Harassment, Discrimination, Inappropriate Behaviour
Women in Computer Science (WiCS) is dedicated to promoting equity in computing, and that includes working to eliminate harassment, discrimination, and inappropriate behaviour in our learning and working environments.
Many people believe that Sexual Harassment is, by definition, sexual in nature (e.g., unwanted sexual attention or coercion). In fact, only 5%-10% of sexual-harassment cases have anything to do with sex. Most are patterns of gender-based harassment and pertain to a pattern of verbal and nonverbal behaviours that express insulting, hostile, and degrading attitudes about members of a particular gender.1
The Ontario Human Rights Code2 protects against harassment and discrimination that is based on sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression as well as race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, age, marital status, family status or disability. The Code protects both university employees (prohibiting harassment or discrimination in the workplace) and students (prohibiting harassment or discrimination in the delivery of services).
More generally, the Ontario Occupational Health and Safety Act3 protects university employees and students from general workplace harassment.
1 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, “Sexual Harassment of Women: Climate, Culture, and Consequences in Academic Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine”, Policy and Global Affairs; Committee on Women in Science, Engineering, and Medicine; Committee on the Impacts of Sexual Harassment in Academia; Benya FF, Widnall SE, Johnson PA, editors.
Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2018 Jun 12.
2Human Rights Code, RSO 1990, c H-19.
3Occupational Health and Safety Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. O.1.
How to Report (Summary of UW Resources)
If you have experienced or been accused of harassment, sexual harassment, discrimination, or ethical misconduct, the following campus resources provide confidential consultation:
- Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office (SVPRO) (sexual harassment) (on campus, on co-op)
- Anti-Racism Response (racism and racial harassment) (on campus)
- Conflict Management and Human Rights Office (CMAHRO) (harassment, discrimination) (on campus, on co-op)
None of the above resources will ask you to share more than you want to share (including your name). They all aim to listen; help you to understand your options (e.g., formal complaint, informal resolution, or anonymous incident report); help you seek accommodations and interim measures and access supports (such as Counselling Services and Health Services); help you decide whether you are interested in pursuing an informal resolution process, a formal resolution process, or none; and help you navigate the university’s resolution, grievance, and appeal processes.
If you want to report inappropriate behaviour or an incident where you have felt unsafe or uncomfortable, WUSA supports an Incident Reporting Form, whereby you can report an incident, can ask WUSA to forward your complaint to appropriate administrators (or not), and can identify yourself to WUSA (or not) if you want WUSA to be able to contact you for further details.
Other resources that can provide a listening ear, a sounding board, advice, support (including peer support), and help you to access appropriate resources include
- Director of Women in Computer Science
- CS Graduate Advocates
- The Equity Office
- The Women’s Centre
- Glow Centre for Sexual and Gender Diversity
- Racial Advocacy for Inclusion, Solidary, and Equity
- Counselling Services
- Graduate Student Association (GSA) Advocacy and Support
Who to approach first? Who you talk with first really depends on who you are most comfortable talking with. Some students are most comfortable talking with someone from student services (WUSA, GSA) before talking with university resources. Some students are most comfortable talking with resources within their Department (because those resources might be most familiar with the parties involved and with the environment) and other students are most comfortable talking with resources outside of their Department (because the student is worried about bias or because they want to the fewest number of people within the Department to know about the situation). It is really about who you are most comfortable talking with, but please talk with someone.
Expand sections below for additional details about many of these resources.
Confidentiality and Privacy
Consultations with UW resources regarding harassment, discrimination, or inappropriate behaviour are confidential:
- You will not be asked to share more than you want to share (including your name).
- No consultant will forward to others more information than you want shared with others (you can choose to share nothing).
- A consultant will forward information only to those who are pertinent to the grievance and only with your consent.
UNLESS you say something that suggests that your or someone else’s safety is at risk, in which case they may be required to share enough information to ensure safety. The primary goals of these resources are to provide a safe place for you to discuss your experiences and to help you understand possible options, available resources, and next steps.
If a grievance advances from consultations to an investigation, then information will need to be shared, but only with those who are involved in the investigation. All parties involved in an investigation are required to treat shared information with the utmost discretion and confidentiality.
Sexual Violence Prevention Response Office (sexual harassment on campus, on co-op)
Sexual harassment refers to a pattern of unwanted comments or behaviours that are based on sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity/expression that are unwelcome and that negatively affect the working or learning environment. If you experience sexual harassment on campus, please talk to someone. Do not blame yourself and do not ignore it. Harassment may escalate if the behaviour is ignored.
The Sexual Violence Prevention and Response Office (SVPRO) supports all members of the university campus community (students, faculty, staff) who have experienced, been impacted, or have been accused of sexual harassment or sexual violence. Do not assume that SVPRO or Policy 42 – Prevention of and Response to Sexual Violence (complaints against students) or Policy 33 – Ethical Behaviour (complaints against university employees) deal only with sexual assault. Sexual Violence includes Sexual Harassment, and Sexual Harassment includes Gender-based Harassment.
