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Office for Institutional Diversity

Discriminatory Harassment

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

University Harassment Counselor Linda J. Riley can be reached by email at, or by phone at (617) 552-0486. Her office is located at 129 Lake Street, room 340. 

Consulting with the Harassment Counselor does not automatically constitute "filing a complaint." Complaints are treated with confidentiality and acted on as promptly as possible. Retaliation to complaints is prohibited by law and seen as an additional form of harassment.

University Policy

Section 1-200-025 of the Boston College Policies and Procedures Manual defines harassment and sets forth the procedures to be followed when filing a formal complaint of discriminatory harassment. It can also be found in the University Harassment Counselor's Office at 129 Lake Street.

Many harassment problems can be resolved without filing a formal complaint. In order to address a problem, one must be able to properly identify harassment when it occurs.

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions regarding discriminatory harassment.

To Whom Does It Apply?

University 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 or environment. Under the law, there are two kinds of discriminatory harassment:

Quid pro quo harassment is typically of a sexual nature, where someone is threatened with a negative consequence unless certain favors are granted ("put out or get out"). Alternatively, someone may be harassed with the proposition of positive exchange, or reward for certain favors. Power, or lack of it, is usually a factor in this type of discriminatory harassment.

Hostile environment harassment occurs when 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 possible for both quid pro quo harassment and hostile environment harassment to go by unrecognized or unacknowledged, by either the victim or the person causing the problem.

Words or behaviors considered severe enough to create a hostile environment can be assessed by the following factors:

  • the physical or verbal nature of the conduct
  • the effects and consequences of the conduct
  • the message that the conduct sends
  • the position in which the victim is placed as a result of the conduct
  • how frequently the conduct is repeated
  • whether the conduct is obviously or overtly offensive
  • whether the conduct is committed by more than one person or directed at more than one person.

When a problem situation reveals a pattern of offensive targeted behavior, or unwelcome sexual advances (making a proposition, paying excessive attention, sending obscene electronic messages, etc.) hostile environment harassment may be identified.

The earlier it is recognized, the sooner it can be stopped.

What are some examples of harassment?

  • My instructor keeps pressuring me for a date and has been hinting lately that I will receive better/worse treatment in the course if I do/do not agree ...
  • My supervisor constantly asks about my love life. The questions are becoming increasingly more detailed and offensive to me, making me feel uncomfortable ...
  • 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. Though I have told them to stop, their behavior is getting worse. Now they're grabbing me around my waist, stroking, pinching, etc. I feel unsafe and am starting to dislike coming to work ...
  • Someone in our department has been posting nude centerfold pictures in our photocopying room. A number of us who use the room frequently 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. Complaints are treated with confidentiality, and it is a violation of university policy and the law to retaliate against any individual who raises a harassment complaint under this policy or who cooperates or otherwise participates in the investigation or resolution of a complaint.

There is no single formula that works in all cases, but there are many effective ways of stopping harassment. Boston College has a range of options for addressing the problem. Here are some actions that can be taken:

  • Record notes, separate from any other personal journal, on your experiences. Record dates, times, places, nature of incident, and names of any witnesses.
  • 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.
  • Tell the harasser that the behavior is unwelcome and you want it to stop. This can be done in person or accompanied by a friend; or in a letter delivered in the company of a friend; or as a response delivered via electronic mail. Bringing the offensive behavior to the attention of the offender often results in 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.
  • 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 assistance with 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.