Student Handbook - Bias Policy


 

Definition of Harassment

Federal and state laws prohibit discrimination and harassment that are based on race, color, religion, creed, ethnicity, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, marital status, military or veteran status, age and disability among other personal characteristics.  These laws include Title VI of the Civil Rights Act and the New York State Human Rights Law.  New York State law also prohibits discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation, which is defined as an individual’s actual or perceived heterosexuality, homosexuality, bisexuality, or asexuality.

This policy prohibits conduct that would violate these laws.  However, as a supportive and collegial community, Union College also prohibits bias-related student behavior that demeans or humiliates other community members even if the conduct is not so egregious as to violate the law.

In assessing a disciplinary penalty, the seriousness of the incident will be evaluated.  Although relatively minor incidents usually result in lesser forms of disciplinary action, Union College reserves the right to impose any level of discipline, up to and including suspension or expulsion, for any act of harassment, based on the facts and circumstances of the particular case.

Harassment

Harassment refers to unwelcome conduct based on race, color, religion, creed, ethnicity, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, marital status, military or veteran status, age and disability or any other characteristic protected by law that unreasonably interferes with an individual’s ability to work, learn or participate in the College’s programs or creates an environment that is hostile, offensive, or intimidating.  Harassment of this type is usually referred to as “hostile environment” harassment.  Harassing conduct can occur in various forms, including:

  • Verbal - such as using ethnic, racial, religious or other slurs to refer to a person, or jokes or comments that demean a person on the basis of race, color, religion, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, age or disability. 
  • Physical - such as physical threats toward or intimidation of another on the basis of race, color, religion, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, age or disability. 
  • Visual - such as creating or displaying racially, ethnically, religiously offensive pictures, symbols, cartoons, or graffiti. 
  • Communication-based - such as phone calls, emails, text messages, chats or blogs that offend, demean, or intimidate another on the basis of race, color, religion, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, age or disability. 

A determination as to whether harassment occurred depends on the totality of the circumstances, such as the severity of a particular incident, the context in which it occurred, whether the conduct was repeated, whether the conduct was verbal or physical, and whether it was threatening or merely annoying.  For purposes of federal and state law, harassment has occurred if a reasonable person would have found the behavior offensive and his or her living, learning, or working environment would be impaired as a result of the conduct.  However, Union College reserves the right to discipline offensive conduct that is inconsistent with community standards even if it does not rise to the level of harassment as defined by federal or state law. 

Stalking

Stalking refers to a person’s deliberate and repeated following, observing, contacting or communicating with another person when the other has not consented to the activity.  Stalking can be a form of harassment when the person stalked is targeted because of his or her race, color, religion, creed, ethnicity, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, marital status, military or veteran status, age or disability.  Stalking includes, but is not limited to, repeatedly engaging in contact, face-to-face communication, telephone calls or messages, text messages, emails, letters, the giving of unwanted gifts, threatening or obscene gestures, surveillance, following, trespassing or vandalism. 

Identifying Harassment in our Community

Union College is a vibrant academic environment that encourages discussion of competing ideas both inside and outside the classroom and in both formal and informal settings.  Some topics may make a person uncomfortable or take a student outside his or her comfort zone.  This policy is not intended to ban debate over socially controversial or potentially offensive ideas or issues.  Rather it is intended to protect individuals from being targeted for offensive, humiliating or intimidating conduct based on race, color, religion, creed, ethnicity, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, marital status, military or veteran status, age or disability. 

As an example of this distinction, this policy would not prohibit civil and respectful debate in a social sciences class about whether same-sex marriage should be legalized even if a homosexual student in the class disagreed with others’ views and was offended by their statements.  Similarly, this policy would not prohibit controversial figures from speaking on campus even if the individual’s viewpoint or speech were offensive to some, nor would this policy prohibit reasonable artistic expression.  However, this policy would prohibit a student from yelling slurs, insults or threats deemed to constitute bias-related harassment at any other individual or group of individuals.