For matters of sexual harassment, it is ideal to start with SVPRO given their expertise and the support role they play. SVPRO provides a safe(r) space for people to disclose - in as little or as much detail as they wish - about their experience. SVPRO can discuss on- and off-campus resources that could provide further support or assistance. They can discuss short-term coping strategies. And they can collaborate with departments and units on campus to facilitate requests for academic and workplace accommodations, residence adjustments, safety planning, and other identified needs.
Supports include both formal and informal options. Disclosing to SVPRO does not automatically initiate an investigation; however, if you wish to pursue a formal complaint, SVPRO can support you through the process.
Anti-Racism Response Office (racism and race-based harassment on campus)
The Senior Manager Anti-Racism Response, located within the Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion Office, provides confidential and direct support to members of the university community (students, faculty and staff) experiencing racism. They specialize in informal/alternative mechanisms to resolve complaints and disclosures of racism, using a trauma-informed, anti-racist and intersectional lens when supporting individuals through a disclosure process.
Anti-Racism Response would like to hear from equity-deserving individuals in need of advocacy and support. Supports include both formal and informal options. Disclosing experiences to Anti-Racism Response does not automatically initiate an investigation; however, if you wish to pursue a formal complaint, Anti-Racism Response can support you through the process.
Conflict Management & Human Rights Office (harassment or discrimination on campus)
Harassment refers to a pattern of intimidating or abusive comments or behaviour that negatively affects the working or learning environment.
The Conflict Management & Human Rights Office (CMAHRO) supports all members of the university campus community (students, faculty, staff) regarding matters of harassment, discrimination, and other general forms of conflict. Disclosing experiences of harassment or discrimination does not automatically initiate an investigation. CMAHRO staff start by listening. They work with individuals to understand and articulate the problems they are encountering. and they help to develop an effective response.
CMAHRO specializes in one-on-one coaching, resolution support, and third-party dispute resolution processes to help parties resolve conflicts or grievances informally. However, some issues are beyond an informal resolution; if you wish to pursue a formal complaint, CMAHRO can guide you through the process of filing a Policy 33 – Ethical Behaviour Complaint or filing a complaint with the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal.
Harassment on Co-op – Who can I talk to?
Sexual harassment refers to a pattern of unwanted comments or behaviours that are based on sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity/expression that are unwelcome and that negatively affect the working or learning environment.
Harassment refers to a pattern of intimidating or abusive comments or behaviours that negatively affect the working or learning environment.
If you believe that you are experiencing harassment on your co-op placement, please talk to someone. Do not blame yourself and do not ignore it. Harassment may escalate if the behaviour is ignored.
For issues of sexual harassment, it is ideal to contact Waterloo’s Sexual Violence Response and Prevention Office (SVRPO) because of their expertise in dealing with sexism and harassment and the support role they can play.
If you are the target or witness of behavior that is having a negative impact on you, that is a problem. The Conflict Management and Human Rights Office (CMAHRO) can help to understand and articulate the problems being encountered and help to develop an effective response.
SVPRO, Anti-Racism Response, and CMAHRO can provide support, help you think through your options, and connect you to services and responses. However, they are unlikely to play a more active advisory role in the resolution process because any resolution will take place off campus (unless your employer is the University of Waterloo).
Most companies have their own human-resources departments and have harassment policies in place. If you are comfortable with this route, you are encouraged, either on your own or with the support of your CEE advisor, to report the harassment.
Specifically, you should
- Document the harassment (include dates, times, locations, witnesses, and details of all incidents).
- Inform your co-op advisor or another Co-operative Education (CEE) Advisor (scroll down to the list of CEE advisors who specialize in Workplace Harassment)
- Inform your manager or a human resources representative in your organization.
- Resolve the conflict with the help of your co-op advisor or a CEE Advisor (Workplace Harassment).
CEE lists Advisors who specialize in workplace harassment. CEE and CMAHRO will work with you to ensure that you receive the help you need whether you are on-campus, across the city, in a different province or a different country.
WUSA Incident Reporting Form
WUSA supports an Incident Reporting Form that you can use to report inappropriate behaviour or incidents, no matter how minor, that have taken place on campus where you have felt harassed, discriminated against, unsafe, or uncomfortable. Incident Reports are handled by the WUSA Services Manager or the WUSA Equity Services Manager.
Depending on your preference, as expressed on the form, WUSA may forward your complaint to appropriate administrators (e.g., Department Chair, Dean, Associate Provost-Students) – or you can ask WUSA not to forward your complaint. Also depending on your preference, as expressed on the form, you may choose to provide your information so that WUSA can contact you for clarification and additional details to deal with your case more effectively – or you may remain anonymous.
Regardless, sharing your experiences via the Incident Reporting Form allows WUSA to better understand the learning environment of Waterloo students and to better advocate on their behalf.
