Discriminatory Harassment

RISD is committed to maintaining a work and learning environment in which students, faculty, and staff are treated with respect and dignity.  An important component of RISD’s commitment is providing a work and learning environment that is free from sexual or other types of harassment.  Harassment on the basis of sex and other protected characteristics is unlawful and will not be tolerated from any faculty member, employee, student, or other person visiting or affiliated with RISD.

Definition of Sexual Harassment 

Sexual harassment constitutes discrimination and is illegal under federal, state, and local laws.  For the purposes of this policy, sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:

  • submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment or education;
  • submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment or education decisions affecting such individual; or
  • such conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work or educational performance or creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive working or educational environment.

Examples of Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment may include a range of subtle and not so subtle behaviors and may involve individuals of the same or different gender.  Sexual harassment may occur regardless of the intention of the person engaging in the conduct.  Not all behavior that is unwelcome and inappropriate is sexual harassment. Sexual harassment must be judged in context and on the basis of the totality of the circumstances, including the severity and pervasiveness of the conduct.  The following are some examples of conduct that, within that context, may constitute sexual harassment:

  • sexual advances or requests for sexual favors
  • sexual jokes and innuendo
  • verbal abuse of a sexual nature
  • physical assault with sexual intent
  • commentary about an individual’s body, sexual prowess, or sexual deficiencies
  • leering, catcalls, or touching
  • insulting or obscene comments or gestures
  • display or circulation of sexually suggestive objects or pictures (including through e-mail)
  • inquiries into one’s sexual activities
  • conditioning a promotion, raise, grade, or other benefit on a individual’s submission to sexual demands or propositions

Harassment that does not involve sexual activity or language, but that is based on sex (e.g., a male manager yells only at female employees and not males), may also constitute discrimination if it is sufficiently severe or pervasive and directed at employees because of their sex.

Sexual harassment generally falls into two categories: quid pro quo harassment and hostile environment harassment. Quid pro quo harassment refers to a situation where a person in a position of power or authority causes an employee to believe that he or she must submit to unwelcome sexual advances or conduct or risk a negative outcome. For example, a manager telling a supporting staff member that he/she will not be eligible for promotion unless requests for sexual favors are met is an example of quid pro quo harassment.

Hostile environment harassment occurs when unwelcome gender-based conduct is so severe, persistent or pervasive that it has the effect of creating an unreasonably intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment that has the effect of adversely affecting an employee’s work or a student’s academic performance. Hostile environment harassment may occur between peers and arise without a supervisory relationship. Also, the conduct that may create hostile environment harassment need not be overtly sexual, but must be based on gender (e.g., a male manager repeatedly yells only at female employees and not males).

Definition of Harassment on the Basis of Other Protected Characteristics

Harassment on the basis of any other legally protected characteristic is also strictly prohibited.  Under this policy, harassment is verbal or physical conduct that denigrates or shows hostility or aversion toward an individual because of his or her race, color, religion, sex, age, national origin, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, genetics, or any other protected characteristic as established by law, and that has the purpose or effect of:

  • creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or learning environment; or
  • unreasonably interfering with an individual’s work or educational performance or otherwise adversely affecting an individual’s employment or educational opportunities.

Examples of Harassment

Harassment may include a range of subtle and not so subtle behaviors and may occur regardless of the intention of the person engaging in the conduct.  Not all behavior that is unwelcome and inappropriate is harassment, which must be judged in context and on the basis of the totality of the circumstances, including the severity and pervasiveness of the conduct.  The following are some examples of conduct that, within that context, may constitute harassment:

  • epithets, slurs, or negative stereotyping
  • threatening, intimidating, or hostile acts
  • denigrating jokes and display or circulation in the workplace of written or graphic material that denigrates or shows hostility or aversion toward an individual or group (including through email)

Consensual Relationships

Romantic and sexual relationships between supervisors and their employees do not necessarily involve sexual harassment.  However, there is a significant potential for adverse consequences.  If a supervisor enters into a sexual relationship with an employee, even when both parties have consented to the relationship, there may be serious concerns about conflict of interest as well as unfair treatment of others.  No person involved in a romantic and/or sexual relationship may have direct responsibility for evaluating the performance or for making decisions regarding the hiring, promotion, tenure, compensation, or termination of the other party to the relationship.

