The University of Chicago has a variety of resources that are available to students who believe they have experienced harassment, discrimination, sexual harassment, and/or sexual assault. These resources can be accessed at the UMatter website, which provides a more user-friendly gateway to information and resources, and the full policy on discrimination, harassment, and sexual violence provides the official language the University is supposed to follow when addressing these situations.
The University balances a wide variety of interests in responding to questions about discrimination, harassment, and sexual violence, including the reputation of the University and the potential for university liability. In other words, your best interests are not the only concern that may be on the minds of administrators, advisors, and other official personnel with whom you might interact. Therefore, this guide is intended to offer suggestions for how to look after your own best interests while navigating official processes in the aftermath of an incident of harassment, discrimination, sexual harassment, and/or sexual assault. It has been written by grad students who have been through the process themselves, but of course none of us are lawyers or able to offer you definitive legal advice.
GSU is here to help support you as you navigate institutional channels to the best of our ability. Please feel free to be in touch with questions, and we will do our best to connect you with someone whose experience may be helpful.
Part of our work also involves mobilizing communities of survivors and allies and co-ordinating actions like protests and speak-outs, and organizing teach-ins about our rights as graduate students and employees. Many of us are Research Assistants or Teaching Assistants, and have the right to a workplace free from violence of any kind. While we may not currently be recognized as employees by the university (pending unionization), by standing together and building networks of solidarity on the ground we know we can achieve a lot. Being at the receiving end of discrimination, harassment, and assault is often extremely isolating, and GSU is committed to affirming the voices, experiences and identities of survivors, to creating spaces that are non-ableist, that are queer and trans inclusive, in addition to being cognizant of multiple intersectional identities such as class, race, and ethnicity.
Support from the Counseling Service
As grad students, we are able to access mental health support from the counseling service, and this may be an important resource to draw on in deciding how to handle an incident or experience of harassment or violence. Although appointments at the counseling center are limited, Title IX guarantees students who suffer gender-based discrimination, harassment, or sexual violence free counseling/therapy beyond the set number of appointments that the University guarantees to all students.
Anything that you share with the counselor is confidential, unless you discuss plans to harm yourself or others. The University of Chicago has a history of forcing students to take medical leave when they disclose thoughts of self-harm or suicide to counselors at the counseling service, including in cases where students are survivors.
Whether or not you plan to file a report or complaint, and whether or not you have made that decision, you can request informal advising about your options. In informal advising, an adviser will talk with you about what has happened and your options; however, get as much information in writing as possible. Informal advising does not necessarily require the University to take any particular action, although in some cases, particularly sexual violence, the University will be required to act on reports whether or not you wish to go forward with an investigation.
Get Everything in Writing
It is important to have demonstrable proof of any promises or assurances that you receive during any step of the process, including informal advising. This may or may not be necessary in your case, but it allows you to rely on more dependable and more provable sources of information as you consider your options. In our experience, the University will often not allow other witnesses to be present at informal advising (and other meetings), and even when those witnesses are present, the University may decline to follow up with witnesses to confirm your account of what you were promised or assured.
Save every email, text message, or other electronic communication related to what happened. Write up as full an account as you can of what occurred, and if it is ongoing, document every new incident with information such as time and date, what happened, witnesses present, contact info for witnesses, and any other evidence. After every meeting with university officials, write up a report of what happened, and email it to yourself to timestamp it. As many of us know, this can be very difficult. However, we strongly encourage creating as complete a record as possible.
Read University Policy
Read through the University policy on discrimination, harassment, and sexual violence, and check the student manual for any other policies related to your situation. Do not assume that the account you receive from university officials of university policy will be an unbiased interpretation.
Use Policy Language
In making a report or complaint, or even in informal advising, describe your situation with language that mirrors the language in the University policy. Using such language in email communications is particularly important to ensure that you are on record as reporting an incident of discrimination, harassment, or sexual violence. In recent years, administrators have attempted to characterize reports of sexual violence as sexual harassment, while in other cases, reports are framed as conflicts between students even when patterns of harassment and/or discrimination are present. Be as clear as possible about what you are reporting or describing, and be aware that the administrators may seek to reframe your experience.
First of all, it is prohibited for the University to suggest, recommend, or require mediation in any case of sexual violence. Mediation is an option in cases of harassment and sexual harassment. According to administrators with whom we have spoken, the goal of mediation is for students to develop empathy for each other’s experiences, rather than to address the facts of what happened and individual responsibility for harm.
No Contact Directives
As far as we understand, no contact directives are an option available to students who decline to pursue a disciplinary hearing, and therefore, no contact directives do not entail determination of responsibility. Thus, the no contact directives implemented by the University of Chicago are entirely reciprocal, having the same impact upon the person who reports harassment or discrimination as upon the person accused. No contact directives do not prevent the two people involved from being present at the same classes, events, or spaces; rather, they bar direct contact (verbal, written, or electronic) between the two students. As far as we understand, no contact directives also limit students’ ability to discuss their experiences with others, including for the purposes of advocacy or activism, as certain kinds of advocacy might be construed as retaliatory. Nonetheless, a no contact directive may be the best option for your situation; as always, we encourage you to try to get as much information in writing as possible as you make your decision. Finally, no contact directives can also be imposed by the University without the consent of the student reporting an instance of harassment, discrimination, sexual harassment, or sexual assault.
The fact that no contact directives are used increasingly frequently by the University of Chicago to address situations ranging from harassment, to discrimination, to sexual harassment, and to sexual assault raises questions about the appropriateness of no contact directives as a solution to interpersonal violence, and also raises questions about the purpose of no contact directives. The gender subcommittee and our allies are currently researching how no contact directives, along with involuntary leaves of absence, are among the tools the University uses to isolate students who have experienced harm on campus. If you are interested in helping with this project, please contact us: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you make a report or speak informally to university official about discrimination, harassment, or sexual violence, according to its own definition the University is obligated to protect you against retaliation from the University itself, from faculty, fellow students, staff, and anyone else affiliated with the University. This applies even if the University determines that your report is baseless, as long as you made the report in good faith. Particularly at the University of Chicago, be aware that the University may try to characterize retaliation as “free expression” but that the University student manual distinguishes between freedom of expression and expression that violates the University policy against discrimination, harassment, and sexual violence.
Sexual Assault Dean on Call – a free 24/7 crisis helpline that provides basic medical and legal advice. You can request for this to be confidential and decline to provide information identifying yourself, but know that the University may initiate an investigation into the matter, especially if it involves sexual violence, without having specific details.
Sarah Wake, Title IX Co-ordinator
Jeremy Inabinet, Dean of Disciplinary Affairs
Phoenix Survivors Alliance – a campus group that supports survivors of sexual violence.
Students for Disability Justice – a campus group that works on campaigns relating to accessibility and ableism of all kinds.
Chicago Alliance Against Sexual Exploitation – a Chicago organization that provides pro bono legal aid to survivors of sexual assault
SurvJustice – an organization that provides legal assistance and media representation to survivors of sexual assault, with a history of working on university campuses
Get in touch with your departmental organizer, or any other GSU representative you feel comfortable talking to (or email us: email@example.com). If you would prefer to retain anonymity, we will do our best to work out a solution that will make you feel safe and supported.