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Responding to Harassing, Discriminatory, or Bullying Behavior

Off Course Still 10 Responding to harassing or uncivil behavior is difficult in any environment. Remember that an individual's response to these behaviors are personal and depend on your own circumstances and experience. There is not one correct response. As you consider how to respond, please consider the following:

  • Use the Potential Routes to Reporting decision tree that can help you decide if you want to report the incident to a designated office or discuss the situation with a confidential resource.
  • Assess the safety of yourself and others.
  • Write a detailed description of the events including the date, place, time, comments, conduct, evidence, and any witnesses who may have observed the behavior. Even if you do not want to report the incident now, it may be helpful in the future.
  • Many institutions, including Caltech, have policies that prohibit retaliation against an individual who makes a good faith disclosure of suspected wrongful conduct.

As you consider how to respond, it is also important to note that recent studies show that "active coping" (taking some sort of action) can help to eliminate the stressor or reduce the emotional impact; active coping is linked to wellbeing and other positive outcomes, including retention in science and engineering [Robnett on coping with gender bias]. As an example, in response to an encounter exhibiting gender bias in a physics classroom, a student might report the incident to a faculty member or actively seek support from fellow students. On the other hand, the student might try to ignore the behavior and conclude that bias in physics is part of the culture; the approach of silence might leave individuals feeling as though they do not belong in physics.

Below are several suggestions if you decide to communicate (either through verbal or written communication) with the individual.

  • Tell the individual that the comments or behaviors are unwelcome, offensive, inappropriate, or make you feel uncomfortable. For example, "I am not interested in hearing about why you feel that women do not belong in engineering."
  • Be explicit in letting the individual know that you want them to stop or change their behavior. "Stop brushing against me as you move around the lab bench."
  • Indicate that certain comments or jokes do not belong in the classroom or in a work space. For example, "You may have intended for people to laugh at that comment but it is not funny and it should not be part of conversations in this lab."
  • Be direct about the behavior rather than attacking the person. For example, "Your comments are inappropriate" rather than "You are such a jerk."