The following guidance notes were originally developed by the University Council's Standing Advisory Committee on Student Matters and commended for adoption by both the Senior Tutors' Committee and the Human Resources Committee.
In this section:
- Dignity@Study: Introduction
- Recommended procedures
- Advice for students who feel they are being harassed or bullied
- Advice for students who are accused of harassment or bullying
- Sources of information, advice and support
1. Dignity@Study: Introduction
1.1 Introduction to the Guidance
The University's core values encompass freedom of thought and expression, and freedom from discrimination. As a place of learning, teaching and research, the University provides an environment in which to exchange ideas, opinions and views. The University is committed to maintaining a learning and working environment in which the rights and dignity of all members of the University community are respected.
The University expects all members of its community to treat each other with respect, courtesy and consideration at all times. All members of the University community have the right to expect professional behaviour from others, and have a corresponding responsibility to behave professionally towards others.
The University and its colleges recognise that to work and study effectively, students need a climate of equal opportunity in which they are respected and valued for their contribution, irrespective of their sex, gender identity (including reassignment), marital, parental or partnership status, race, ethnic or national origin, colour, disability, sexuality, religion or belief, or age. The University will not tolerate the harassment or bullying of any member of its community by another.
There is a need for procedures to deal with any less positive relationships in general and in particular with inappropriate behaviour (including bullying, harassment, victimisation, or discrimination) that may affect the well-being of individuals within the University. This document provides guidance to students who may experience or witness inappropriate behaviour. It also outlines the action which is recommended to address inappropriate behaviour, with support if needed, in the knowledge that any concerns or complaints will be dealt with appropriately and fairly by the University and the Colleges.
This Guidance is intended primarily for students who have complaints concerning the behaviour of others (e.g. a member of University staff, another student), and who consider that the behaviour constitutes harassment or bullying.
Complaints by staff concerning students
Separate arrangements exist under the HR Division's Dignity @ Work policy for considering concerns raised by University staff which relate to the behaviour of students in a University setting. Members of University staff who have a complaint against a student should contact their HR Business Manager/Adviser in the first instance - for details of the HR teams attached to each institution see http://www.hr.admin.cam.ac.uk/contact-us.
Colleges are legally independent of the University and as such have established their own complaints and review procedures. Complaints, including allegations of harassment or bullying, which arise within the college teaching, learning and working environment will normally be dealt with under the appropriate college procedure.
1.2 Scope of this Guidance
This guidance is aimed at matriculated students in the University, both undergraduate and postgraduate, and is suggested for use by students, and also for use by staff supporting students or working with them. It sits alongside and complements existing complaint procedures, such as the various formal procedures that are provided for in University Statutes and Ordinances and outlined in the Student Complaints and Appeals webpages.
Colleges are legally independent of the University, as are some of the other institutions in which students may be working. This guidance is based on current best practice in the Higher Education sector; it is recognised, however, that specific, independent institutions may choose not to adopt it or may develop their own policy and practice in this regard. Only general advice is accordingly given here about complaints in such contexts.
If a student is in doubt as to how to proceed with a complaint, they are advised to check in the first instance where the relevant University authority - e.g. departmental, University or College officer - directs them within published complaint, review or appeal procedures.
Notwithstanding the above statements regarding the scope of this guidance, the University Statutes and Ordinances remain the regulatory basis for all activity in the University and have primacy over the guidance.
1.3 Definitions: inappropriate behaviour
Behaviour is defined as inappropriate if:
- it is unwanted by the recipient;
- it is perceived by the recipient as violating their dignity and/or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment; and
- the behaviour could reasonably be considered as having that effect having regard to all the circumstances, including the recipient's perception.
These definitions apply whether or not there was an intention to cause the effect.
Inappropriate behaviour may include a number of specific behaviours - such as bullying, or harassment on account of sex (including gender reassignment), race, ethnic or national origin, colour, disability, sexuality, religion or belief, or age. Also, behaviour that may appear trivial as a single incident can constitute harassment or bullying when repeated.
1.4 Criminal offences
Some types of harassment may be criminal offences.
Students are strongly encouraged to inform the police about any forms of harassment that are criminal offences. Students should consider doing this themselves, but they may prefer to ask someone else to help them do so, or to inform the police on their behalf. Internal action according to the procedures set out in this document may still take place whether or not the police decide to proceed. However, in some cases there may have to be a delay whilst police investigations are carried out.
If a student is physically injured in any way in an assault, or if they suffer rape or a sexual assault, the individual should seek medical help and advice immediately. It is also very important in such circumstances that the police are informed. A student may seek advice and help from internal sources of support such as a friend, Tutor, CUSU officer, or seek support from external specialist organisations such as the Rape Crisis Centre (see details in section 5 below, Sources of information, advice and support).
