Helpful Definitions

Due to the sensitive and sometimes violent nature of incidents, the following definitions are provided for informational use by community members and for guidance in the investigation and processing of alleged violations. It is possible that a particular action may constitute bias, discriminatory harassment, sexual misconduct, etc. even if not specifically mentioned in these examples.

Age Discrimination: involves treating an individual, or group of individuals, less favorably because of their age. The Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) forbids age discrimination against people who are aged 40 or older. It does not protect workers under the age of 40, although some states have laws that protect younger workers from age discrimination. An employment policy or practice that applies to everyone, regardless of age, can be against College policy, if it has a negative impact on individuals, or groups of individuals, age 40 or older and is not based on a reasonable factor other than age.

Bias: prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared to another, usually in a way considered to be unfair. Bias can be influenced by a number of factors, can be either conscious or unconscious, and can be either explicit or implicit. Bias can be directed at individuals and/or embedded into practices, procedures, policies, and systems within institutions.

Bias Incident: any hurtful, discriminatory, or harassing action that one could reasonably believe targets an individual, group, or thing based on actual or perceived membership to a particular identity group. These groups include, but are not limited to protected classes as defined under RISD’s Non-Discrimination policy. Bias incidents are not required to be a crime under any state, federal, or local statutes, nor does it have to violate any College policies.

Coercion: the use of an unreasonable amount of pressure to initiate or continue sexual activity against an individual’s will. Coercion is more than an effort to gain consent, persuade, entice, or attract another person to engage in sexual activity. If coercion, intimidation, threats, and/or physical force is used, there is no consent.

Consent: RISD defines effective consent as conscious, informed, freely and voluntary given, mutually understandable words or actions which indicate a willingness to participate in a specific mutually agreed upon sexual activity.

Color Discrimination: involves treating an individual, or a group of individuals, unfavorably because of their skin complexion. This can also involve treating an individual, or group of individuals, unfavorably because they are married to, or associated with, a person of a certain color.

Dating Violence: violence committed by a person who is or has been in a social relationship, of a romantic or intimate nature, with the victim. The existence of such a relationship is determined based on the reporting party’s statement and with consideration of the length of the relationship, the type of relationship, and the frequency of interaction between the persons involved in the relationship. For the purposes of this definition, “dating violence” includes, but is not limited to, sexual, psychological, or physical abuse or the threat of such abuse. Dating violence does not include acts covered under the definition of domestic violence.

Disability Discrimination: occurs when an individual treats a qualified individual, or group of individuals, unfavorably because they have a disability. This applies to individuals who have disabilities, had disabilities, or are believed to have disabilities. This can also involve treating an individual, or group of individuals, unfavorably because they are married to, or associated with, a person who has, had, or is believed to have a disability. The law requires the College to provide reasonable accommodations to individuals with disabilities, unless doing so would cause significant difficulty or expense (“undue hardship”).

Discrimination: occurs when an individual or class of individuals is treated differently, either unfavorably or unfairly, based upon their membership or perceived membership to a protected class.

Discriminatory Harassment: verbal or physical conduct by a member of the RISD community based on protected categories listed in the College’s Non-Discrimination Policy that adversely affects a term, benefits or condition of an individual’s education, employment, housing, or participation in a College activity.

Disparate Impact: policies and practices that are neutral on their face but may have a disparate impact on protected classes.

Disparate Treatment: less favorable treatment of similarly situated individuals based on their protected class status (i.e. race, color, religion, religious creed, genetics, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, national origin, ancestry, veteran or disability status).

Domestic Violence: a felony or misdemeanor crime of violence committed by a current or former spouse or dating/domestic of the victim, by a person with whom the victim shares a child in common, by a person who is cohabitating with, or has cohabitated with, the victim as a spouse or dating/ domestic, by a person similarly situated to a spouse of the victim under the domestic or family violence laws of the jurisdiction in which the crime of violence occurred, or by any other person against an adult or youth victim who is protected from that person’s acts under the domestic or family violence laws of the jurisdiction in which the crime of violence occurred. To be considered domestic violence, the relationship must be more than just two people living together as roommates.