Faculty members shall avoid any sexual relationship with a student if the faculty member is, or expects to be, supervising the student’s academic work, even when the student consents to or initiates such a relationship.  A faculty-student relationship is necessarily asymmetrical, and even a consensual relationship may involve the abuse of power by a faculty member.  The potential for creating a conflict of interest and for compromising the educational process exists even in such a consensual relationship.

In situations where a professional power differential exists, the person in the position of higher institutional authority must realize that if a charge of sexual harassment is subsequently lodged, it may be exceedingly difficult to prove mutual consent.


RISD strictly prohibits retaliation against any individual who reports harassment or participates in an investigation of such reports.  Retaliation against an individual for reporting sexual or other types of harassment or for participating in an investigation of a claim of harassment is a serious violation of this policy and, like harassment itself, will be subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment or student status.

Individuals and Conduct Covered 

This policy applies to all members of the RISD community, including employees, faculty members, students, and visitors.  RISD will take action against harassment, discrimination, and retaliation whether engaged in by a faculty member, fellow employee, supervisor or manager, or third party such as an outside vendor, consultant, or other visitor.

Conduct prohibited by these policies is unacceptable both on campus and in the context of off-campus, College-related trips, meetings, social events, and other functions.

Complaint and Reporting Process:

RISD strongly urges the reporting of all incidents, no matter how minor, of perceived harassment and retaliation, regardless of the offender’s identity or position.  Individuals who believe that they have experienced or observed conduct that is contrary to RISD’s policy or who otherwise have concerns about such matters should make a report promptly.  Reports and complaints may be made through any of the reporting channels listed below:

  • Any member of the RISD community may report the behavior or conduct to the Human Resources Department, 20 Washington Place, Providence, RI, (401) 454-6760.   You may bring concerns to Human Resources even if you are in doubt about the nature of a behavior; Human Resources will assist in determining the best means to take to address the concerns.
  • Employees may report their concerns to their immediate supervisor, if the supervisor is not the person involved.  Employees should not feel obligated to talk to their immediate supervisor first, but may go directly to the next level supervisor or Human Resources.
  • Supervisors, managers, faculty members, and student support staff who receive a complaint of harassment from an employee or student or who personally become aware of such behavior must report the behavior to the Human Resources Department immediately.
  • Gender based harassment complaints may also be reported to one of the College’s Title IX Coordinators. More information can be found at http://sexualmisconduct.risd.edu.

Investigation and Enforcement

The College will thoroughly and promptly conduct an investigation of the complaint.  The investigation may include individual interviews with the parties involved and, where necessary, with individuals who may have observed the alleged conduct or may have other relevant knowledge.  All investigations will be treated with sensitivity and discretion and, to the extent practicable under the circumstances, in a confidential manner.  The College will address confidentiality and any concerns in the initial meeting.  All parties should also maintain appropriate confidentiality regarding the complaint and the investigation.

Conduct constituting harassment, discrimination, or retaliation will be dealt with promptly and appropriately.   If it is determined that inappropriate conduct has occurred, action appropriate to the circumstances will be taken.  Such action may range from requiring training or counseling to separation from the College and may include other forms of disciplinary action as RISD believes appropriate to the circumstances.

Government Remedies:

Any community member who believes that he/she has been subjected to discrimination, harassment, or retaliation may file a formal complaint with either, or both, of the government agencies listed below.  (Note: sexual orientation and gender identity and expression currently are protected under state, but not federal, law.)  Filing a complaint with RISD does not prohibit an employee or student from filing a complaint with these agencies.  Complaints must be filed with the agencies within designated time periods.

The United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
John F.Kennedy Federal Building
475 Government Center
Boston, MA 02203
(617) 565-3200
(800) 669-4000

Rhode Island Commission for Human Rights
180 Westminster Street, 3rd Floor
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-2661

For Further Information:

Individuals who have questions or concerns about these policies should talk with the Vice President of Human Resources or a member of the Human Resources Department at 401-454-6606 or 401-454-6760.

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