Failure to report an attack immediately after it occurs does not prevent a student from lodging a complaint at a later date. However, it is advisable to report the incident as soon as is possible. If a student feels unable to do so, or was not able to do so at the time, they should not let the incident pass but should report it as soon as they feel able to do so. While it is advisable to report an incident as soon as possible, not doing so does not prevent a complaint being lodged later.
1.5 The University's commitment
Allegations of inappropriate behaviour will be taken very seriously by the University and Colleges, and could result in disciplinary action. The University will take action to ensure that a student raising a genuine concern related to harassment and bullying, or other inappropriate behaviour, is not victimised as a result. However, where such allegations are proven to be vexatious or malicious, a complainant may be the subject of disciplinary action.
2. Dignity@Study: Recommended Steps
2.1 Three-stage process for dealing with complaints of inappropriate behaviour
The University aims to handle complaints in a way which is sympathetic, fair, and efficient, which encourages informal conciliation, facilitates early resolution, maintains individual privacy and confidentiality, and permits useful feedback.
In circumstances where a student has a complaint concerning the behaviour of others in a University setting (e.g. a member of University staff, another student), for instance where the behaviour constitutes harassment or bullying, the matter ordinarily falls to be handled under the University's Student Complaints Procedure, as set out in the University Statutes and Ordinances.
The Student Complaints Procedure consists of a number of stages, including two informal, preliminary stages – Discussion and Advice; Informal Process – which are designed to encourage early resolution of problems, at the ‘local ‘level. A student is expected fully to exhaust these stages before taking a complaint further through the Formal Process stage.
- Discussion and advice: at the earliest stage, a misunderstanding or disagreement may be resolved with the support and involvement of a college Tutor or a member of University staff, and may simply require a calm and balanced discussion between parties.
- Informal process: at this stage resolution may be pursued and achieved through the involvement and intervention of an appropriate member of staff (University or College); resolution might be explored through mediation and/or some form of informal intervention.
- Formal complaint procedure: when informal routes do not lead to satisfactory resolution a third, 'formal' stage is available that allows a complaint to be investigated independently by a Reviewer, and an adjudication reached.
2.2 Stage 1: Discussion and advice
If a student feels uncomfortable as a result of the behaviour of another student or of a member of University or College staff, the best resolution may well be by means of an open and honest discussion between the individuals involved, with support as necessary.
It is important to register the nature of the complaint as soon as possible or make someone else (preferably an individual with some authority) aware of the situation and to seek appropriate informal advice and support; often this can resolve the matter quickly and informally. If the individual feels unable to do this they are strongly encouraged to at least confide in someone they know, telling them the details of the situation at the time it takes place in order to ensure they have some immediate support.
The natural first point of contact for a student with a complaint is their College Tutor, as the College assumes pastoral and other responsibilities, and moreover provides a range of tutorial services and support for all matriculated students (both undergraduate and postgraduate).
Should a College Tutor not be willing or able to act, or should the complaint relate to them, the student may contact another College member, for example a Director of Studies, another Tutor, a mentor or another member of the Fellowship, or member of College staff, such as the College Nurse, Chaplain or Counsellor. Undergraduates might alternatively consider approaching the Director of Undergraduate Education in the faculty or department concerned, the departmental administrator, or if appropriate head of department.
Graduate Students may prefer to raise the matter with their supervisor, advisor, or other member of the supervisory team; Director of Graduate Education in the faculty or department concerned; the departmental administrator, or if appropriate the head of department; College Graduate Tutor.
Students may also seek independent support and information from other appropriate members of University staff, or from the various student organisations - CUSU or the Graduate Union, the Student Advice Service, or members of their JCR or MCR Committees.
Further support for pursuing any action under this guidance may be available from a fellow student, or through one of the other sources shown in the section Sources of information, advice and support.
General advice with regard to dealing with difficult situations is contained in the sections Advice for students who feel they are being harassed or bullied and Advice for students who are accused of harassment or bullying. There is also a section dealing with the matter of confidentiality.
The student can expect to be given advice on how to proceed and on an appropriate course of action, advice about what would constitute an appropriate remedy, and an opportunity to consider whether there is indeed a complaint to be addressed. The student will then be in a position to decide whether, and if so how, to proceed further.
2.3 Stage 2: Informal processes
The complainant may be unable or reluctant directly to approach the person complained against. In such a case, the complainant may ask their College Tutor (Senior Tutor, Graduate Tutor or other Tutor), or the Head of University Institution (or a deputy), or another member of staff for help in achieving an informal resolution of the problem.
The person approached will usually proceed to identify a senior member of the University or College who is willing and able to intervene in the matter, and possibly act in some form of mediatory or conciliatory capacity.
Students may also have access to some of the support, advice and mediation services offered by the Human Resources Division as part of the University's Dignity@Work policy, such as the network of Dignity @ Work Contacts or mediation services.