Ethnicity: a term used to categorize an individual or groups of individuals according to their cultural expression and identification. Commonalities such as racial, national, tribal, religious, linguistic, or cultural origin may be used to describe an individual’s ethnicity.

Gender: a social combination of identity, expression, and social elements related to masculinity or femininity. It includes gender identity (self-identification), gender expression (self-expression), social gender (social expectations), gender roles (socialized actions), and gender attribution (social perception).

Gender-Based Harassment: unwelcome conduct that is gender-based verbal, non-verbal, written online, and/or physical conduct that unreasonably interferes with, denies, or limits an individual’s ability to participate in or benefit from the College’s educational, employment, social, or residential programs.

Gender Expression: how an individual chooses to express their gender identity to others through behavior, clothing, hairstyle, voice, body characteristics, etc. Gender expression may change over time and from day to day, and may or may not conform to an individual’s gender identity.

Gender Identity: an individual’s internal sense of self. Since gender identity is internal, one’s gender identity is not necessarily visible to others. 

Harassment: unwelcome conduct, whether physical, verbal, and/or through the use of electronic means, that is direct or perceived to be directed at an individual or group of individuals because of their actual membership or perceived membership to a protected class. This conduct has the purpose or effect of interfering with the individual’s or group of individuals education or employment and creates a hostile environment, from an objective perspective, that is severe, persistent, or pervasive that it unreasonably interferes with, limits, or denies the individual or group of individuals the ability to participate in or to receive benefits of the College’s educational or employment programs and activities.

Hate Crime: Under Rhode Island state law, any crime motivated by bigotry and bias, including but not limited to threatened, attempted, or completed acts that appear after an investigation to have been motivated by racial, religious, ethnic, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or expression, or disability prejudice or motivated by prejudice against a person who is homeless or is perceived to be homeless (R.I.G.L.,§ 42-28-46, 1988).

Implicit/Unconscious Bias: social stereotypes about certain groups of people, which are not limited to ethnicity and race, that individuals form outside their own conscious awareness. Everyone holds unconscious beliefs about various social and identity groups, and these biases stem from one’s tendency to organize social worlds by unconscious categorizing. 

Incapacitation: a state beyond drunkenness or intoxication, and a person is not incapacitated merely because they have been drinking or using drugs. Incapacitation is not determined by technical or medical definitions. The question is whether a person has the physical and/or mental ability to make informed, rational judgments and decisions. Where alcohol or other substances are involved, incapacitation is determined by how the substance impacts that person’s decision-making capacity, awareness of consequences, and ability to make informed judgments. Because the impact of alcohol and other drugs varies from person to person, one should be cautious before engaging in sexual contact or intercourse when either person has been drinking alcohol or using other drugs. The use of alcohol or other drugs may create ambiguity about consent. If there is any doubt about either party’s level of intoxication, the safe thing to do is to forgo all sexual activity.

Although each individual is different, there are some common and observable signs that someone is incapacitated or approaching incapacitation, including but not limited to slurred or incomprehensible speech, unsteady gait, combativeness, emotional volatility, vomiting, or incontinence. A person who is incapacitated may not be able to understand or answer coherently some or all of the following questions: Do you know where you are? Do you know how you got here? Do you know what is happening? Do you know who you are with?

Intimate Partner Dating/Domestic Violence: actual or threatened physical violence, intimidation, psychological abuse or any other forms of physical or sexual abuse, within an intimate relationship, irrespective of the relationship length or gender of the individuals in the relationship, directed toward a partner in an intimate relationship that would cause a reasonable person to fear harm to self or others. For RISD, “intimate relationship” means marriage, domestic partnership, engagement, casual or serious romantic involvement, and dating, whether current or former. Intimate Partner Violence can occur between persons of any gender identity, any sexual orientation, and it can occur in any type of intimate relationship including monogamous, non-committed, and relationships involving more than two partners. Intimate Partner Violence can be a single act or a pattern of behavior. Intimate Partner Violence also includes, without limitation, dating violence and domestic violence as defined by the Clery Act. Intimate Partner Violence can take many forms. Examples include, but are not limited to, situations in which the following behaviors are directed toward a partner in a current or former intimate relationship: hitting, kicking, punching, strangling, or other violence; property damage; and threat of violence to one’s self, one’s partner, or the family members, friends, pets, or personal property of the partner.

