Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
April 30, 1999

There's still time to shape racial harassment policy

by Anne Dolan

During a noon forum last week, members of the Iowa State community responded to the second draft of a proposed policy and procedures that address racial and ethnic harassment. Draft two includes a university grievance process (formal and informal options) to be used to respond to many kinds of discrimination and harassment on campus. (Sexual harassment claims would continue to be addressed under separate procedures.)

The primary drafters of the policy and procedures -- university legal services director Paul Tanaka, affirmative action director Carla Espinoza and diversity adviser to the president Derrick Rollins -- still are seeking reaction to the draft and ideas for improving it.

Under its agreement with the Office of Civil Rights, U.S. Department of Education, Iowa State must develop and distribute a racial/ethnic harassment policy by June 30. OCR officials visited campus in April 1998 as part of a review of schools receiving federal education funds.

In opening comments, Tanaka noted that the legal definition of racial harassment includes behavior that is "severe, persistent or pervasive." Iowa State's policy, he said, also takes aim at behavior -- including pranks, comments and jokes -- that falls short of the legal definers.

Espinoza noted that the policy, when completed, is the beginning, not the end. "It's really about people talking civilly to each other about differences, about disputes," she said. "That talking won't happen simply because we have a policy."

She said the intent initially is to train employees to share information about the policy and grievance procedures with co-workers in their units. Assistors, similar to those used under the terms of the sexual harassment policy, also will be trained for more of an "ombuds" role, she said.

The policy includes a paragraph noting that principles of free speech may butt up against instances of alleged harassment. Guidelines for assessing whether speech has become harassment are provided in the draft.

The policy identifies several offices to which complaints may be directed, Tanaka said, but the affirmative action office is the central coordinating place "where the buck stops." The options are provided, he said, to offer students and employees alternatives for proceeding with a complaint, depending on which offices and individuals they're comfortable approaching.

Following are other suggestions offered during the forum:

The policy and procedures draft is available on Iowa State's affirmative action office Web site, A comment box is available at that site, or e-mail your ideas to Espinoza,, or Tanaka,

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Revised 04/29/99