While the Central New York winter chill begins to creep in, South Campus residents have a new way to stay warm, enjoy the outdoors and connect with one another. Five lounging areas complete with fire pits are now available in…
EOIRS Provides Options in a Respectful Environment for Reporting of Discrimination, Harassment
As an equal opportunity and Title IX investigator, Bernie Jacobson wants staff and faculty to know that everyone who reaches out to the Office of Equal Opportunity, Inclusion and Resolution Services (EOIRS) will be heard and listened to, and treated respectfully.
“We want all University members to understand that we take all allegations of discrimination or bias seriously, and we use evidence-based procedures to ensure that the appropriate result is reached for any allegation,” Jacobson says.
He emphasizes that each party in a matter is treated equally. “We treat everybody with dignity and respect,” he says.
Jacobson, whose role has also expanded to the position of deputy Title IX officer and the interim director of equal opportunity, investigates the factual circumstances surrounding allegations of discrimination or bias that have been made related to a protected category.
As the deputy Title IX officer and interim director of equal opportunity, he also facilitates the office’s informal resolution process, oversees investigative work by other investigators in the office and assists in evaluating complaints as they come in.
In this Q&A, Jacobson shares information about EOIRS processes, how people can reach out for support and what are the biggest misconceptions about the office.
Q: What are the issues and concerns that faculty and staff may come to your office to report?
A: Any staff or faculty member who is experiencing discrimination or harassment related to any protected category may report those concerns to our office. The protected categories are creed, ethnicity, national origin, sex, gender, pregnancy, disability, marital status, political or social affiliation, age, race, color, veteran status, military status, religion, sexual orientation, domestic violence status, gender identity, gender expression or perceived gender.
If anyone feels like they’re not being treated fairly—because of who they are—they can report that to us, and we can offer them options and support resources.
If the treatment is based on a protected category, then the best solution is available through our office. If it’s not based on a protected category, then we’ll make referrals to the appropriate person to handle or address the situation.
Q: What is the process of reporting if a faculty or staff members has a complaint against another faculty or staff member?
A: If somebody feels that they’re not being treated fairly and it’s based on a protected category, then they can contact our office by email at EqualOpp@syr.edu or phone at 315.443.4018, or they can stop by our office at 005 Steele Hall. Our website, inclusion.syr.edu, includes the reporting options and more information about our policies and procedures.
Q: What is the difference between the formal and informal resolution processes?
A: Although the procedures may differ depending on the nature of the allegations, in general the formal resolution process typically involves an investigation into the factual circumstances of an allegation, and a finding or determination of whether the person accused is responsible for violating University policy or not.
Informal resolution on the other hand attempts to remedy a situation to the satisfaction of all parties without an investigation. Typically, it’s facilitated by someone from my office. Depending on the nature of the behavior, it could include a sit-down conversation, in which someone is seeking to have the behavior end.
Sometimes it’s just a matter of letting somebody know “Hey, this has occurred, and it has made this person uncomfortable.” So, for some informal resolutions, depending on what’s reported, it doesn’t even have to have a name attached to it. We can tell a staff or faculty member, “This was reported to us. The person does not want to file a complaint, but they want you to be aware that they were offended by this remark or this action.”
During the conversations, those involved may also be supported by an advisor of their choice, who is not a witness to the circumstance.
Q: What is the ultimate goal of those processes?
A: Our overarching goal is that our team works with students, faculty and staff to foster a climate of inclusion and ensure a safe and respectful environment for all University members. These processes seek to address circumstances where a person feels that this standard was not preserved.
Q: What is a misconception about your office that people might have?
A: We sometimes hear from people that they believe our office is only here to protect the University, and sometimes they’re concerned about the perceived status of the person who they are reporting about.
Everyone reporting to our office can have confidence that their concerns will be listened to, and that they’ll be treated respectfully. Anyone accused of violating University policy should feel that we will listen to them and treat them respectfully, and our goal is to reach just results.
We will investigate, and if there is enough support that there is misconduct or behavior that doesn’t meet our standards, then the University will act.
There are all sorts of reasons why people may choose not to report or may be reluctant to report. We’re all different, and there are understandable reasons, but if our office is not aware of the incidents, we can’t act. Sometimes we receive anonymous complaints. We’ll look into them as much as we can, but anonymous complaints limit our ability to respond.
Q: What do you enjoy about the work?
A: I find satisfaction in providing fair process to both parties. So if a person reports a complaint to our office, they are heard, their allegation is investigated and there’s a process there to reach a resolution. For the accused, we are here to ensure that we are providing a thorough, careful process with an appropriate, just conclusion and that can mean that the evidence does not support a finding of responsibility.