Introducing Cedar College’s Harassment Policy

Cedar College has a zero-tolerance policy for bullying and harassment of any nature. Under the guidance of Ms Nighat Dad*, a renowned lawyer and a Human Rights activist, we have finally announced the official Harassment Policy for the Cedar community in January 2019.

Why?

The issue of harassment and bullying remains a universal concern. These problems can surface regardless of one’s age, location, and gender. Schools, workplaces, public spaces, and public transport — incidents can occur any and everywhere. These are the primary reasons why we have taken the initiative to be one of the first few schools in Pakistan to introduce such a policy for their student body and staff member — an attempt on our part to make sure that our college remains a safe space for all.

The term ‘harassment’ can be used in multiple contexts and can be applied to numerous instances in an individual’s life. Cedar’s reason to work on such a policy was to impart clarity of the legal definitions of harassment, as well as the correct protocol for reporting any kind of harassment. This means guaranteeing our students’ and staff’s safety, their mental and physical well-being, and serving as their guardians when they’re on school premises and engaged in school-sponsored activities. Therefore, this policy has emerged to eliminate any concerns associated to students, both girls and boys, be it around peers, admin members, or their own teachers. It has also been derived to set a legal and procedural structure in place for all affected individuals, and help them find an appropriate solution if need be. The intent of the policy is to ensure that our student body feels safe, and aware that Cedar is offering them an opportunity where they can express their concerns in confidentiality.

What?

On January 12th, all Cedar students attended mandatory sessions conducted by the Principal and Administration team to better understand the policy and their rights and responsibilities under its umbrella. Emphasis was made on how to proceed and lodge formal complaints. There was discussion on which appropriate and legal terminology one should use, and in what context, including legal terms and their meanings, such as “Respondent”, “Grievant”, “Consent”, “Harassment” and “Bullying.” A lot of stress was placed on maintaining respectful and courteous relationships with everyone on campus.

Students were also given important details regarding the legal system and procedures to report instances of harassment to the newly formed “panel” and “committee.” This committee will comprise of third-party and senior management members and will deal with cases brought forth in a “fair, timely, and confidential” manner. All members of the committee will practice impartiality.

“At any given time, at least one member of the Committee will be a woman and the third member will be an impartial individual from outside Cedar.”

The policy also explains both primary and secondary types of offenses as well as the disciplinary consequences that anyone involved will face, such as:

PRIMARY:

  • Bullying, Cyberbullying, Harassment and/or Sexual Harassment.
  • Falsifying a complaint or evidence leading to defamation of character.
  • Lying/deliberately misleading the investigation process.

SECONDARY:

  • Active assistance to a bully/harasser before, during or after the incident in question.
  • Failure to disclose information about the offense during an ongoing investigation.

Where it applies?

The decision to incorporate electronic media and its usage as a clause in the policy was due to the misuse of digital media today. Many students have previously voiced concerns of their private details and information being shared on digital media forums without consent, online bullying, or interacting with someone impersonating another individual. In this climate of freedom of expression, we are aware that setting rules and regulations may ensure that all Cedar students use these platforms responsibly and empathically.

Both students and staff members should keep in mind that every case or filed complaint will be brought forward and thoroughly investigated by the school and the designated committee. If the committee finds a flaw in their former decision, the will case will be reviewed by other members of the panel who may revise the verdict if evidence proves otherwise.

Another extremely important aspect of the policy is consent. Consent refers to the act or verbal acknowledgement of agreeing to something. We want our students to be informed about what constitutes as consent and the concerned situations and conditions. Since it is the basis of our Harassment Policy, we need them to be mindful of their words and actions pertaining to consent. It is essential that students grasp the meaning of this term, and begin to practise it in their daily lives. There is no coercion in consent.

How?

An official Form has been drawn up for both students and staff members which will initially be received and reviewed by the Principal, Ms. Aysha Sheikh. Incidents may also be reported to Senior management or faculty, enabling them to initiate the process through this form. A designated email address, wellbeing@cedar.edu.pk has been created where the student body can freely place their queries and concerns directly to the Principal.

Additionally, this policy covers grounds for those who have experienced and observed harassment. Therefore, whoever is listed down as “witness” on the form will be called forward for verification purposes. Those who falsify the situation or put forth false details and accusations, a primary offense, will face severe consequences. It is imperative that both parties involved in the incident maintain utmost confidentiality. Similarly Committee members, witnesses called upon must also do the same.

We also believe that support from our parent-body is absolutely crucial in order to push this policy forward. Since they play the pivotal role in their child’s everyday life and are the primary guardians for students, we remain hopeful that their support will help us tackle the issue of the student in question being a ‘minor’ as well.

Furthermore, the staff and faculty team at Cedar have also been advised to stay mindful of student activities on campus, and are required to take appropriate action, which include:

  • To report incidents of bullying or harassment that they are witness to or have become aware of, permissible by the Grievant (if applicable).
  • To come forward if called as a witness by the Committee.
  • To be honest and cooperative during the Committee’s investigation.
  • To refrain from protecting offenders due to personal reasons.
  • To refrain from retaliating against the Grievant, Respondent or the Accused.
  • To maintain the confidentiality and privacy as required of the process.

Lastly, Cedar College hopes that students, parents, and the Cedar team can work together to implement the policy firmly and ensure mental, physical, and emotional safety of all current and future members of the Cedar family. We remain determined to improve the wellbeing of our community, and hope that the introduction of such policies will encourage and empower all Cedar students.

*Nighat Dad heads the Digital Rights Foundation, Pakistan — a researched based advocacy not-for-profit geared towards ICT to support human rights, democratic processes, and digital governance.