Every effort will be made to achieve prompt consideration and resolution of a complaint. The aim should be to conclude matters expeditiously - within a period normally of no more than six weeks if term-time, or eight weeks if outside term. Both the complainant, and the persons or institutions who are concerned in the complaint, will be expected to co-operate in achieving that result. If for any reason the informal process does not seem to be working, or is taking an unacceptably long time, either party may decide to withdraw from the process.
2.4 Stage 3: Formal complaints
If a student is dissatisfied with the outcome of such an informal process as outlined above, he or she may consider whether to raise the matter formally through Stage 3 (Formal Process) of the Student Complaints Procedure (see above).
Students must exhaust informal routes before making a formal complaint, or give a good reason for not doing so. A good reason might be that the problem is particularly serious, or that when it was raised informally there was refusal to deal with it. Informal processes are suitable for dealing with many problems, but if a complaint includes very serious allegations, and especially where a person complained against must have an opportunity to give his or her side of the matter, it may be necessary to refer straight to Stage 3.
If informal routes seem not to have been exhausted, a Reviewer considering a formal complaint under Stage 3 of this Procedure may refer the matter to informal resolution.
Please note that there are stated timescales in the Procedure within which a complaint should be brought: within three months of the occurrence of the matter complained about, ‘unless, exceptionally, a reviewer allows a longer time, for exceptional good cause’. In general terms, a complainant should make a complaint in a timely fashion, at the earliest opportunity after the incident or the most recent occurrence of behaviour complained against. There may be cases in which a complaint is unavoidably delayed. Bullying or harassment can have a serious effect on people and a complainant may not feel able to make a complaint without initial support or counselling. Equally, a complaint made after a significant time lapse may put an unacceptable strain on the person complained against and may make resolution more difficult.
2.5 Completion of University Formal Procedures
When the final stage has been concluded, the University will normally issue a 'Completion of Procedures' letter to the student confirming that the formal complaint procedures within the University have been completed.
The completion of procedures letter will be required if the student remains dissatisfied following the outcome of internal procedures and wishes to apply for a review of the matter by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA).
2.6 General principles
A student is entitled to a fair and independent consideration of a complaint. The rights of the student and the rights of any person complained against are both important and must be kept in balance. Every effort will be made to ensure that both are treated with fairness and dignity. To ensure that the procedure is effective, all members of the University involved in attempting a resolution of a complaint, or in investigating a complaint, are expected to act in good faith and in accordance with certain principles:
- Natural Justice: any person complained against has the right to know the nature and sufficient details of the grounds of the complaint, and the right to respond to the complaint with sufficient time for preparation.
- Representation: both complainant and person complained against have the right to be accompanied and supported; legal representation, however, is not necessary at any stage and is inconsistent with the non-confrontational approach taken by this guidance.
- Records: formal notes taken at meetings should preferably be agreed by all present. The University and all those involved in the process must observe the principles of data protection.
- Confidentiality: in order to safeguard individuals, confidentiality must be strictly respected and information limited to those who have a need to know (and limited to no more than they need to know) for the purposes of the operation of these procedures and for maintenance of good order in the University.
All information concerning allegations of inappropriate behaviour, harassment and bullying must be treated in the strictest confidence and breaches of confidentiality may give rise to disciplinary action. All parties involved in a complaint (including witnesses, representatives, friends, or trade union officers supporting any of the parties) should maintain strict confidentiality.
There are, however, limits to how far confidentiality can be maintained. Where criminal offences or serious health and safety risks are involved, and particularly if there may be risk to other students, there may be a duty on University and College authorities to notify the police and/or the Health and Safety Executive.
There will need to be disclosure to those involved in the procedures outlined in this guidance (and in any appeals) to the extent that is needed for the procedures to be used effectively. A Head of Institution may need to consult other senior staff as well as a member of the Human Resources Division for advice about a complaint against a member of staff. In this case, the anonymity of the individuals involved should be preserved as far as possible.
You may find it useful to consider the following points:
- Before deciding what to do about the situation, you may find it helpful to seek confidential help and advice. Many people find it difficult to think clearly about a situation which is causing them distress. Discussing the problem with someone else (see Sources of information, advice and support) gives you the opportunity to analyse how you feel about it, what effect it is having on you, and what you believe is needed to solve the problem.
- Discussion with any 'advisor' will normally be strictly confidential, and further action involving you will not be taken without informing you. You should be careful to protect your own confidentiality, and must also protect the confidentiality of all others involved in the situation. You should be aware there are limits to confidentiality. If you state that you do not want any further action to be taken, you may be asked to confirm this in writing. Action of some kind may, however, still need to be taken to protect others, although every effort will be made to maintain confidentiality.
- You should always keep a record of the incidents which are causing you distress.
