the sentence that did very bad things to an institution

OR: Why plain language that can only be interpreted correctly matters in SOP writing.

Read this sentence:

Discrimination and Harassment

The fundamental objectives of this University policy are to prevent discrimination and harassment on grounds protected by the B.C. Human Rights Act, and to provide procedures for handling complaints, remedying situations, and imposing discipline when such discrimination and harassment do occur.

Okay, it makes it clear at the sentence level that this document *only* covers discrimination and harassment that are both related to protected characteristics, right? I mean, only a fool would read it any other way.

Now, read it this way:

Discrimination and Harassment

The fundamental objectives of this University policy are to prevent harassment and discrimination on grounds protected by the B.C. Human Rights Act, and to provide procedures for handling complaints, remedying situations, and imposing discipline when such discrimination and harassment do occur.

It’s a completely different read. Remember: this was supposed to be an academic policy under the Officers in charge of their campuses’ academics. The director on leave told me I couldn’t file a case of discrimination against the university because discrimination is only against protected characteristics and harassment is only against unprotected characteristics.

And the Discrimination Policy absolutely did not cover harassment.

But if the quote had been written the second way, it must be read as harassment (based on unprotected characteristics) *or* discrimination based on protected characteristics. But the first way as written just rolls off the tongue better.

But then someone looked for ways to convert the discrimination AND HARASSMENT policy to just a discrimination policy — with no students involved in the process. Non-employee students require outward-facing protections to be outward facing.

I completely understand it would have been hard to see the error without looking at it in hindsight. But this is why someone should have trained UBC to know the spirit of institutional policies matters as much as their letter. No Officer should have gone looking for past mistakes to excuse mistakes currently being made.

But because “harassment” was only linked to “based on protected characteristics” by an English linguistic preference, it was read as a hard AND not the AND/OR that’s obvious in its second reading.

I may make more than my fair share of typos, but I choose my words carefully. The person who wrote the policy in 1995 or 1996 did not.

What, still don’t believe me?

Fine.

For the current paragraph to be grammatically correct, it would have to be changed to:

The fundamental objective[] of this University policy IS to prevent discrimination and harassment on grounds protected by the B.C. Human Rights Act, and to provide procedures for handling complaints, remedying situations, and imposing discipline when such discrimination and harassment do occur.

I have never seen such an invisible error before.

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