An anti-harassment policy is a staple in higher ed handbooks. Schools are legally required to provide a space where neither staff nor students face discrimination or harassment because of, among other things, their age, sex, race or disability.
But recent scandals mean that a mere policy is no longer enough to foster a healthy campus. The latest movement is establishing an Office for Institutional Equity, or an OIE, to handle diversity, inclusion, equal opportunity and affirmative action.
Still, OIEs at higher ed institutions across the US are drowning in responsibility and failing to meet their mission statements. Learn what an OIE is, why they’re failing and how to make sure yours is a success on campus.
What Does an OIE Do?
Whether the school has 60,000 students like the University of Central Florida or 8000 students like Brown, an OIE promotes and fosters an inclusive environment free from discrimination.
To meet this goal, an OIE might be responsible for:
- promoting the school’s commitment to diversity
- working with campus partners to foster a respectful environment
- offering diversity and inclusion services
- helping victims file complaints or concerns
- protecting victims from retaliation
- answering victims’ questions and informing them of their rights
- monitoring the school’s policy on equal opportunity
- providing accommodations and assistance for equal opportunity
- overseeing compliance with federal and state laws
- being the home of the Title IX Coordinator
- investigating complaints of sexual discrimination, harassment, violence and more
- developing and delivering training programs and resources
- recommending, writing and interpreting further policies
This long list of responsibilities is taken directly from the mission statements of OIE’s at Duke University, the University of Michigan, the University of Memphis, Cleveland State University, Purdue University and Johns Hopkins University.
The Problem with Offices of Institutional Equity
The student-run newspaper from Johns Hopkins University published an article exposing the alarming inconsistencies of OIE processes.
The author highlights how, in speaking with eight survivors of sexual harassment and assault, it became apparent that the university’s OIE fails to abide by their own standards and those of Title IX.
Specifically, there are discrepancies in two policies that outline how sexual assault reports are delineated. To further the issue, the procedures in those policies are inconsistent with the story of each victim.
The author called for OIE to be more transparent, arguing that victims will forgo seeking justice if the OIE continues to mishandle cases.
Johns Hopkins isn’t the only higher ed institution being criticized for its OIE’s inconsistencies. Regarding the ongoing harassment issues at Duke, Professor Laura Suzanne Lieber expressed her profound disappointment and frustration with how the OIE handles these issues.
Four Ways to Make Sure an OIE is Successful
According to Higher Ed Jobs, there are a few key elements present in highly valued and relied-upon OIEs. These elements are:
- having the right software, tools and people to do the job
- having leadership support
- having strong relationships with other organizations on campus
Invest in tools that make it easier to fulfill the mission statement. Universities or colleges with safe, healthy, welcoming environments will attract and retain promising employees and students.
In addition to diversity training and anti-bullying initiatives, higher ed institutions should invest in tools that make it easier for an OIE employee to carry out their responsibilities.
For example, case management software can streamline investigations into complaints and incidents, organize the OIE’s long list of tasks and hold the team accountable. An all-in-one software like i-Sight can make it easier to meet deadlines and follow-up with victims in a timely fashion. It can also expose high-risk employees, students and behaviors.
A reliable and valuable OIE requires leadership support. The president, dean and senior chair members should lead by example. Embed references to diversity and inclusion in speeches. Mandate that deans report on their diversity efforts. Allocate enough funding and resources. Support events celebrating inclusion.
Institutional equity is too important to have underqualified employees tasked with it. An OIE needs to have knowledgeable, experienced, qualified people carrying out training, promoting diversity, overseeing compliance, conducting investigations and supporting victims.
Develop Campus Relationships
An OIE needs to know the campus it serves. Develop relationships with student organizations, task forces and committees. Have a conversation with legal counsel, human resources, student affairs, administration officials or anyone who has a vested interest in diversity, inclusion and a healthy campus environment.
The OIE’s mission applies to every person on campus, whether they’re an undergraduate student, a graduate student, a faculty member, a non-faculty member or a senior leader.