DISCHO supports community in challenging discrimination and harassment

04 April 2011

First established in 2001, the Discrimination and Harassment Office (DISCHO) serves as UCT's office of first report, advice and support with regard to all matters of discrimination and harassment on campus.

DISCHO's role has grown in scope over the years to incorporate policy work, policy implementation and education and awareness, as well as the training and deployment of Anti-Discrimination Advisors (ADAs) and Sexual Harassment Advisors (SHAs).

The latter are playing an increasingly important role in the unit's ability to manage cases effectively and create a better understanding of discrimination and harassment policies and procedures on campus, says DISCHO director Francois Botha.

The office is the first port of call for staff or students experiencing any type of discrimination or harassment, adds Botha. The case details are recorded, alleged transgressions are refered for investigation, and a support service (a SHA or ADA) is made available to complainants and respondents.

"The appointment of advisors to complainants and respondents helps facilitate the dispute and creates a neutral field of engagement," Botha explains. While some cases are handed over to local authorities, DISCHO's advisors continue to provide support services.

The office also provides a range of legal advice, trial assistance and organises Protection Orders in cases involving gender violence. It also runs disciplinary hearing preparation programmes, as well as workshops on a variety of issues, including masculinity, race and gender.

DISCHO recently trained its first cohort of Student Support Officers (SSOs). These student volunteers have been trained to assist with a range of student-related cases involving gender violence, such as rape and sexual harassment. During their training SSOs have become acquainted with the justice system and are equipped to support and accompany fellow students to the University Tribunal and/or the Magistrate's Court when needed.

Botha explains DISCHO utilises a complainant-centred approach to cases, particularly for cases of gender violence. The office provides a 24-hour support service especially for victims and survivors of sexual assault, rape and harassment.

"Since 2008 there has been a significant increase in reported cases across the spectrum of harassment as well as an increase in the number of mediations. This could be ascribed to the fact that people are more aware of their rights and the availability of recourse, and because of the revised policies related to sexual and racial harassment."

The increasing percentage of both students and staff making use of mediation services is encouraging, Botha adds. "This may be indicative of the need for a more creative and therapeutic approach to dispute resolution on campus."

DISCHO has been instrumental in designing the ADAPT programme - the Transformation Services Office's campus-wide initiative aimed at encouraging bridge-building and creating safe spaces for dialogue on a range of transformation issues (see article on the TSO).

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