What You Can Do About Inequality on Campus

College and university campuses are often seen as bastions of progressive perspectives. Inequality and bigoted views, however, persist at U.S. postsecondary institutions. Learn what students can do to confront prejudice and discrimination on campus.

By Douglas Fehlen

student groups equality college

1. Become familiar with university policies and applicable laws.

Most colleges have policies that explicitly prohibit discrimination and harassment on the basis of gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, disability or religion. These provisions are in addition to state and federal laws that offer protections. Know the rights you and campus peers have so that you can stand up for them.

2. Speak out against bigoted views and actions.

Whether it is you or another person who is the victim of discrimination or harassment, voice your opposition to the behavior. Letting bigoted comments or actions go without remark is tacit approval of them. Speaking out, on the other hand, can help make the campus more accepting and fair for all people.

3. Document any abuses you observe.

If you or another person are harassed or discriminated against, record what has happened. Documentation can be especially important when bringing claims of harassment or discrimination against a peer or faculty member. Note details about the abuse, when it happened and the names of those who witnessed it.

4. Consider reporting offenses to college officials.

Your decision on whether to report an incident of mistreatment will likely depend upon the nature of the event. While sternly rebuking an offending individual may be adequate in some circumstances, more serious incidents should be referred to university officials for further investigation.

5. File a complaint in response to university inaction.

If you file a report of harassment or discrimination and your college fails to follow up on it, you should consider filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. This government body can confront campus injustices that are left unaddressed by a college administration.

6. Consider filing a lawsuit.

If you are the victim of harassment or discrimination, you may wish to file a lawsuit against your school. Colleges are responsible for providing a safe environment where all people have equal opportunity to succeed. If an institution fails to provide such an atmosphere, it may be legally culpable for an incident.

7. Contact the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The ACLU aims to protect the civil rights of U.S. citizens. The organization can be one place to turn if you don't feel incidents of campus discrimination or harassment have been adequately addressed. The ACLU is often a co-complainant on lawsuits filed by individuals who have experienced mistreatment.

8. Identify yourself as an ally.

Make it known that you support groups of people who are routinely harassed or otherwise mistreated on college campuses. Be open and vocal with friends and acquaintances about your disapproval of discrimination and prejudice based on race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion or disability.

9. Become a campus activist.

Find a way to actively address bigotry on campus. Participate in a Day of Silence to raise awareness about discrimination against those who identify as GLBTQ. Participate in Take Back the Night events to protest sexual violence. Organize a teach-in about institutional racism. There are countless ways to make your mark.

10. Utilize campus resources.

Tap into available resources at your institution that can be useful in your activism. Many schools, for instance, have student clubs devoted to ending racism, sexual violence, homophobia and other forms of prejudice and discrimination. Join with other students at your school to make the greatest positive impact on campus.

Learn about the long legacy of student activism on college campuses.

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