Understanding Discrimination and Harassment

If you have specific questions and would like to speak to somebody to learn more, please consider contacting one of our Resource and Support Team Members for the College of Engineering.

What is Discrimination?

Discrimination is the unfair treatment of a person or group on the basis of bias. Such treatment takes several forms including, but not limited to discrimination based on:

  • Sex
  • Gender Identity or Gender Expression
  • Race, Color, National Origin, or Ancestry
  • Disability
  • Sexual Orientation
  • Age
  • Pregnancy
  • Religion
  • Veteran Status
  • Height and Weight
  • Marital Status

For further details and examples, please visit the Campus Commitment web page. You may also wish to consult the University of Michigan Non-Discrimination Policy.

What is Sexual Harassment?

The major characteristics of sexual harassment include the following:

  • the behavior is unwanted or unwelcome;
  • the behavior is sexual or related to the sex or gender of the individual;
  • the behavior occurs in the context of a relationship where one person has more formal (i.e., supervisor vs. employee, faculty vs. student) or informal (i.e. peer) power than the other.

Sexual harassment is defined by law and includes requests for sexual favors, sexual advances or other sexual conduct when any one of the following is true:

  • submission is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of a person’s employment or academic advancement;
  • submission to or rejection of such conduct is used as a condition affecting academic or employment decisions;
  • the conduct has the purpose or effect of unreasonably interfering with a person’s ability to work or perform academically, creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working, learning or social environment.

The University considers such behavior, whether physical or verbal, to be a breach of its standards of conduct and will seek to prevent such incidents and take corrective action when sexual harassment occurs.

Generally speaking, there are two types of sexual harassment, “quid pro quo” and hostile environment.
Quid Pro Quo Sexual Harassment
Quid pro quo (meaning “this for that”) sexual harassment occurs when it is stated or implied that an academic or employment decision about a student or employee depends upon whether the student or employee submits to conduct of a sexual nature. Quid pro quo sexual harassment also occurs when it is stated or implied that an individual must submit to conduct of a sexual nature in order to participate in a University program or activity. So, for example, if an employee is made to believe that a promotion is likely if the employee goes on a date with the employee’s supervisor, the employee is possibly being subjected to “quid pro quo” sexual harassment.
Hostile Environment Sexual Harassment
Hostile environment sexual harassment occurs when unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature creates an intimidating, threatening or abusive working or learning environment or is so severe, persistent or pervasive that it affects a person’s ability to participate in, perform in or benefit from a University program or activity.While a person engaging in harassing behavior most often has some form of power or authority over the person being harassed, that is not always the case. The harasser can be a peer of the person being harassed. Sometimes the harasser is harassing a person who has power over them. For example, an employee can sexually harass a supervisor or a student can sexually harass a faculty member (Office of Institutional Equity, University of Michigan).
Conduct of a Sexual Nature
The following descriptions, while not all-inclusive, will help you understand the types of behavior that are considered “conduct of a sexual nature” and that, if unwelcome, may constitute sexual harassment:

  • Unwanted sexual statements
  • sexual or “dirty” jokes, comments on physical attributes, spreading rumors about or rating others as to sexual activity or performance, talking about one’s sexual activity in front of others and displaying or distributing sexually explicit drawings, pictures and/or written material. Unwanted sexual statements can be made in person, in writing, electronically (email, instant messaging, blogs, web pages, etc.) and otherwise.
  • Unwanted personal attention
  • letters, telephone calls, visits, pressure for sexual favors, pressure for unnecessary personal interaction and pressure for dates where a sexual/romantic intent appears evident but remains unwanted.
  • Unwanted physical or sexual advances
  • touching, hugging, kissing, fondling, touching oneself sexually for others to view, sexual assault, intercourse or other sexual activity.

Other Forms of Harassment
It is possible that a “hostile environment” may exist as a result of harassing conduct that is not sexual in nature, but is related to a characteristic of an individual.  As with sexual harassment, it is defined as behavior that is so severe, persistent or pervasive as to affect the ability of an individual to participate in, perform in or benefit from a University program or activity.  An example of such behavior would be the use of derogatory terms, insults, telling derogatory jokes or taunting and intimidating actions.

It is also important to note that bullying, consisting of repeated unreasonable actions of individuals or groups, can be experienced as harassment.  Bullying is typically intended to intimidate, degrade, offend or humiliate and can create risk to the health and safety of an individual.