Student Handbook - Sexual Misconduct

Federal and state laws prohibit sexual harassment. These laws include Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 and the New York State Human Rights Law. This policy prohibits conduct that would violate these laws. However, as a supportive and collegial community, Union also prohibits student behavior that sexually demeans or humiliates other community members as described below, even if the conduct does not violate the law. In assessing a disciplinary penalty, the seriousness of the sexual harassment incident will be evaluated. Although relatively minor incidents usually result in lesser forms of disciplinary action, Union reserves the right to impose any level of discipline, up to and including suspension or expulsion, for any act of sexual harassment.

Acts of sexual harassment may be committed by men against women, women against men, men against men, and women against women. The issue in any case is not the gender of the persons involved but the acts.

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment refers to unwelcome sexual or gender-based conduct 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, intimidating or humiliating based on the individual’s sex or gender. Harassment of this type is usually referred to as a “sexually hostile environment” and is only one type of sexual harassment (see definition of quid pro quo sexual harassment below). Harassing conduct can occur in various forms, including:

  • Verbal - such as vulgar or lewd statements, gender-based name-calling, sexually suggestive or graphic comments, or comments that demean a person because of his or her gender.
  • Physical - such as unwanted rubbing of a person’s back, neck, buttocks or thighs, pinching, sexual gestures, or sexual intimidation through physical means.
  • Visual - such as exposing another person to unwanted pornographic magazines or videos, or displaying suggestive or lewd pictures.
  • Communication-based - such as sexually graphic, threatening or vulgar phone calls, email, text messages, chats or blogs.
  • Or any combination of these.

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 (note – a single instance of sexual misconduct may be sufficient to constitute a hostile environment), 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 reserves the right to discipline, or to take corrective or other appropriate steps as may be warranted under the circumstances, to resolve 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.

Quid Pro Quo

Union also prohibits “quid pro quo” harassment. “Quid pro quo” (or “this for that”) harassment occurs when a person in a position of authority or control links the receipt of some benefit (such as the ability to join a group or participate in a program.) to another’s submission to unwelcome sexual advances or sexual conduct or requires the other to perform or submit to demeaning or degrading sex or sexually-charged acts. “Quid pro quo” harassment can be expressly stated, but it also can be implied by words, actions or the surrounding circumstances.

Examples of “quid pro quo” harassment include:

  • The leader of a student organization permits a student to join the group only if the other student allows the leader to watch the student engaged in a sexual act.
  • A student in a position of authority disciplines or fires another student who refuses sexual advances or ends a romance.


Identifying Sexual Harassment

Union 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 sexual or gender-based conduct.

As an example of this distinction, this policy would not prohibit civil and respectful debate in a social sciences class as to whether women should be afforded the same legal rights as men even if some women disagreed with others’ views and were offended by statements made. 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 artistic freedom of expression. However, this policy would prohibit a student from yelling obscenities at women as they passed his dorm window. Likewise, this policy prohibits one student from using sexually demeaning language to refer to another student.


Union understands that a student who has been the victim of sexual misconduct or sexual harassment 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 Counseling Services, the Director of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life, and Health Services. 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 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 sexual misconduct or sexual harassment concern. However, students should understand that Union may have ethical and legal obligations to investigate, attempt to resolve or adjudicate incidents of sexual misconduct or sexual harassment that come to its attention. Therefore, depending on the circumstances, it may not be possible for a conversation with Campus Safety personnel or other administrators to be kept in confidence always or, said another way, for these individuals simply to listen without taking action.


Union College strictly prohibits retaliation against any person for using this policy’s reporting procedure or filing, testifying, assisting or participating in any manner in any investigation proceeding involving allegations of sexual misconduct or sexual harassment. Any who violates the policy will be subject to discipline.