On harassment and discrimination

October 9, 2013
Edmund Bertschinger, Institute Community and Equity Officer, 2013–2018 |

To the members of the MIT community:
MIT prides itself on striving for the ideal of meritocracy. At our best, we are an inclusive community based on mutual respect, tolerance, and caring. In my 27 years on the MIT faculty, I have seen these principles at work on countless occasions and in every aspect of life at MIT. However, we all know that there are times when these principles are violated through discrimination of various kinds, including harassment. This is a matter of serious concern to anyone who loves the MIT community. In my role as Institute Community and Equity Officer, I write now to clarify MIT's policies on harassment and discrimination, and to reinforce the fact that these policies reflect MIT's deepest values about how we should conduct ourselves and treat one another.
Let me start with the simple fact that discrimination is against MIT policy and in certain cases may be against the law. MIT considers harassment to be any conduct, verbal or physical, on or off campus, that has the intent or effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual or group's educational or work performance at MIT or that creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive educational, work, or living environment. Specific unacceptable examples which may rise to the level of a violation of MIT policy include: telling someone “you're here because of affirmative action”; demeaning someone because of their background or education; epithets or slurs based on gender, race, ethnicity, disability, age, nationality, sexual orientation, religion or other group association; displaying sexually explicit pictures or writings; unwanted sexual advances; bullying; and acts taken in retaliation against anyone who raises a complaint about discrimination or harassment.
We pride ourselves on MIT's mission to serve the nation and world through our unique style of learning by doing. We strive to create a culture of inclusion, caring and respect in which all of us can do our best. Success demands that we practice responsible and ethical conduct and that we prevent and effectively address sexual misconduct and all forms of harassment and discrimination. This is our community and we must be committed to making sure that MIT is a welcoming place for all.
Should you experience or witness inappropriate conduct that might be harassing or discriminatory, I encourage you to speak up. MIT provides a variety of avenues for raising such issues, so that each person may choose an approach appropriate to his or her particular situation. Institute procedures are intended to protect the rights of both the person raising the complaint and the person whose behavior is being questioned. MIT is also committed to protecting those who raise legitimate concerns from any retaliatory conduct they may face for filing a complaint or participating in an investigation of a complaint.
If you are trying to decide how to deal with a specific situation, you may want to consult with our experienced ombudspersons in the Office of the President. The Human Resources Department, the Division of Student Life and the General Counsel's Office all offer education on these topics, and you can find online tools tailored for employees, supervisors, and faculty on the MIT Training & Professional Development website. MIT offers specific information about many options to consider, including the process for filing internal complaints of discrimination and harassment, a list of point persons for complaints at MIT, and a list of resources outside the Institute at http://web.mit.edu/communications/hg/.
If you would like to talk to me about these or other matters directly, I am available two ways: either through my Open Office Hours at the One Community Room 8-219, 8:30-9:30am each Tuesday morning through December 3 (except November 12), or at other times we arrange directly by email (iceo@mit.edu).
The strength of our community is no accident; it depends on our shared values and our capacity for empathy, kindness and attentive care. I am grateful to belong to a community that does so much for the world and strives to hold itself to such high personal standards.
Ed Bertschinger
Institute Community and Equity Officer