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Dealing With Conflict

The Graduate School (TGS) realizes that conflicts occasionally arise and we have created the following chain of communication guidelines for managing different types of conflicts:

Conflicts Not Involving Discrimination, Harassment or Sexual Harassment

When a conflict arises, whether with a student’s advisor, a fellow student or someone else in the University, TGS recommends that students first talk to their Director of Graduate Study (DGS).  One function of the DGS is to address student concerns and grievances and to be available when students are experiencing academic difficulty. If a student is unsure who his or her DGS is, please review our Program Contact List or contact TGS.

If the DGS has a conflict of interest, the Chair of the student's department is the next resource. In the case that a student cannot, or does not, want to speak with anyone in the program or department, the next resource is TGS. TGS’s Associate Dean for Student Affairs handles student conflict issues and works directly with the academic school Associate Deans and faculty, as needed. 


DGSs, department chairs, TGS staff, and TGS Deans can treat students concerns confidentially unless the concerns involve sexual harassment, discrimination or a safety issue, in which case they are obligated to report the issue to the appropriate University office.

Discrimination and Harassment


Harassment, whether verbal, physical, or visual, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, parental status, marital status, age, disability, citizenship or veteran status is a form of discrimination. Discrimination and harassment complaints should be referred to the Office of Equal Opportunity and Access

For additional information, please see the University’s Nondiscrimination Policy.

Sexual Harassment


It is the policy of Northwestern University that no member of the Northwestern community — students, faculty, administrators, staff, vendors, contractors or third parties — may sexually harass any other member of the community.

For information or assistance regarding a sexual harassment complaint, please see the University’s Sexual Harassment Policy

Graduate Expectations Document

The Graduate Education Expectations Document has been ratified by TGS, TGS’s Administrative Board, the Graduate Faculty and the Graduate Leadership Council (GLC) as a guide for student-advisor relations. This best-practices document is intended to be posted on all TGS academic program websites to inform students of the procedures to follow to resolve conflicts.

Since 2008, the GLC Annual Survey has found an increasing number of students experiencing student-advisor conflicts—which may be due, in part, to a lack of communicated expectations.  TGS and the GLC are confident that this document will help students and advisors create positive relationships that guide  departments toward achieving academic success. 

Safe and Healthy Learning Environment

Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine believes that an effective learning environment is one in which all involved are treated with respect. Discover how we foster a safe and healthy learning environment and provide student support resources.

Additional Resources