Discrimination and Harassment

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Learn more about discrimination and harassment bystander intervention:

Every minute…

A college student somewhere sees or hears racist, sexist, homophobic, or other discriminatory words or images.
     — www.tolerance.org


Scenario: Discrimination and Harassment 

You are hanging out with teammates and one of them makes a very insulting and derogatory remark about someone’s alleged sexual orientation. They go on to sarcastically say that they definitely won’t be rooming with them on road trips. 
You find it inappropriate. What do you do?

Additional Discrimination and Harassment Scenarios

Scenario 1
You go to a party off campus with your roommate.  The living room is filled with people dancing.  As you make your way through the crowd, you notice a Middle-Eastern-looking couple nearby.  Your roommate mutters loudly enough for them to hear, “I didn’t know they let terrorists come to the party!” What do you do?

Scenario 2
You and your cross country teammates are all pretty good friends. As you go on the long runs every day there’s always some good conversation. However, one of your teammates frequently says, “That’s so gay,” every time he doesn’t like or disagrees with something. You know that one of your teammates in the group is not comfortable discussing his sexuality. What do you do? 

Scenario 3
You are in the dorm hanging out with some people from your floor. You are in a group conversation when one of them starts referring to women as hos and bitches. You know he really doesn’t mean it literally but others look uncomfortable with the language as they don’t know him as well. What do you do?


  1. Have you ever been discriminated against? Harassed? What happened?
  2. Do you think students in certain groups (student organizations, Greek life, athletics) are discriminated against? How? Why? Do they also sometimes experience reverse discrimination (i.e., preferential treatment)? How? Why?
  3. Do you think people sometimes discriminate more based on their perception that individuals had a choice in their condition as opposed to something that was out of their control (e.g., genetics)? 
  4. Is the criticism against rap music/lyrics, justified? Do you use similar language? If so, have you considered what impact that might have on children who view you as a role model or others who hear it?
  5. Do men or women talk about the other gender in negative/derogatory ways in public?
  6. Has society changed its attitudes toward same-sex relationships? If so, in what ways? How is discrimination against a LGBT student different from other forms of discrimination?
  7. To what degree and in what ways do you think international students experience prejudice and discrimination? What other groups may experience discrimination? How so? Give examples.
  8. Have you ever said something you didn’t mean? Did you consider how someone else might take it (Perspective Taking)?
  9. How does a power differential (e.g., coach/professor) affect how or if you approach an individual?

Definitions and Considerations

What is discrimination?

Discrimination occurs when an individual is subjected to negative or adverse treatment based on or more protected characteristic that denies or limits the individual's ability to obtain educational benefits or interferes with the work environment.

Examples of discrimination include a faculty member giving a student a lower grade because of the student's race, a staff person receiving a negative performance review based on gender identity or expression, or a student with a disability who does not receive approved academic accommodations.

What is harassment?

Harassment, a form of discrimination, is prohibited by law and by University policy, including the Student Code of Conduct.  There are two forms of harassment:  quid pro quo sexual harassment and a hostile or offensive environment.

What types of harassment and discrimination are prohibited by law or University policy?

Harassment and discrimination that occurs based on one or more of the following protected characteristics are prohibited by law and University policy:




Gender Identity or Expression

Genetic Information

Marital or Familial Status

National or Ethnic Origin




Sexual Orientation

Veteran Status


Issues to Consider Before STEPPING UP

  1. Identify the bias: Is it prejudice, stereotyping, discrimination, harassment or a combination?
  2. Form a goal based on the source of bias:
    • Change negative beliefs (stereotypes).
    • Change negative attitudes/emotions (prejudice).
    • Change discriminatory or harassing behavior (with or without changing stereotypes or prejudice).
  3. Determine the safest and most effective way to address the bias: Decide when and where to try and address the bias (in private not in public). 
    ** When considering how to proceed, always consider the costs and consequences for long-term relationships with everyone involved.
  4. Choose a strategy to Step UP!

Reduce the tension: Form a goal based on the source of bias: Before addressing the bias more explicitly, you can try to reduce the tension at the start:

  • To lighten the mood, tell the person a funny story about something unrelated.
  • Compliment the person or share something you have in common with them.
  • Ask the person to talk positively about themselves.

Research indicates that such strategies can start to reduce the biases that people hold and will make them more open-minded about discussing the issues with you.

Individuation approaches: Try to get the person to see others as individuals rather than as members of a disliked group:

  • Highlight things about a targeted group’s member that are different from most people’s perception.
  • Volunteer information about a targeted group’s member so that the person could get to know them as an individual.

Recategorization or Common Identity approaches: Try to get others to see that the targeted group is similar to others and shares similar goals:

  • Highlight traits and interests that the person and the targeted group share in common.
  • Discuss issues that affect both the person and the targeted group to create a perception of a “common enemy” and to view the targeted group in terms of a greater common group.
  • Think of other ways to get the person to see the situation from a different perspective.

Confrontational approaches: You can directly address the bias by making the individuals aware of how their statement represents a bias or is inconsistent with their egalitarian values.
WARNING: Confrontation can make the biased person angry and may cause them to lash out or seek revenge. This approach should RARELY be used.

  • Identify a statement as a potential bias.
  • Ask the individuals if they value diversity and then remind them of ways in which they might unfairly stereotype others.
  • Ask the persons if they believe that all people should be treated equally and then point out how their views contradict these values.
  • Ask: Did you really mean what you just said? (Also see Action Steps listed below).

Coming to Terms with Your Own Biases

  1. Be respectful of all individuals and their viewpoints.
  2. Listen to what individuals’ lives are like and the experiences they’ve had in the world.
  3. Accept that you are responsible for any of your negative reactions.
  4. Don’t rush the process of trying to understand a person’s experiences or identity.
  5. Don’t criticize people for being different.
  6. Don’t force your values on others.
  7. Develop trust and openness and allow people to be who they are without pressure or judgment.

Note: It is inconsistent to suffer the consequences and want to fight prejudice from a race/class/ gender standpoint but then to practice it yourself against any others.

Did you know…?

  • Being the target of prejudice, stereotyping or discrimination manifests itself negatively in both the mental and physical health of those who experience it.
  • According to our survey, almost 70% of student-athletes have witnessed discrimination in some form over the last year:
    • 96% are bothered by it.
    • 99% believe something should be done.

Action Steps

  1. Be Ready – You know at some point you will hear or see something that is inappropriate, harassing or discriminatory. Think of yourself as the one to Step UP!, prepare yourself for it and know what you will say. “Why do you say that?” or “Do you really mean what you just said?”
  2. Identify the Behavior – Point out someone’s behavior to help them hear what they are really saying. “So, what I hear you saying is that all student-athletes don’t care about academics?”
  3. Appeal to Principles – Call on a person’s higher principles. “I’ve always thought you were fair-minded. It shocks me to hear you say something so biased.”
  4. Set Limits: Draw a Line – You can’t control others but you can make others aware of what you will not tolerate. “Don’t tell racist jokes or use that language in my presence anymore. If you do, I will leave.” Follow through.
  5. Find an Ally/Be an Ally – Seek out like-minded people and build strength in numbers.

Adapted from Tolerance.org (n.d.). A web project of the Southern Poverty Law Center.



There are numerous on and off campus based resources to provide support to individuals who experience or witness incidents of harassment, discrimination, retaliation, or sexual misconduct. Click below for a complete list of confidential and non-confidential resources. 

Equal Opportunity Compliance Resources