A hostile environment is defined as an environment on campus that, through harassing conduct (e.g., physical, verbal, graphic or written) based on a person’s protected status (e.g., sexual orientation, age, etc.), becomes sufficiently severe, pervasive or persistent so as to interfere with or limit the ability of an individual to participate in or benefit from a university program or activity. See examples of university programs and activities.

Examples of University programs and activities

The University prohibits discrimination and harassment in all its programs and activities. University programs and activities may include, but are not limited to:

  • employment
  • admissions
  • recruitment
  • financial aid
  • academic programs
  • student treatment and services
  • counseling and guidance
  • discipline
  • classroom assignment
  • grading
  • recreation and athletics

Conduct that could constitute a hostile environment

There are many types of behaviors that can be harassing. Examples include using derogatory terms, insults, telling derogatory jokes, taunting and intimidating actions. The university prohibits harassing behavior on its campus and by any person while engaged in university business, whether on or off campus. When the university determines that a hostile environment exists, it takes action reasonably calculated to stop the harassment and ensure it does not happen again.

Factors in determining a hostile environment

To determine whether a hostile environment exists, the university examines the context, nature, scope, frequency, duration and location of incidents, as well as the identity, number, and relationships of the persons involved. The university also determines whether the person at whom the conduct was directed found it harassing and whether a “reasonable person” would find the conduct harassing. Factors such as these assist in determining whether the conduct at issue is harassing and whether it is sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive to have created a hostile work or learning environment. In some cases, a single incident may be so severe as to create a hostile environment. Such incidents may include injury to persons or property or conduct threatening injury to persons or property. In other instances, the behavior at issue is harassing, but not sufficiently severe, persistent or pervasive as to constitute a hostile work or learning environment. In such cases, the university generally takes action to stop the offending behavior in an effort to promote a respectful environment and avoid the possibility that a hostile environment will develop.

The role of power in hostile environments

While a person engaging in harassing behavior 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, a supervisee can sexually harass a supervisor or a student can sexually harass a faculty member. The harasser can even be a person who is not a member of the university community, such as a person delivering supplies to a laboratory or refilling vending machines. Regardless of the source, the university does not tolerate harassment.