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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Tempered radicals and porous boundaries: the challenges and complexities of anti-harassment work in Canadian universities Westerman, Marni

Abstract

Based on research involving an overview of 44 policies at Canadian universities and 21 interviews with anti-harassment practitioners across the country, this thesis explores the challenges faced by anti-harassment practitioners working with legally defined institutional harassment discrimination policies. Anti-harassment work at Canadian universities is complex because practitioners must negotiate institutional demands set out in policy as well as politicized demands from members of marginalized groups both inside and outside the institution. Interviews with practitioners reveal that their daily work in reactive investigation and mediation of complaints as well as their proactive work in educating campus communities may support the less powerful parties to complaints, rather than focusing only on limiting the institution’s legal liability. Therefore, although anti-harassment practitioners occupy a boundary role as defined by Fraser (1989), their work is not entirely “depoliticizing”. Practitioners’ identities, sense of marginalization, and commitment to activist politics contribute to their position as tempered radicals as defined by Meyerson and Scully (1995), helping to explain their commitment to both institutional prerogatives and to empowering marginalized members of the institution. The advent of neoliberalism has set the stage for the shift of discourses and practices away from those which value equity to those that underscore traditional divisions of power and challenge the demands of so-called “special interest groups’. This shift is underscored by concerns about “political correctness” that arise within institutional communities and the broader social context. Perhaps the most obvious of the changes relates to the shift from a focus on equity and human rights to what is termed the “respectful workplace model”. The inclusion of personal harassment issues in human rights policies shifts the focus of the policies to issues that are not tied to historical oppressions and can potentially deflect attention from the human rights component of these policies. The challenge is to move beyond a legalistic perspective regarding policy development and to consider changes in the broader social context that influence policy change and the work of anti-harassment practitioners.

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