Feb 17, 2011
Since her permanent appointment in October, Executive Director of Institutional Equity Laura Myers has had a full schedule. Her office touches every area at Ohio University, and is truly a University-wide endeavor.
Ohio University Compass sat down with Myers to discuss her office’s duties and how the University can take small steps to help everyone on OHIO’s six campuses feel welcomed.
Compass: What does the Office for Institutional Equity do within Ohio University?
Myers: Institutional Equity is the civil rights compliance office. Ohio University is a public university and that means we receive federal and state funding, and are subject to federal and state equal opportunity laws. Institutional Equity seeks to ensure that the University is in compliance with those laws. We seek to ensure that qualified individuals have equal access to Ohio University’s educational and employment opportunities regardless of race, sex, age, religion, national origin, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression or veteran status.
Institutional Equity is responsible for creating our annual affirmative action plan, which documents our attempts to maintain hiring practices that provide opportunity and prevent discrimination in our selection of new employees. One way of preventing unlawful discrimination in our hiring practices is by ensuring each department’s compliance with our University Diversity Initiative, established by President McDavis in 2004. My office reviews each full-time hire to make sure we have met the goals of the initiative and that we have captured data about the hiring procedures used in the search.
Institutional Equity is the designated office to receive complaints of discrimination and harassment from students and employees. If complaints cannot be resolved informally, we investigate complaints from employees and students who believe that they have been harassed or discriminated against. We also work to help units on campus develop and enforce practices and procedures that promote equal access for all people to education and employment opportunities.
We work with all of OHIO’s campuses and a growing part of our workload involves outreach and consultation with the regional campuses.
How does your office work with departments and planning units across OHIO?
We provide consultation and training about our institutional policies and discrimination law. I hope to provide more outreach to help students and employees understand their rights and responsibilities as members of our campus communities.
I find it especially gratifying to be able to work with departments and offices to handle problems before they become serious enough that someone feels they have no option but to file a formal complaint. But, of course, sometimes that is the best way for someone to achieve resolution of a problem, and if it involves discrimination or harassment, we need to know about the problem before we can seek to resolve it. There is some uncertainty about what happens when a complaint is filed and we seek to help people understand what to expect.
We recently completed Title IX training for nearly all employees on all campuses. We’ve also teamed up with the Office of Legal Affairs and the Office of Disability Services to provide training about discrimination law and disability law. We train administrators and academic leaders with hope of enhancing their skills to diffuse difficult situations before they become disruptive to individuals and departments.
We’re here to offer comprehensive resolution of complaints of discrimination or harassment.
Many people are worried about accidentally offending a coworker or student. Do you have any advice on how to avoid these situations?
Civil rights laws recognize that we are human. We make mistakes and don’t always say the right thing the right way. For conduct to be discrimination or harassment usually requires that it be severe or pervasive (a pattern of behavior) that a “reasonable person” in the circumstances would believe seriously impacts the person’s ability to do their job or complete the requirements of their educational program.
Sometimes we have complaints of behavior that may be morally wrong, mean-spirited or just plain unfair, but it may not be discriminatory or harassing. Those situations are challenging because the person may not feel that there is a good way to resolve the situation, and Institutional Equity may not be able to investigate or recommend a way to resolve it.
Our role is not to be the thought police. We are here to remove barriers to access to education and employment. There is a high threshold for what constitutes discrimination and harassment, but when a person in a situation that feels harmful to them comes into our office, we try to find someone who can help them, such as University Human Resources or the University Ombudsman. Many issues are caused by miscommunication and misunderstanding rather than unlawful discriminatory treatment.
What is the most difficult aspect of your job?
One of the hardest parts of my job is when someone comes in with a concern outside of what I do. We do our best to connect them to offices or departments that might be able to help them, like the ombudsman or University Human Resources.
It is hard to turn someone away, so I want to make sure that they know that they have somewhere to go for help.
There is help available if you believe you’re being discriminated against or harassed. Reach out and talk to your superior or to someone you trust and seek out help from us.