Faculty Senate addresses updates to harassment and discrimination reporting guidelines


Illustration by Angeli Mittal

Guest speakers at Wednesday’s Faculty Senate meeting addressed Northwestern’s harassment and discrimination policy updates.

Iris Swarthout, Reporter

Northwestern’s newly-appointed ombudsperson and an Office of Equity leader discussed changes to NU’s harassment and discrimination reporting process in a Wednesday Faculty Senate meeting

The University announced it would change harassment and discrimination policies by Sept. 3 after releasing the results of an independent investigation into reports of sexual harassment and racism raised by the cheer team. In a February Daily investigation, cheerleaders said NU’s Office of Equity did not appropriately respond to the allegations. The University filed a motion in May to dismiss sexual harassment allegations leveled by former cheerleader Hayden Richardson in a January federal lawsuit.  

Complaints of harassment and discrimination previously reported to just the provost are now also sent to the executive vice president and other University leaders, said Senior Associate Vice President for Equity TiShaunda McPherson, who oversees the Office of Equity.

“We (also) have a guideline for reporting to the audit, risk and compliance committee on the Board of Trustees,” McPherson said. “This has really enhanced not only our visibility, but also our access to information and structure.”

The Office of Equity responds to reports of discrimination and harassment and provides training on inclusive practices, McPherson said. But she added that determining punishments for policy violations is not within its purview.

McPherson, who worked with the Faculty Senate last fall to address the cheer team’s allegations, also detailed the University’s Interim Policy on Title IX Sexual Harassment. She clarified incursions taking place in any event or building associated with NU falls under the scope of the University’s Title IX policy. 

“We do have a broad definition for what an ‘academic environment’ includes,” McPherson said. “It certainly includes the physical campus, buildings that the University has substantial control over, athletic events, conferences that the University sponsors, away games… and virtual spaces as well.” 

After years of calls for conflict resolution on campus, Northwestern appointed Sarah Klaper as its first ombudsperson in May. Klaper, the meeting’s second guest speaker, said she serves as a confidential, neutral, informal and independent resource for NU community members seeking guidance for interpersonal conflicts.

Klaper added that her dedication to confidentiality and neutrality is outlined in the International Ombudsman Association Standards of Practice. She also said she specializes in mediating difficult discussions. If a member of the NU community is unsure where to look when faced with a conflict, Klaper said her office is a good place to start.

“I can help you get to that right place and provide you with the right information about policies (and) procedures, and also make referrals,” Klaper said.

Feinberg Prof. Lois Hedman said she was happy to see the induction of an ombudsperson into the University community. 

She added the position was long-awaited and is a game changer for those unsure where to go for help.

“It will really help some people who have felt really stuck,” Hedman said. “Maybe it will help all of us learn how to talk with each other and resolve things in that way.”

The meeting comes in the wake of a string of alleged druggings at NU fraternity house events. The Faculty Senate president said the Student Affairs Committee will look into student safety and the Greek system, but the events on Sept. 23 and 24 were not directly addressed on Wednesday.

McPherson said she has seen an increase in reports on harassment, discrimination and sexual misconduct this quarter, which she said is likely due to the University operating in person again. 

“We know that folks are aware of our office,” McPherson said. “We know that they can reach out to us… which is encouraging.”

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