Fostering Safe, Equitable, and Accessible Learning Environments

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A student threatens to punch another student. How should I react?

A student keeps emailing me with unwanted advances. How can I make her stop?

A student makes a racist remark during a tutorial. What should I do?

It is vital that you foster a climate of tolerance, respect and personal safety in your tutorial. In the Statement of Institutional Purpose, the University of Toronto affirms its dedication “to fostering an academic community in which the learning and scholarship of every member may flourish, with vigilant protection for individual human rights, and a resolute commitment to the principle of equal opportunity, equity and justice.“

RELEVANT UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO POLICIES & OFFICES

Key Policies:

The tri-campus Equity & Diversity Offices at U of T offer advice and support for work-related situations:

WHAT TO DO WHEN…

In all the examples below, make sure to always communicate with the Course Instructor, supervisor or University administrator about the situation and/or student.

A student is behaving aggressively: First, ensure your safety and that of other students. Stay calm and set limits by explaining clearly and directly what behaviours are acceptable. For example, you could say, “You certainly have the right to be angry, but using abusive language is not OK.” If the situation is escalating, contact Campus Police (416.978.2222 at St. George; 905.569.4333 at UTM; 416.287.7333 at UTSC) or Toronto Police (911). If you need advice, contact the Community Safety Office (416.978.1485).

A student or you are being bullied, intimidated or threatened: The Community Safety Office (CSO) provides assistance to those who are dealing with personal and/or workplace issues that impact their personal safety. The CSO will help you determine the level of risk associated with your safety concern and the need for intervention; the course(s) of action, as well as the next steps that you can take in response to your safety concern; and the types of support/resources available to assist an individual that you are concerned about.

A student is exhibiting signs of being in distress: You may notice one or several indicators that could suggest that a student is experiencing difficulty. Or you may have a gut-level feeling that something is amiss. A simple check-in with the student may help you get a better sense of her/his situation: “are you ok?” It is possible that a student exhibiting just one of the signs of distress is only having an off day. However, any single safety risk indicator (e.g., a student writes a paper expressing hopelessness) or a cluster of lesser signs (e.g., emotional outbursts, repeated absences, and noticeable cuts on the arm) indicates a need to take action to support the student. Do so outside the tutorial. Keep in mind two important things: (1) You should not be taking on the role of counsellor. (2) It is important to respond in ways that do not compromise anyone’s safety. If you believe that a student poses an immediate danger to her/himself, you, or others, contact campus police/Toronto police immediately. Check out More Feet on the Ground, a U of T educational website on how to recognize, respond, and refer students experiencing mental health issues. Make sure to consult the TATP Guide and tip sheet on Supporting Students in Distress: Guidelines for Teaching Assistants at the University of Toronto.

A student makes racist or discriminatory remarks: The Human Rights Code requires people to treat one another courteously, fairly, and with respect for individual values and preferences. Students have a right not to be exposed to hateful or discriminatory speech from other students, and you have a responsibility to make sure that your classroom is conducted in a respectful and inclusive language. If a student’s remarks are significantly inflammatory and intentionally offensive, you can tell the student in the tutorial that such statements are offensive and are not allowed at the University. If they are a result of thoughtlessness or incomprehension, it is better to speak with the student outside the tutorial. If need be, you can consult the Anti-Racism & Cultural Diversity Office, the Sexual & Gender Diversity Office, or the First Nations House.

A student is physically unwell: If this is a medical emergency, contact 911 or Campus Police (416.978.2222). Offer what help you can and direct them to resources: Health and Wellness Centre and Student Life resources.

A student is making unwelcome sexual overtures to you or another student: If you or a student in your tutorial is experiencing sexual harassment, sexual violence or sexual assault, you should immediately seek advice from the Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre (416.978.3908).

You are facing online harassment: If you get a message online from a student that upsets, annoys or frightens you, do not respond immediately. Your first reply to the sender should be a brief and courteous request to stop. If the unwelcoming messages persist, do not reply to them. Do not delete them—save them, and make a hard copy. Seek advice from the Community Safety Office (CSO) and the Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre.

A student asks for accommodation: Students with disabilities may receive accommodation from the University. They need to register with accessibility services on their campus. Course Instructors and TAs are notified with a request for accommodation and they can give the request consideration. For best practices around accommodations, visit Accessibility Services at St. George campus, AccessAbility Services at UTSC, or the AccessAbility Resource Centre at UTM. Consult Demystifying Academic Accommodations for further information.

You want to make your classroom accessible: There are many policies and practices that will benefit not only students with disabilities but all the students in your class. You can support your students by implementing accessible practices in your teaching listed at the U of T’s AODA Office website. The office also offers online training related to AODA. For best practices, you can also explore Students for Barrier-free Access; Council of Ontario Universities’ Accessible Campus; and University of Guelph’s Learning and Compensatory Strategies Inventory Checklist.

You require an accommodation from the University as its employee: The accommodation that you may have received as a student of the University is different from that which you may receive as the University’s employee. If you require an accommodation, contact Human Resources & Equity to discuss your situation. The Health & Well-being Services & Programs (HWB) supports U of T employees involved in sick leave, long-term disability, occupational health issues, workplace injuries, and workplace accommodation.