Guidelines for Student Development and Residence Experience (SDRX) staff

Harassment and Discrimination: Responding to an initial Complaint

When problems related to harassment and discrimination arise, you may be the first person, in an official capacity, called upon to respond. 

As a Student Development and Residence Experience (SDRX) staff member, you are required under Waterloo’s Ethical Behaviour Policy 33  along with provincial human rights and occupational health safety legislation, to respond in a timely and sensitive manner. You are expected to take steps to notify your immediate supervisor as soon as possible. You are not required to take formal action on the complaint. It is important to listen to the complaint and to get help in determining how and where you should proceed.

Responding to an initial complaint:

There is no set program or template for responding to an initial complaint since each situation is different. An effective initial response can positively influence resolving the problem.

Remember to:

Put the individual at ease

It is difficult for most people to come forward with concerns. It will help the person if you provide them with privacy and your total attention, along with adequate time for them to the express concerns. These actions indicate that you care and may provide a basis for trust. The individual may drop the matter or go elsewhere if trust and rapport are not established.


Individuals sometimes believe that if they disclose their concerns they may lose control (i.e., Waterloo will take over the complaint). Indicate that you are there to help work toward a resolution.

Inform the individual that they will not face reprisal or be disadvantaged by coming to you for assistance.

Listen actively

  • maintain appropriate level of eye contact -- avoiding eye contact can send the message that you would rather be elsewhere.

  • try to feedback the substance and the emotional content of what the person is telling you, if appropriate (e.g. "It sounds as though you were very uncomfortable when those remarks were made to you").  This allows you to check for understanding and also lets the person know that you have heard them.

  • watch your body language -- especially if you become uncomfortable with what you are hearing or in response to the complainant's emotions.

  • do not permit phone calls or visitors to interrupt your conversation.

Document your meeting

Ask the person if they mind if you take notes during the interview. If they prefer that you do not, you should make notes immediately following the interview. Store notes in a safe place. Remember – eye contact is still important even while you are taking notes.

Explain the options

These may include informal options (e.g. mediation) or more formal options such as an internal investigation or filing a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal or the University of Waterloo Police.

Explain what you intend to do

Explain to the individual that you will contact your supervisor, the Residence Life Coordinator On Call, the Residence Life Manager, or the Conflict Management and Human Rights Office (CMAHRO) for assistance and information.

Discuss confidentiality

If the individual is concerned about confidentiality, indicate that you will not release their name while conferring with others. Also, indicate that there may be a time when it will be necessary to release more details, including names, and that you will attempt to inform them in advance.

However, as a SDRL Student Staff member with responsibility for responding to Ontario human rights and occupational safety related complaints, you cannot guarantee confidentiality. Contact CMAHRO for clarification on whether or not a complaint falls within the jurisdiction of the Ontario Human Rights Code or the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

If a person indicates a strong desire to discuss a complaint in complete confidentiality, they should be referred to a counsellor at Counselling Services.

Suggest other resources

Including Counselling Services, Health Services, Campus Police, Safety Office and CMAHRO.

Before concluding the meeting, ask

  • Have they expressed everything that they felt was important to discuss?
  • What is their understanding regarding the next steps?
  • Are they able to talk with someone close about their concerns?

If the person indicates a lack of understanding, or if you sense they may need more time, take the time now. Try to encourage the individual to fully disclose concerns without seeming impatient or forceful in your manner.

If the person still appears to be in a highly emotional state, contact Counselling Services (ext. 32655) for support or, after normal office hours, contact Campus Police (ext. 22222).

Agree on a time for you to get back to the individual and keep it

Try to respond within 48 hours. Explain that you will seek out more information regarding the concern and commit to a time to have a follow-up discussion. This demonstrates that you are taking the concern seriously.

After the initial contact:

Draft notes

Compile your notes either during the meeting or immediately following as notes are critical if the complaint proceeds externally. Store notes in a safe place.

Get help immediately

From your supervisor, the Residence Life Coordinator On-Call, the Residence Life Manager, or from CMAHRO

Remember: listen and get help