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Office for Institutional Diversity

Discriminatory Harassment

Who can I talk to if I think I may have been harassed?

Harassment Counselor, Linda Riley may be reached by email at, or by phone at (617) 552-0486, her office is located in 129 Lake Street, room 340.

The Policy
The policy can be obtained in section 1-200-025 of the Boston College Policies and Procedures Manual and in the Harassment Counselor's office. It defines harassment and sets forth the procedures to be followed when filing a formal complaint of discriminatory harassment. Many problems of harassment, however, can be resolved without filing a formal complaint. To address a problem you have to be able to recognize harassment when it is happening to you. We have attempted to answer some questions you may have about discriminatory harassment. Please read on.

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To Whom Does It Apply?
The Policy Against Discriminatory Harassment Applies to everyone: faculty, students, employees, contractors, and vendors.

What is Harassment? 
Broadly speaking, harassment occurs whenever offensive or unwelcome conduct (in school or at work) affects a person's performance. Under the law, there are two kinds of discriminatory harassment -- quid pro quo harassment of a sexual nature where someone is threatened with a negative consequence unless certain favors are granted ("put out or get out"). Or where someone is seduced by the promise of a positive consequence. Power, or lack of it, is usually a factor in this type of discriminatory harassment.

The second kind of discriminatory harassment is called hostile environment. Hostile environment harassment may occur whenever someone's offensive conduct has the effect of interfering with another's performance. For example, words or behaviors that put down an individual by insulting an aspect of the person's identity (race, sexual orientation, gender, national origin, etc.) can create a hostile work or study environment for that individual.

It is easy to recognize quid pro quo harassment, but hostile environment harassment frequently goes unrecognized or is not acknowledged either by the victim or by the one who is causing the problem. Words or behaviors that are considered severe enough to create a hostile environment may be determined by factors such as the following:

  • whether the conduct was physical or verbal
  • how frequently the conduct was repeated
  • whether the conduct was obviously offensive
  • whether the conduct was by more than one person or directed at more than one person. In other words, whenever a problem situation reveals a pattern of offensive behavior (targeting one's race or national origin or sexual orientation, for example) or when the problem involves unwelcome sexual advances (making a proposition, paying too much attention, sending obscene electronic messages, etc.) hostile environment harassment may be found. The earlier this is recognized the sooner it can be stopped.


What are some examples of conduct that might be harassment?


  • My instructor keeps pressuring me for a date and lately has been hinting that I will receive a reward in the course if ...
  • My supervisor constantly asks about my love life. The questions are detailed and extremely offensive, but I'm afraid to express how I really feel ...
  • A friend of mine is gay. A couple of students on our floor cornered us last night and called us fags ...
  • My co-workers keep teasing me as the only female mechanic in our unit. Teasing I can take -- but now they're grabbing me around my waist, stroking, pinching -- it's driving me crazy. I hate coming to work, but I can't afford to quit ...
  • Someone in our department has been posting nude centerfold pictures in our photocopying room. A number of us who use the room a lot have complained about it, but so far nothing has been done and the pictures keep going up ...
  • Someone is sending me really offensive electronic mail. I get nervous every time I see that I have new mail because I think it might be another offensive message. I wonder if it's someone who knows where I live ...


What actions can a person take to stop harassment? 
Fear of publicity or reprisal (for example, getting fired or getting a bad grade) often deters a victim of harassment from getting help. There is no single formula that works in all cases, but there are effective ways of stopping harassment. Boston College has a range of options for addressing the problem. Here are some actions that can be taken:


  • Tell the harasser that the behavior is unwelcome and you want it to stop. This can be done in person, accompanied by a friend; or in a letter delivered in the company of a friend; or as a response to offensive electronic mail. Telling the offender often brings an end to the problem.
  • Seek information or advice. Tell someone about the incident(s) as soon as you can -- a trusted friend, an advisor, the supervisor of the alleged harasser, etc. 
  • Keep notes, separate from any other personal journal, on your experiences. Record dates, times, place, nature of incident, and names of any witnesses. This is important.
  • Seek a general solution. See if your manager or chairperson is willing to send everyone in the department a general notice regarding the discriminatory harassment policy. Suggest harassment as a topic at staff meetings, or in class discussions. Invite a well-known speaker to talk about harassment and how to prevent it.
  • Request a specific intervention. Sometimes the general approach does not get the message across to the harasser. If the behavior is continuing and you are having difficulty confronting the offender, you need the help of someone who can intervene. Start by discussing the situation with the Harassment Counselor. Consulting with the Harassment Counselor does not mean that you are "filing a complaint." There are informal interventions that can relieve the situation. These are described in the University's Policy.
  • File a written complaint. If informal actions like those suggested above fail to stop the behavior in question, file a formal, written complaint as described in the University's Discriminatory Harassment Policy. While informal measures can often stop harassment, in some instances immediate intervention and/or a more formal action may be required. See the Harassment Counselor for an explanation of how the formal process works and for help in filing a written complaint.
  • Remember that complaints are handled privately and are acted on as promptly as possible.
  • Be assured that retaliation is prohibited, and if it occurs it will be treated as another serious form of harassment.