- If you can avoid confrontation you have a better chance of solving the problem. If you are unhappy with somebody's behaviour towards you and feel able to tell him or her how you feel and what you would like to see changed, either face to face or by letter, this may resolve the situation and restore good working relationships.
- If seeking resolution in this way you may want to ask for support - as set out in section 5, Sources of information, advice and support - on a confidential basis, either to help you to work out what to say or to accompany you when you meet the person you are complaining about. Because of the possibility of counter-accusation or recrimination, it is probably wise to alert a supporting person to the problem before you approach the person concerned, even if you feel able to take this action on your own.
- If you want to communicate this message by letter, you will find a simple form of words suggested at the end of this section.
- Even if you are able to resolve the situation yourself, you may wish to inform an 'advisor' in your own institution or that of the person complained against so that he or she is aware of any situation or incident which could cause future difficulties.
- Since formal complaint is commonly stressful and burdensome to all parties, it is important to make every effort to achieve resolution informally before resorting to it. If you have tried a direct approach and it has not worked, or if you do not feel confident enough to try it, you may ask an appropriate 'advisor' to seek to resolve the problem on your behalf. You may also agree to co-operate with an independent conciliator seeking to mediate.
- If neither of these approaches has or would have the desired effect or the matter is particularly serious, you can make a formal complaint to your Senior Tutor or Head of Institution or an appropriate deputy who will then arrange for a formal investigation within the timescales outlined in the section Recommended procedures.
- If you are not satisfied with the outcome of a formal investigation you may be able to complain to the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education (OIA).
- If your complaint is not upheld you may still expect steps to be taken to help restore reasonable working relations between you and the person against whom you made the complaint.
- If your complaint is not upheld and is found to be malicious or vexatious, disciplinary action may be taken against you.
- If action is taken against someone as a result of your complaint, you can expect to be informed of this (though not necessarily of the nature of the action).
- If the behaviour which is causing you distress involves messages or offensive material sent to you by computer of which you cannot identify the source, you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, which will be dealt with by a senior member of the Computing Service. You can also make an appointment via Reception to see the appropriate person in the Computing Service for advice and assistance about the problem.
Using the right words
The following suggests a format and some words which it may be helpful to use in a letter, an email, or in speech to someone whose behaviour you feel is inappropriate:
- Describe the behaviour very precisely, where and when it happened. If you are vague the person causing the problem may not understand what you are talking about.
- Tell the person how you feel about what has happened.
- Describe the effect it is having on you (you may find you are avoiding the person, or working less effectively so that your study performance is affected).
- Say precisely what you want to happen. Including the steps outlined in 1-3 above you could write or say:
On the [date/day], at [time], you [describe the behaviour precisely]. Your behaviour made me feel [describe your feelings and reactions].
I wish you to stop [the behaviour]. You are harassing/bullying me and I have made a written record of the details. If this behaviour towards me is repeated I may make a formal complaint.
This form of words (adapted from Eliminating Sexual Harassment, Herbert 1994, p. 102) is one which should be recognised by everyone as a signal that a complainant is objecting to harassment or bullying and is seeking an informal resolution of the problem.
- You may seek confidential advice (see Dignity@Study issues - first point of contact and Further sources of support for students, above). It is advisable to seek advice before taking any other steps. Any discussion will be confidential but you should be aware of the limits to confidentiality.
- Listen carefully and calmly to what is being said. If you find that you have unintentionally caused offence, or you believe that your words or actions have been misinterpreted or misjudged then you will need to keep calm in order to try to reach an understanding with the person accusing you.
- If you believe the accusation to be unfounded say so, but arrange to seek advice and support as soon as possible whether the situation is resolved informally or formally.
- You may wish to be accompanied at any interview or other stage in the procedure by a member of College or University staff, e.g. a College Tutor, Director of Studies or Counsellor, or another student.
- Be prepared to participate in conciliation or mediation if an attempt is made to resolve the matter informally.
- If a complaint made against you is not upheld you may expect steps to be taken to help restore reasonable relations between yourself and the person who made the complaint.
- Be honest. If you come to realise that you have harassed or bullied another person be ready to change the behaviour causing offence. You may wish to seek support in changing your behaviour in future: the University Counselling Service or another of the sources listed in this section may be able to help you.
- If a complaint made against you is upheld and where there is evidence of wilful misconduct or seriously irresponsible behaviour, this may lead to disciplinary procedures against you.
- If you are not satisfied with the outcome of an investigation of a complaint made against you, you may complain in accordance with the relevant procedure.
- At all times you should observe confidentiality and you can expect all other parties involved to do the same. You should also ask any witnesses or advisers likewise to maintain absolute confidentiality.
5.1 Related University Policies and Procedures
The University publishes a number of policies and procedures related to specific issues which may be helpful. These include the following:
In addition, the policy on misconduct in research may be relevant and can be found at http://www.research-integrity.admin.cam.ac.uk/research-misconduct.