that may include written statements, interviews and other sources of evidence that are relevant to the complaint. The purpose of the fact-finding is to determine whether it is more likely than not that the alleged behavior occurred and, if so, whether it constitutes discrimination and/or harassment under the University’s policy.  For more information about the investigation process, see the Policy on Discrimination and/or Harassment or contact the Director for Institutional Equity in the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity.

You are encouraged to cooperate fully with the investigator and be honest when questioned about the incident(s). Under no circumstances should you act in any way that might be considered retaliation against the person making the complaint.

If I am the subject of a complaint, will the University keep the investigation confidential?

Any allegation of discrimination or harassment brought to the attention of the University will be addressed discreetly to the greatest extent possible. During the course of the investigation, the investigator may gather pertinent information or receive counsel from the Provost’s Office, the Office of the General Counsel, or other offices or parties as needed. In such case, disclosures will be limited to the extent possible.

The University also has reporting obligations with respect to certain interim administrative actions or findings of harassment involving NSF-funded principal investigators (PI) or co-PIs.  For more information regarding these obligations, see NSF Notification Requirements Regarding Harassment and Sexual Assault.