CS Graduate Advocates
The CS Graduate Advocates are faculty members who are available to discuss with graduate students issues that are directly related to their graduate program, in the case where a student is uncomfortable having the discussion with their supervisor or the Director of Graduate Studies. The Graduate Advocates are an advocate for students who feel that they are not being treated fairly.
Typical topics of discussion include, but are not limited to
- Your progress in the program.
- A second opinion on advice, requests, or other comments that your supervisor made to you.
- Changing supervisors.
- Staying in the grad program vs. accepting a job offer.
- Things that you want brought to the Grad Director’s (or Director’s) attention, that you are uncomfortable discussing with them personally.
The discussions you have with the Graduate Advocate are as private or public as you want them to be. By default, everything is "off the record" unless you desire otherwise.
Student-Run Services (WUSA, GSA)
The Graduate Student Association offers Advocacy & Support for students who have experienced harassment or discrimination and who seek advice on navigating university policies, pursuing informal vs. formal processes, drafting complaints, and connecting with university resources (within SVPRO, CMARHO, Anti-Racism Response). GSA can also provide a support person to accompany students to meetings and hearings.
The Waterloo Undergraduate Students Association (WUSA) offers several student-run services that provide peer support:
- The Women’s Centre
- Glow Centre for Sexual and Gender Diversity
- Racial Advocacy for Inclusion, Solidary, and Equity
With respect to issues of harassment and discrimination, these services can provide clarity on the university’s policies and procedures, and can advise and help students to access additional resources (such as contacts within SVPRO, CMARHO, Anti-Racism Response) and services (such as Counselling Services and Health Services).
You may also come across student-run advocacy services run by the WUSA Centre for Academic Policy Support (CAPS) for undergraduates. These services primarily focus on supporting students to address academic grievances (as covered in Policies 70, 71, and 72).
Discrimination: is not formally defined in the Ontario Human Rights Code, but it generally involves “(1) not individually assessing the unique merits, capacities and circumstances of a person, (2) instead, making stereotypical assumptions based on a person’s presumed traits, and (3) having the impact of excluding persons, denying benefits or imposing burdens.” Note that the negative impact does not need to be intended in order for behaviour to be deemed discrimination.
Harassment: is a course of vexatious comments or conduct where a person knows or ought reasonably to have known the behaviour is unwanted. It can include, for example: offensive or intimidating comments or jokes, bullying or aggressive behaviour, displaying or circulating offensive pictures or materials, inappropriate staring, isolating or making fun of someone because of gender identity, and Sexual Harassment.
Toxic Environment: is an environment in which harassing conduct is sufficiently severe and/or pervasive to cause significant and unreasonable interference to an individual’s work or learning environment. Although an individual may not be the target of the conduct, they may still experience the effects of harassing conduct in their work or learning environment.
Poisoned Environment: is an environment in which harassing and/or discriminatory conduct is sufficiently severe and/or pervasive to cause significant and unreasonable interference to an individual’s work or learning environment. A Poisoned Environment is a Toxic Environment in which the harassment or discrimination is based on race, ancestry, place of origin, colour, ethnic origin, citizenship, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, age, marital status, family status or disability. Although an individual may not be the target of the conduct, they may still experience the effects of harassing or discriminatory conduct in their work or learning environment.
Sexual Harassment: means comments or actions based on sex, sexual orientation, or gender identity/expression that are unwelcome to you or should be known to be unwelcome. They may include humiliating or annoying conduct, such as degrading jokes and comments, unnecessary touching, leering or suggestive remarks, explicit pin-ups and graffiti, reprisal for rejection of sexual advances. Sexual Harassment requires a “course of conduct,” which means that a pattern of behaviour or more than one incident is usually required to meet this definition. However, a single significant incident may be offensive enough to be considered Sexual Harassment (such as the last two examples listed above).
Sexual Violence: means any sexual act or act targeting a person’s sexuality or gender identity/expression, whether the act is physical or psychological in nature, that is committed, threatened or attempted against a person without the person’s consent, and includes sexual assault, Sexual Harassment, stalking, indecent exposure, voyeurism and sexual exploitation.
Workplace Harassment: means engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome. The definition of Workplace Harassment includes workplace Sexual Harassment. Reasonable action taken by an employer or Supervisor relating to management and direction of workers or the workplace is not Workplace Harassment
Workplace Sexual Harassment: means (i) engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace because of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression, where the course of comment or conduct is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome; or (ii) making a sexual solicitation or advance where the person making the solicitation or advance is in a position to confer, grant or deny a benefit or advancement to the individual and the person knows or ought reasonably to know that the solicitation or advance is unwelcome.
Workplace Violence: is the exercise or attempted exercise of physical force by a person against a worker, in a workplace, that causes or could cause physical injury to the worker, or a statement or behaviour that it is reasonable for a worker to interpret as a threat to exercise physical force against the worker, in a workplace, that could cause physical injury to the worker.