What Students, Staff and Faculty Should Know About Changes to Discrimination and Harassment Policy

University refines policy and procedures based on legal updates, community feedback

Brownstone dorm roommates, from left, Katherine Li, junior, Martin Trinh, sophomore, Katlyn Hurst, sophomore, Allayne Thomas, sophomore, Charlie Liang, senior, and Jen Semler, senior, enjoy an unusually warm February afternoon to study and socialize outsi
Brownstone student residents enjoy an study and socialize outside.

Duke has made several notable revisions to its policy and procedures for reporting and responding to harassment and discrimination that take effect in fall 2022.

The changes, some of which are based on community feedback, clarify which employees are required to report any allegations of discrimination, harassment or related misconduct they learn about. The revised policy also now explicitly prohibits discrimination based on hair texture and hairstyles commonly associated with a specific race.

The policy was revised through a collaboration among the Office for Institutional Equity, Human Resources and Student Affairs, and applies to both the university and the health system.

“The university engaged in an extensive process of soliciting feedback on the enterprise-wide policy and procedures, including holding a public comment period, in an effort to be responsive to the questions and needs of the Duke community,” said Kimberly Hewitt, Duke’s vice president for institutional equity and chief diversity officer. “The goal is to maintain transparent and robust processes for responding to harassment and related misconduct, and that includes continuing to refine them based on the latest research and applications of the law.”

A memo outlining the 2022 changes is available on the OIE website. Hewitt described a few highlights:

  • The updated policy clarifies that any member of the faculty or staff in a supervisory or teaching role – referred to in the policy as a ‘responsible employee’ – is required to share information with OIE if they become aware of any allegations of discrimination or harassment. In previous years, employees have been encouraged to report all incidents of discrimination and harassment, but many people believed that requirement applied only to sexual misconduct. New language makes clear that responsible employees are required to report all incidents of harassment or discrimination they become aware of, regardless of the protected class involved.
  • The revised policy also broadens the definition of a responsible employee. Faculty, employees and graduate students with teaching or supervisory authority have always been responsible for reporting misconduct. The new policy specifies that all athletics staff, including coaches, are also responsible for reporting misconduct, as are teaching assistants who become aware of misconduct while carrying out the duties of their positions.
  • The policy’s new explicit language banning discrimination based on hair texture means, for example, the university may not establish dress codes that restrict hairstyles commonly associated with a particular race, Hewitt said. As of fall 2022, 18 states, as well as the city of Durham, N.C., have banned hair-based racial discrimination through legislation known as the C.R.O.W.N. Act, which was built in part on research published by one of Duke’s own professors (see video below). “With Durham’s own city council adopting this ordinance for its residents, it was important to make the protection expressly clear to the roughly 40,000 employees that make Duke the city’s largest employer,” Hewitt said.

  • Lastly, the policy offers more specificity regarding the use of alternative resolutions in lieu of formal investigations, including in reports of sex-based discrimination protected under Title IX, Hewitt said. “Historically, there were limitations on how much institutions could engage strategies like mediation or other alternative resolution techniques in cases of sexual harassment or sexual assault,” Hewitt said. “Alternative resolution techniques, such as facilitated discussions, restorative justice and coaching, can be effective ways to address discrimination and harassment. We have made these options clearer in the revised procedures.”

The changes reflect Duke’s commitment to building a more inclusive campus community.

Find more resources, including a flowchart, on the OIE website.