Microaggressions: small, daily insults and indignities perpetuated against marginalized or oppressed people because of their affiliation with that marginalized or oppressed group. Microaggressions can be unintentional, subtle, and indirect; and are more likely to occur when people pretend not to notice differences, thereby denying race, ethnicity, gender identity and expression, sexual orientation, disability, religion, national origin, or any other aspect of identity had anything to do with their specific actions(s). Racial microaggressions: insults and indignities perpetuated against people of color.

National Origin Discrimination: involves treating individuals or a group of individuals unfavorably because they are from a particular country or part of the world, because of ethnicity or accent, or because they appear to be of a certain ethnic background (even if they are not). This can also involve treating people unfavorably because they are married to, or associated with, a person of a certain national origin. 

Nonconsensual Sexual Contact: any physical contact with another person that is of a sexual nature, without effective consent, including but not limited to: touching someone’s intimate parts (such as genitalia, groin, breast, or buttocks, either over or under clothing); touching a person with one’s own intimate parts; or forcing a person to touch another’s intimate parts. Nonconsensual sexual contact includes the Clery Act definition of fondling: the touching of the private body parts of another person for the purpose of sexual gratification, without the consent of the victim, including instances where the victim is incapable of giving consent because of age or because of temporary or permanent mental incapacity.

Nonconsensual Sexual Intercourse: any sexual penetration or attempted sexual penetration, however slight, of any bodily opening with any object or body part, by a person upon another person, that is without effective consent and/or by force (expressed or implied, violence, duress, menace, fear, or fraud); or when a person is incapacitated or unaware of the nature of the act, due to unconsciousness, sleep, and/or intoxicating substances. Intercourse includes: vaginal or anal penetration by a penis, object, tongue or finger, and oral copulation (mouth to genital contact, no matter how slight the penetration or contact.) Nonconsensual sexual penetration includes the Clery Act definition of rape: the penetration, no matter how slight, of the vagina or anus with any body part or object, or oral penetration by a sex organ of another person, without the consent of the victim, including instances in which the victim is incapable of giving consent; the Clery Act definition of incest: non-forcible sexual intercourse between persons who are related to each other within the degrees wherein marriage is prohibited by law; and the Clery Act definition of statutory rape: non-forcible sexual intercourse with a person who is under the statutory age of consent (in Rhode Island the age of consent is 16).

Protected Class: a group of people who share common characteristics who are protected from discrimination under federal and state laws, statutes, and College policies. Protected classes include race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, veteran status, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and genetic information.

Race: refers to the concept of dividing people into populations or groups on the basis of various sets of physical characteristics that result from a shared ancestry.

Race Discrimination: involves treating an individual or a group of individuals, unfavorably because they are of a certain race or because of personal characteristics associated with that race (such as hair texture, skin color, or certain facial features etc.) This can also involve treating an individual, or group of individuals, unfavorably because they are married to, or associated with, a person of a certain race.

Retaliation: consists of any adverse action taken against an individual, or group of individuals, for initiating or participating, in good faith, in the investigation of a complaint of sexual misconduct or discrimination. Engaging in this behavior is prohibited and may result in a further violation of College policy.

Religious Discrimination: involves treating an individual, or group of individuals, unfavorably because of their religious beliefs. This could also involve treating an individual, or group of individuals, unfavorably because they are married to, or associated with, individuals of a particular religion.

Sex: is separate from gender as this term refers to the biological assignment of an individual at birth. Sex is often used synonymously with gender; however, they should be defined separately to differentiate between biological sex and sociocultural sex.