Definition of Hate Crimes

For the purpose of this policy, a “hate crime” is defined as violence to a person or damage to property (or a threat to do so) or any other criminal act that is motivated entirely or partly by hostility toward or intolerance of another’s race, color, religion, creed, ethnicity, ancestry, national origin, sexual orientation, marital status, military or veteran status, age, disability or any other personal characteristic protected by law. 

The following example demonstrates the difference between a crime and a hate crime.  A student who selects a car at random in a campus parking lot and smashes the windshield has committed criminal mischief.  A student who is biased against Muslims and smashes a windshield because he or she knows that the car belongs to a Muslim student has likewise committed criminal mischief.  However, this second incident is also a hate crime because the student was motivated by anti-Muslim bias. 

Federal and state laws prohibit hate crimes, and hate crimes often result in enhanced criminal penalties.  Students who commit hate crimes are subject to criminal prosecution in addition to discipline pursuant to this policy.  The criminal process is separate and distinct from this policy.  The fact that a criminal complaint has been filed, prosecuted or dismissed will not prevent Union College from pursuing disciplinary action. 

Definition of Retaliation 

Students have the right to report bias-related conduct without fear of retaliation.  Retaliation includes threats, intimidation, or reprisals. For example, it would be retaliatory to intimidate a witness or to shun a person from a student organization in retribution for the person’s having made a complaint of bias-related conduct. 

Union College strictly prohibits retaliation by any student against a person who makes a report of bias-related conduct, assists someone with a report, or participates in any aspect of the investigation or resolution of a report.  Acts of retaliation by students are subject to the standard disciplinary forth in Student Conduct Code and, in certain cases, may result in suspension.  Acts of retaliation by other members of the community, such as faculty or staff, are subject to sanction as set forth in the College’s Faculty, Staff, or Administrative Manuals. 

Confidentiality

Union College understands that a student who has been the victim of bias-related conduct may wish to talk about the incident with the assurance that the discussion will be confidential.  There are several support resources that students may utilize on a confidential basis.  These include:

Students are encouraged to consult these sources for confidential emotional support.  Because these services are confidential, a discussion with any of these sources does not result in a complaint being filed with the College or result in action being taken by the College to respond to the incident.  A student who wants emotional support only should contact the confidential counseling resources listed above.  A student wishing to have an incident investigated, mediated or adjudicated must make a complaint in accordance with the procedures described below.

The College endeavors to respect and follow the wishes of an individual who brings forward a bias incident.  However, students should understand that Union College may have ethical and legal obligations to investigate, attempt to resolve, or adjudicate bias incidents that come to its attention.  Therefore, depending on the circumstances, it may not be possible for a conversation with Campus Safety personnel, the Bias Incident Team member, or other administrators to be kept in confidence always or, said another way, for these individuals simply to listen without taking action. 

Reporting Procedures and the Complaint Process

Faculty, Staff, and students are encouraged to report bias-related activity including hate crimes either experienced directly or observed that occur on the Union College Campus or in the course of a College activity to the Bias Incident Team.  Bias Incident Team members do not make a determination as to the nature of the incident but can present various options for pursuing a complaint (see below).  Referral to the Bias Incident team is appropriate even when the person believed to have committed the act cannot be identified or if the reporting person does not wish to pursue campus disciplinary or criminal charges.  The following procedures, to the extent reasonably practicable under the circumstances, are to be applied upon an incident occurring:

  • Determine whether emergency medical treatment is necessary. If medical attention is necessary, immediately contact 911 and Campus Safety (388-6911 or 388-6178) for assistance.
  • Contact a member of the Bias incident team report the incident if it has not already been reported.
  • The Campus Safety Officer responding to the bias-related activity is to, if possible, photograph physical injuries, offensive graffiti, and evidence of vandalism. In addition, he or she should record where and when the activity occurred and document names of witnesses if applicable.  Further, the Campus Safety Officer should document detailed information about the perpetrator(s), if available. He or she should also retain any physical evidence of the incident, if possible, or, in the case of a crime, turn same over to public law enforcement officials.  Any and all reports of this nature will be retained in the Dean of Students Office.
  • Campus Safety Officers should also, if they suspect that a bias-related crime has occurred, report same to the appropriate law enforcement officials and cooperate with same in its investigation of the incident(s).
  • Parents and/or guardians of students who are victims of bias-related activity will only be notified at the request of the student, if the student has been injured, or if otherwise required under the law. Every effort should be made to facilitate the student in making the decision to contact a parent and/or guardian to discuss the bias-related activity.

