Hostile environment

U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, Racial Harassment Guidance (1994)

University of California Berkeley Campus
January 2005

Racially Hostile Environment:

Harassing conduct (e.g., physical, verbal, graphic, or written) that is sufficiently severe, pervasive or persistent so as to interfere with or limit the ability of an individual to participate in or benefit from the services, activities or privileges provided by the University creates a racially hostile environment.

Whether there is a racially hostile environment must be determined from the totality of the circumstances, and includes the context, nature, scope, frequency, duration, and location of racial incidents, as well as the identity, number, and relationships of the persons involved. The harassment must in most cases consist of more than casual or isolated racial incidents; generally, the severity of the incidents needed to establish a racially hostile environment varies inversely with their pervasiveness or persistence. In some cases, a racially hostile environment requiring appropriate responsive action may result from a single incident that is sufficiently severe, such as injury or threat of injury to persons or property.

Racial acts need not be targeted at the complainant in order to create a racially hostile environment (the acts may be directed at anyone). Moreover, the harassment need not be based on the ground of the victim's or complainant's race, as long as it is racially motivated (e.g., it might be based on the race of a friend or associate of the victim). Additionally, the harassment need not result in tangible injury or detriment to the victims of the harassment.

Once the University has notice of a racially hostile environment, the University has a legal duty to take reasonable steps to eliminate it. Moreover, the University can and should investigate and appropriately respond to individual racial incidents if and as they arise - regardless of whether any particular incident is severe enough by itself to establish a racially hostile environment under Title VI. By doing so in a timely and thorough manner, the University may prevent the development of a racially hostile environment. The appropriate response to a racially hostile environment must be tailored to redress fully the specific problems experienced at the University as a result of the harassment. In addition, the responsive action must be reasonably calculated to prevent recurrence and ensure that participants are not restricted in their participation or benefits as a result of a racially hostile environment. Examples of possible elements of appropriate responsive action include imposition of disciplinary measures, implementation of racial awareness training, and provision of counseling for the victims of racial harassment.