Office of Equity and Diversity works to end classroom discrimination, harassment

Grace Chon

There is an office on campus dedicated to mediating issues that come up between students and professors, specifically forms of discrimination and harassment.

The Office of Equity and Diversity handles issues that are not limited to race, color or national origin. It also deals with categories of sexual orientation, age, disability, gender, religion, marital status and veteran status.

“When someone is denied a privilege and it is based upon a particular category such as race, gender, sexual orientation, then this is the place to come,” said Zulu Ali, the coordinator of compliance administration who hears complaints before further investigating the matters.

Esther House, who was uncomfortable revealing any further identifiable information about herself or the professor, felt there was gender bias occurring in her classroom.

House said she knows prior to stepping into her classroom that her male professor will most likely not call on her when she raises her hand and will joke around with the male students.

“The professor tries to fit in with the male crowd,” House said. “He picks male students over females in class, compliments them, and is friendlier with the males. He’s not friendly towards the females.”

Situations such as this can occur in many different classrooms on campus but many may go untold and unresolved.

Students can file a complaint at the Office of Equity and Diversity, located on the second floor of University Hall and complaints can be as diverse as any given student body.

But complaints are not limited to only the previously listed categories.

Jo Ann Fielder, director of Equity and diversity, has been at CSUN since 2003 but has worked in similar departments in a few other community colleges in California, including Santa Monica College.

Although Fielder cannot share complaints made by CSUN employees or students because of confidentiality, she was able to share a sexual harassment complaint that was filed at a community college.

A female student filed a complaint of sexual harassment by a staff member to the appropriate office. Fielder had wished to speak with the student but her attorney would not allow it. The investigation began as Fielder started to question other staff members and students who may have been harassed by a male staff member. After continuing the investigation, Fielder contacted a student who had since transferred to University of California, Irvine. She was asked to record her complaints in writing. Her side of the story was almost identical to the other woman’s allegations.

In fact, both female students said they were present in a computer lab when the male staff member under investigation coerced them to sit on his lap.

They then had their hands tied back with a mouse cord.

Fielder said the U.C. Irvine student had complained to a female staff member but nothing was reported because the staff member was afraid the male staff member would one day become her supervisor. She did not want to compromise a possible promotion.

Nevertheless, the male staff member was eventually forced to resign.

CSUN department chairs and anyone who is in the position to supervise is mandated to take an online harassment-training program.

There are workshops and retreats dedicated to staff and faculty that enable them to become more knowledgeable when it comes to avoiding acts of discrimination and improper behavior.

Many of the complaints filed at the Office of Equity and Diversity are the result of misunderstandings and miscommunication.

There are many diverse groups on campus and this department is designed to clear up the miscommunication for each party, Ali said.

“It’s not about minorities,” Fielder said. “It’s about individuals. We take every complaint seriously.”

The Office of Equity and Diversity exists at universities because of federal statutes Title VI for students and Title VII for employees.

Title VI and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were written to ensure that individuals would not be discriminated against because of race, color or national origin during participation or denied benefits under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.