Did you know Duke has a Harassment Grievance Board?

The Office for Institutional Equity has in place an extensive, strict set of harassment policies to protect all members of the campus community. To ensure that these policies are consistently followed, the University has established both informal and formal complaint procedures.

Chaired by Cynthia Clinton, assistant vice president in the Office of Institutional Equity and director of harassment prevention and special projects, the Harassment Grievance Board plays a central role in the formal complaints procedure, whereby complaints of harassment are investigated and resolved. The convened panel listens to presentations from all parties, decides if a violation has occurred and then recommends possible sanctions.

 “[The Board] is an important mechanism for ensuring support in having an equitable, objective process for responding to complaints,” Clinton said. “You have members from various constituencies on campus to get a wide diversity of perspectives and opinions.” 

Comprised of 28 members, the board includes undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff, guaranteeing that a range of perspectives will be represented. 

When an individual submits a harassment complaint, the five-member panel is chosen by lot—or random selection, and convenes to review documents and determine if a formal hearing is warranted, Clinton explained. If so, the panel hears presentations from all parties of the complaint and votes on whether a violation of the Duke University and Duke University Health System Harassment Policy has occurred. 

“[The Harassment Grievance Board] provides the opportunity for the parties to fully tell their story and present whatever information they have,” Clinton said.

If a violation is determined to have taken place, the panel is charged with recommending the appropriate corrective or disciplinary actions depending on the specifics of the situation. Following the hearing, the panel submits a two-part report to OIE, including a summary of the hearing and a detailed record of the recommended actions. 

Clinton explained that the board is important because it provides a way to handle harassment complaints in an objective and equitable manner. 

First-year Andrew Carlins—a member of the Harassment Grievance Board and Duke Student Government—said that the Board also serves as a bridge between the student body and the administration regarding the University’s harassment policies.

“[The board] meets ad-hoc, and it is a way for President Price and the rest of the administration to communicate with the larger student body through Duke Student Government,” he said. “[The members] act as liaisons between the student government and the administration, listening to issues presented by our peers and bringing them to the administration’s attention.”

In addition, Carlins noted, the opportunity to be elected as members of the board allows students to directly influence harassment policy and how it comes into play in issues that arise on campus. 

“I have worked in the courts in the past few summers specifically with matrimonial cases and domestic violence cases in which these issues come into play,” Carlins said. “I’ve had prior experience dealing with this topic from a legal perspective, and I wanted to apply that and try to make campus better, and to deal with it from an administrative perspective.” 

The dual role of the board—both as the pool for hearing panels and as the line of communication between the student body and administration—makes its presence on campus critical, Carlins noted. He added, however, that the board's broader impact may be hindered by the lack of knowledge of its existence.

“I didn’t know [the board] existed until I became a part of student government,” Carlins said. “I think Duke would see great benefit in advertise the existence of the board better, so that students understand that they have a connection to the administration should they want to air their grievances.”