My Experience Filing an Informal Complaint Against an Instructor

An instance of racial insensitivity in the classroom drove me and a few peers to take action

(Kristen Frier)

Last semester I experienced racial insensitivity from an instructor that made me so uncomfortable that I skipped a few classes, ultimately affecting my grade.

None of this adheres to KPU’s policies regarding safety and diversity. I decided to file a complaint, but without the encouragement of one of my classmates, I never would have considered taking that step.

The racial insensitivity that took place was towards Black people and Indigenous people, two ethnicities I identify with. Throughout the semester there was pushback from myself and two other students about the insensitivity. Eventually the instructor apologized, and I accepted the first apology directed towards me after talking with friends about what had happened. But that wasn’t the only instance of racial insensitivity.

Later in the semester, when I was on vacation, other offensive comments were made. These sentiments carried over to two other classes.

Around this time, one of my peers was seeing an academic advisor when they mentioned what was happening in class. The advisor told her that she could make an appointment with the Associate Dean of Arts to move forward with filing a complaint.

The following week, we sat down with another student and the Dean of Arts to begin issuing an informal complaint. To do this, you complain about something or someone, and the person handling the complaint will speak with the individual being complained about. Afterwards, they come up with a solution to present to those who made the complaint. If the complainants accept the resolution, the complaint process ends there. If the complainants don’t accept the resolution, then the informal complaint becomes a formal complaint, which I did not pursue.

The complaint process, for me, was a good experience. When telling the Dean about our experiences in class he took notes without expressing bias or making excuses for the instructor. All he did was listen and try to understand what had happened. He even accommodated us by having another instructor mark our assignments that were still to be handed in for that course. I appreciated this, as the other students and I were very nervous about losing marks to an overly-critical, partial instructor involved in the complaint process.

When all parts of the investigation were finished, the Dean’s office contacted me and set up an appointment to conclude my complaint. In the follow-up meeting, which was scheduled at my convenience, we went over the initial complaint, what was done as part of the investigation, and the resolution that was decided upon. I felt the resolution was appropriate, so I accepted it and that was all.

According to Kwantlen Student Association Advocacy Coordinator John O’Brian, filing a formal complaint is basically the same process but in writing. What you do is write your complaint out and hand it to the supervisor of the person you’re complaining about so that they can start an investigation. Sometimes, depending on the situation, a human resources representative will get involved. After the investigation, a resolution is settled on and the complainant gets a letter thanking them for their complaint.

The Dean told me that if we wanted to make a formal complaint, the investigator would ask for all emails, the syllabus, and assignments outlines before interviewing other classmates about what transpired in class. Although my complaint was informal, other students were interviewed as a part of the investigation for my case.

Something to keep in mind when you file a complaint is what do you want out of it. This is a question commonly asked by investigators, according to O’Brian. When we were asked what our ideal outcome would be, I didn’t have a prepared answer, but one of the other people I complained with did. That suggestion was taken into consideration and was ultimately one of the resolutions for our complaint.

Students who want to make a complaint but need help or feedback can always ask O’Brian or an appointed KSA representative to come with them to any meetings about the complaint that take place. Additional information about filing complaints can be found on the KPU website under the policy AD2.

As a student, there are supports in place to help you feel safe and respected at KPU. Overall, I would highly recommend making a complaint if you’re feeling like your rights as a student are being infringed on. Even if you choose not to, fill out the instructor feedback honestly so that the instructor can be held accountable for their actions or classroom conduct.