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LGBT update: Harrassment and discrimination confusion

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One year after being presented with an SGA resolution to include sexual orientation and gender identity and expression in USA’s Non-Discrimination policy, the administration has changed the sexual harassment policy to include sexual orientation but left the Non-Discrimination policy unchanged.

The addition of sexual orientation to the Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence policy comes with the University’s comprehensive review of their policies to reflect the Office of Civil Rights’ interpretation of Title IX, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in public education.

In April 2011, the University received a Dear Colleague letter from the Department of Education, sent to all publically funded universities and colleges, highlighting several necessary items every public university must be in compliance with.

Associate Dean of Student Affairs and USA’s Title IX coordinator Robin Jones said the University now has a global Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence policy in compliance with Title IX regulations. The language used in the sexual harassment policy prohibits harassment based on “individual gender-based characteristics, or sexual orientation.” Jones believes that this addition to USA policy helps the University take a stand

“We’re able to now have policy behind us that says sexual orientation should be protected and will be protected … it’s a recognized form of discrimination,” Jones said.

Jones clarified that sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination. She also said that the addition of “individual gender-based characteristics” is open to interpretation.

Legally, harassment and discrimination are different. Discrimination protects the civil liberties of individuals from being violated, and in the context of the University, this protects individuals from discrimination in employment matters (hiring, promotions, etc.), admission and access to programs and services.

The University’s sexual harassment policy defines sexual harassment as “verbal or non-verbal conduct that is intimidating, demeaning, hostile, or offensive with inappropriate focus on sex, sexual history, individual gender-based characteristics, or sexual orientation; unwelcomed verbal or physical advances; attempts to subject a person to unwanted sexual attention or to coerce a person into sexual relations; and/or retaliation for refusal to comply with sexual demands.”

At the Student Government Association meeting on Nov. 14, a discussion was held about last year’s SGA resolution to include sexual orientation and gender identity and expression to the USA Non-Discrimination policy. After a few senators expressed confusion as to what the issue with the Non-Discrimination policy was, Dean of Students Mike Mitchell explained last year’s initiative to include that language to the University’s policy. The discussion ended on the note that the change would be “symbolic,” and some senators said the change might not be necessary because the policy already covers federally protected groups.

According to Dr. Martha Jane Brazy, associate professor of history and director of the gender studies program, the Non-Discrimination policy and Sexual Harassment and Sexual Violence policies are different.

“Adding [sexual orientation] to the sexual harassment policy is completely different and not the same as adding it to the Non-Discrimination policy,” Brazy said.

She also said “there is nothing in federal law that prevents the University or a private company, a public entity or a private company from adding it to their discrimination policy.”

According to SGA President Colin Al-Greene, USA’s Faculty Senate is addressing the issue of employment and discrimination.

Written by Genny Roman | Associate Editor

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