Reporter 431, 15 February 1999

Experiencing harassment at work? You don't have to put up with it!

In 1995 the University devised a code for dealing with harassment and one of the key elements of the structure is the harassment adviser. During 1998 the code was revised and the harassment advisers are still there, but what and who is a harassment adviser and more importantly what can they do for you? Basically, for anyone who feels that they have been harassed or discriminated against, the harassment advisers are there to help to find a way through the various possibilities, to consider possible solutions and, once the alternatives have been identified, to help the person concerned to come to a decision about how they want to proceed.

Harassment advisers are independent of the university administration and are not answerable to a Head of Department or to the Head of Human Resources. We are able to draw on Human Resources for support, training and to feed our concerns back to the centre, but our independent status means that we can advise totally impartially. We are ordinary members of staff, drawn from academic, academic-related, secretarial and technical backgrounds, and we act in an entirely voluntary capacity. We are there for all members of staff and also for students (most students seek the help of the Student Union and we encourage students to use the Union, but we are available to students and can help them to decide just how they want to proceed) and we can advise whether the unwanted behaviour comes from a member of staff, from a student or some other person connected with the University.

We feel we are an under-used resource and we would like to know why. We have anecdotal evidence that some members of staff and students have problems that are never dealt with formally, and because of this there is considerable room for complacency about the scope of the problem. The University is a huge employer, the number of students here is vast and it is no secret that increases in workload can produce situations where bullying behaviour and attitudes can grow. In view of this it is vital that we all feel confident that harassment of any kind will be taken seriously, that problems will not be swept under the carpet and that complaints can be made in full confidence that this will not have any adverse impact on careers.

We are not miracle-workers and not every case has a straightforward solution, but even in the most difficult cases it usually helps to talk matters through with someone who is committed to hearing your story. Speaking to a harassment adviser is totally confidential and it will not commit anyone to any further action. A record of the contact is passed to the University anonymously so that statistics can be prepared to show overall trends, but for the person who decides not to take formal action the matter is solely between them and the adviser. We like to think of ourselves as a human face of the University when it comes to tackling this problem; it doesn't matter what the reasons might be for the harassment, sex, race or any other, and it doesn't matter how serious the unwanted behaviour is we know that even minor acts can have very damaging effects. We are here to help and anyone who feels they have suffered harassment need only be brave enough to pick up the phone; so don't suffer in silence.

Denise Aston - 3534 Sigma Ann Blair - 5047 Sigma Ruth Denton - 5366 Sigma Sarah Edmunds - 5708 Judith Hardy - 4151 Sigma Margaret Herbert - 3446 Sigma Clive Hudson - 2783 Linda Jenkinson - 2854 Sigma John Simacek - 234 7283 ext 206 Sigma Sigrun Trotter 2322

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