Work is underway to make Washington State University’s policy pertaining to discrimination and harassment easier to read, understand, and more accessible to faculty, staff and students system-wide.

It is known as Executive Policy #15, or EP-15 for short. On the surface, the policy seems simple. It prohibits discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual misconduct. However, dig deeper into what the policy covers, when and where it applies, who it impacts, and it becomes a lot more complex.

The call to make EP-15 more “user friendly” was initiated by students across the system a couple of years ago. They felt the university policy wasn’t clear on free speech and discrimination. That request led to the creation of five working groups to improve campus culture and climate, one of which focuses on EP-15.

Judi McDonald, past chair of the Faculty Senate and associate dean of the Graduate School, helps lead the EP-15 working group with Brandon Chapman, director of marketing and Communications for the College of Education, and Candace Chappelle, a doctoral student in the Department of Teaching and Learning.

Fair and robust process

McDonald said the first order of business has been to break down the long and complex policy into smaller, digestible parts. Chapman added that the language within those parts are being analyzed to minimize legal-speak and maximize understanding.

“One of our goals is to present information about discrimination and harassment in a way that is directly relevant to what role you play on campus—whether that be as student, faculty, or staff,” McDonald said.

Holly Ashkannejhad, director for the Office for Equal Opportunity (OEO), said the working group will provide her with suggested revisions soon and plans to begin the process of updating the policy this summer in collaboration with students, faculty, staff, Student Affairs, and Human Resource Services.

In her previous role as assistant director of OEO, Ashkannejhad oversaw discrimination, sexual harassment, and sexual misconduct investigations. She met regularly with students, staff and faculty. “I’ve had the opportunity to directly witness the impact these policies have on our community,” she said. “We take our responsibilities to have a fair, robust process seriously, but we also want the processes to be clear and user-friendly to our campus community.”

Expanding resources

McDonald said faculty leaders are asking how they can play a larger role in the educational process. Topics such as EP-15 are being discussed in the Faculty Senate and will continue to be during the next academic year under the leadership of Greg Crouch.

“We have a strong group of faculty who are saying we can do this–whether it’s adding information to our syllabi or assisting with student messaging that has very digestible information and is easy to get to,” she said.

Jhordin Prescott, who will serve as Associated Students of Washington State University (ASWSU) vice president next academic year, said she is pleased with the working group’s direction.

“I think it’s an amazing improvement from what we’ve seen in the past,” Prescott said. “The request to change EP-15 came from the students, so it’s awesome that the administration is listening to student voices and acting upon it.”

Prescott said ASWSU is poised to help spread the word about the resources once they are developed. They will play an important role in prompting more discussion about things like harassment and discrimination on our campuses.

“We need to have these hard conversations to be able to make progress,” Prescott said.

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