Sex/Gender Discrimination: an intentional or unintentional act that adversely affects employment and/or educational opportunities because of a person’s sex, marital, or parental status, including pregnant and pregnancy related conditions, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or sex stereotype. Discrimination may be classified as either disparate impact (facially neutral practices that fall more hardly on one group than another and cannot be justified by business necessity) or disparate treatment (treatment of an individual, or group of individuals, that is less favorable than treatment of others based upon unlawful discriminatory reasons).

Sexual Exploitation: when an individual(s) takes non-consensual or abusive sexual advantage of another, for their own advantage or benefit, or to benefit or advantage anyone other than the person being exploited. This includes, but is not limited to: providing alcohol or other drugs to someone without that person’s knowledge, or unreasonably pressuring the person to consume alcohol or drugs, with the purpose of causing incapacitation in order for one to take sexual advantage of the person; recording, photographing, transmitting, or allowing another to view images of private sexual activity and/or the intimate parts of another person without effect consent; allowing third parties to observe private sexual acts without effective consent; voyeurism, including by electronic means; indecent exposure; or knowing or recklessly exposing another person to a significant risk of sexually transmitted infection, including HIV, without their knowledge. Sexual Exploitation also includes the unauthorized dissemination of indecent materials under Rhode Island General Law § 11-64-3: The unauthorized dissemination of a sexually explicit visual image of another person when the person intentionally, or by any means, disseminates, publishes or sells: (1) a visual image that depicts another identifiable person 18 years or older engaged in sexually explicit conduct or of the intimate areas of that person; (1) the visual image was made, captured, recorded, or obtained under circumstances in which a reasonable person would know or understand that the image was to remain private; (3) the visual image was disseminated, published, or sold without the consent of the depicted person; and (4) with knowledge or with reckless disregard for the likelihood that the depicted person will suffer harm, or with the intent to harass, intimidate, threaten, or coerce the depicted person.

Sexual Harassment: unwelcome sexual, sex-based and/or gender-based verbal, written, online and/or physical conduct that unreasonably interferes with, denies or limits an individual’s ability to participate in or benefit from the institution’s educational, employment, social or residential programs.

Sexual Orientation: an individual’s physical and/or emotional attraction to and desire to sexually or emotionally partner with specific genders and/or sexes.

Stalking/cyberstalking: engaging in a course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety or the safety of others, or to suffer substantial emotional distress. For the purposes of this definition, “course of conduct” means two or more acts, including, but not limited to, acts in which the reported party directly, indirectly, or through third parties, by any action, method, device, or means, follows, monitors, pursues, harasses, observes, surveils, threatens, communicates to or about a person, interferes with a person’s property, gives unwanted attention or unwanted physical, verbal or electronic contact, threatens by use of words and/or conduct, or any exhibits other course of conduct that is repetitive and menacing, directed at a specific person(s) which interferes with their peace, or would otherwise cause a reasonable person to fear for their safety; or safety of others; or suffer substantial emotional distress. Stalking can take many forms. Some examples of stalking include, but are not limited to: two or more instances of the following conduct (that also meet the definition of stalking above): following a person; appearing at a person’s home, class or work; continuing to contact a person after receiving requests not to; leaving written messages, objects, or unwanted gifts; vandalizing a person’s property; photographing a person; and other threatening, intimidating, or intrusive conduct. Stalking may also involve the use of electronic media such as the internet, social networks, blogs, cell phones, texts, or other similar devices (often referred to as cyber-stalking). Such conduct may include, but is not limited to, non-consensual communication, telephone calls, voice messages, emails, texts, letters, notes, gifts, or any other communication that are repeated and undesired.

Veteran Status Discrimination: involves treating an individual or a group of individuals, unfavorably because they are currently serving in uniformed services or are a veteran (former uniformed military service member). This can also involve treating an individual, or group of individual veterans unfavorably because of a disability, regardless of whether the disability is service-connected.

These definitions were compiled from existing resources and with credit to Merriam-Webster, Rhode Island State Law, The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Brown University, Ijeoma Oluo, “So you want to talk about race?,” The University of California, San Francisco Office of Diversity and Outreach, Verywell Mind, “The Difference Between Race and Ethnicity.”