Filing a Complaint

A student who wishes to make a complaint alleging that he or she has been subjected to bias-related conduct should contact either the Dean of Students Office (388-6116) or Campus Safety (518-388-6911 or 518-388-6358).  The complaining student will be presented with options available to address the incident, and the Dean of Students will receive notice of the complaint.  At any time after receiving notice of the complaint, the College may direct an investigation into the allegations.

The College offers both informal and formal resolution options.  Generally, the College seeks to follow the complaining party’s wishes as to which procedure to pursue.  However, there may be situations in which, due to the nature of the allegations, informal resolution is inappropriate.  This decision will be based on factors such as the egregiousness of the allegations (e.g., a complaint alleging a bias-motivated assault that resulted in injury), whether the accused student is a repeat offender, or whether there is otherwise reason to believe that the safety or interests of the campus community demand adjudication.  In those instances, the College will apply the formal procedure only. 

Informal Resolution Procedures

Informal procedures are designed to assist the parties to reach a mutually agreeable resolution. 

Mediation
Mediation sessions will be held only if the complaining party and the accused party both agree to mediate and if the Dean of Students determines that mediation is appropriate under the circumstances.  The Dean of Students will act as mediator or will designate another person to act as mediator.  The goal of mediation is to facilitate the parties’ discussions with each other such that a mutually acceptable resolution can be reached.  At any point in the process or if no mutual resolution is reached, the complaining party may move the complaint to the formal adjudication process described below. 

Contractual Agreement
In certain situations, a formal understanding is reached between the parties. This agreement is formalized in writing and is subject to approval by the Disciplinary Officer or his or her designee. The terms may include a pledge that the parties will have no further contact with each other, known as a “No Contact Agreement.” Once a student has signed a contractual agreement, it may not be revoked, and the terms may not be appealed.  A student’s failure to adhere to any term of the agreement may result in referral to the Disciplinary Officer for an Administrative or Conduct Board hearing as described in the System of College Standards and Student Conduct.

Formal Conduct Code Procedures

Formal procedures are designed to determine the merits of the allegations through adjudication and, where appropriate, to determine a disciplinary consequence for the accused student.

Administrative Review and the Student Conduct Board Hearings will be held in accordance with the College’s hearing procedures, which are outlined in the Student Conduct Code.

All sanctions defined in the College Student Conduct Code are available. In the most serious cases, if the student is found to be responsible, the usual sanction is suspension or expulsion. 

Appeal Process

The appeal process is the same as that described in the Student Conduct Code.

At any point, the Dean of Students or any other official referred to in this policy may designate his or her authority to another, more appropriate person.  Further, the Dean of Students may determine that a particular complaint or situation is best addressed pursuant to another of the College’s policies.  In those cases, the matter will be handled pursuant to the policy the Dean of Students, determines is most appropriate.

Statement of Student Rights

Reporting Student

A Student Who Reports A Bias-Related Conduct is entitled: 

  • To be treated with respect by College officials. 
  • To take advantage of campus support resources (Counseling Center, Religious & Spiritual Life, and Health Services).
  • To experience a safe living and educational environment.  Students should consult with the Dean of Students Office .
  • To have an advisor during a Student Conduct Code Board Hearing in accordance with the Student Conduct Code. 
  • To refuse to have an allegation resolved through informal resolution procedures.
  • To be free from retaliation. 

Accused Student

 A Student Accused of Bias-Related Conduct is entitled: 

  • To be treated with respect by College officials. 
  • To take advantage of campus support resources (Counseling Center Religious & Spiritual Life and Health Services ).
  • To have an advisor during a Student Conduct Code Board Hearing in accordance with the Student Conduct Code. 
  • To refuse to have an allegation resolved through informal resolution procedures.
  • To be heard in accordance with the System of College Standards and Student Conduct.