Ombuds Office

The Ombuds Office is a resource for helping members of our community explore options for resolving problematic issues.

The Ombuds Office serves as an independent, confidential, neutral, and informal resource for faculty, staff, and student members of the Wellesley College community. 

The office assists in navigating workplace and living/learning community disputes and provides off-the-record guidance about policies, procedures, challenging issues, and difficult conversations.

The ombudsperson will listen carefully and work with individuals to clarify interests and goals, strategize about handling problematic situations, provide information about College policy, and assist with both written and verbal communication. She is also able to facilitate conversations. In all situations, she will seek processes and resolutions that are equitable to all parties.

If the parties request that a conversation be facilitated or a matter be mediated, with a goal of reaching an agreed-upon solution with the assistance of a neutral person, the ombudsperson can serve in that capacity. Additionally, the ombudsperson can provide mediation training to campus groups and committees.

The Ombuds Office will not identify its visitors or discuss identified concerns with anyone without the visitors’ permission, with two exceptions:

  1. If the ombudsperson determines that there is an imminent risk of serious harm to a visitor or another person.
  2. If the ombudsperson is legally compelled to do so via subpoena; then, and only then, will the matter not remain confidential.

The office abides by the Standards of Practice of the International Ombuds Association.

Please note that the Ombuds Office is not a substitute or alternative office for reports of sexual harassment, including sexual assault, which should be reported to the Title IX office: Kate Upatham at or 781.283.2451, Schneider Center 214. 

The Ombuds office is not a reporting authority and therefore is not considered “on notice” for purposes of reporting harassment, research misconduct, or any other allegations of legal and/or policy breaches. Therefore, confidentiality requests will be honored for any visitor who wishes to share information about sexual assault.

Ombuds - Content

Kathryn Bender
Location: Clapp Library, Room 301

Kathryn Bender serves as the ombudsperson for the College. A graduate of Meredith College, Columbia University, and Suffolk Law School, she has a deep understanding of dispute resolution in the college setting for all sectors of the campus. Kathryn has taught at the undergraduate, MBA, and law school levels, worked in student affairs, and served as in-house counsel at private and public universities. She currently heads her own dispute resolution consulting firm, which focuses on issues of conflict at colleges and universities.

Kathryn is generally available to meet with community members on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, or by appointment. She is available to speak to groups, classes, and others about any issue related to dispute resolution, communication, consensus building, and collaboration including offering training in meditation and dispute resolution skills.


The ombudsperson will listen carefully and work with individuals on various topics of discussion.

For many, the Ombuds Office will be a safe and confidential first step to addressing a problem on campus. For others, contacting the office may occur later in the resolution process of a concern.

The following are examples of some appropriate concerns that you may bring to the Ombuds:

  • Academic freedom; Apologies; Authorship
  • Cultural misunderstandings; Conflict of interest
  • Educational/professional integrity; Ethics/Whistle blowing
  • Favoritism; Fear of retaliation; Formal processes for resolving issues
  • Harassment; Health and safety concerns
  • Interpersonal difficulties; Incivility
  • Misconduct:  Professional, academic and/or scientific/research
  • Peer relations; Personality conflicts/meanness/incivility; Protecting your reputation
  • Responding to targeted and/or hurtful remarks
  • Sexual harassment (ombuds serves as a confidential resource, for reporting, contact the TitleIX coordinator)
  • Unprofessional conduct; Untangling a complicated interpersonal situation
  • Violations of College policy, procedure, values
  • Working conditions and concerns

Types of programs/workshops that can be provided:

  • Crucial Conversations 
  • Effective Communication
  • Joint Problem Solving
  • Resolving Individual and Group Disagreements
  • Creating a Climate of Collaborative Communication
  • Respect and Civility in the Workplace; Ending Abrasive Behavior in the Workplace
  • Giving and Receiving Feed-Back
  • Email and Conflict Escalation

Facilitation of Meetings is also offered, whether it is a facilitated conversation between two people or one of two or more groups.

Restorative Justice is an approach to healing where the accuser and accused have a discussion about how the accuser feels wronged and the accused offers apology/explanation/remorse for the wrong.

As appropriate, the Ombuds Office provides feedback to College officials regarding systemic problems and trends and publishes official annual reports for the campus community with general data regarding conflict areas and recommendations for change. These reports are prepared with data that protects the identity, specific issues and confidentiality of all visitors/departments.

For more information about the scope and guiding principles of the Ombuds Office, see the terms of reference

For a summary of office activities, see the report.

The ombudsperson is a resource for faculty, staff, and student members of the Wellesley College community.

The Ombuds will:

  • Listen to the visitor's concerns, answer questions, and provide information and referrals to help them explore options in order to resolve concerns most effectively
  • Explain college policies and procedures and the roles and functions of respective offices
  • Work with the visitor on improving communication skills to manage conflict more effectively
  • Provide management or leadership coaching to supervisors, department chairs, administrators, etc.
  • Facilitate communications between and among individuals or groups
  • Provide reports to campus leaders about systemic trends and general issues of ongoing concern
  • Refer visitors to appropriate offices for formal complaint resolution options
  • Serve as a resource to committees, groups and individuals for conflict and communication assistance
  • Make recommendations for institutional improvements
  • Mediate conflicts between individuals or groups (voluntarily)
  • Provide conflict management, communication skills, mediation, and other types of training.

The Ombuds will not:

  • Make decisions or findings of fact
  • Establish, change, or set aside policies
  • Offer legal advice
  • Offer psychological counseling
  • Participate in grievances or other formal processes
  • Investigate complaints
  • Serve as an agent of notice for the College
  • Serve as an advocate for any individual or department
  • Supersede the authority of other college officials
  • Testify in any formal proceedings on campus; testify in court proceedings unless subpoenaed 

Ethical tenets

The Campus Ombuds is a member of the International Ombudsman Association, and practices in accordance with its Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics. Other guidance is provided by laws and policies, especially policies promulgated by Wellesley College. 

The Ombuds follows four ethical tenets which are absolute and non-negotiable, and belong to the Ombuds Office rather than the visitor:


The Ombuds does not keep records for the College, and will not disclose the names or concerns of its visitors.  The only exceptions are when the Ombuds believes there is an imminent risk of physical harm or if a legal subpoena is received. The Ombuds, similarly, will not disclose the visitor’s department or program.


To ensure objectivity, the Ombuds is not aligned with any academic or administrative department. The Ombuds reports directly to the College President only for administrative and budgetary matters.


The Ombuds does not take sides in any dispute, but rather advocates for fair process and equitable results.


The Ombuds does not arbitrate, adjudicate, or participate in formal procedures. If a visitor would like to pursue a formal process, the Ombuds will direct them to the appropriate Wellesley College office. The Ombuds Office does not accept notice on behalf of the College.

The Ombuds Office keeps anonymous aggregate statistics of the types of concerns received in the office and periodically conveys perceived issues and trends to senior administrators. Again, this is done without disclosure of any individual, department, discipline and/or office to anyone.

Useful resources and insights from the ombudsperson


Ombuds Blog

This Ombuds Blog is intended to be a monthly installment of articles, musings, and observations about increasing social connectedness on campus and decreasing divisions among and between campus colleagues, whether they are staff, faculty or students. Its aim is to provide current content as viewed by the Ombuds on Wellesley’s campus and to encourage all to feel welcome to visit the office about any question about how to address a problem and/or navigate resolutions for that concern.

Just what is an Ombuds Anyway?

August 2019

The role of Ombuds is derived from the original Swedish ‘Ombudsman of Justice’ created by its Parliament in 1809. The intent then, and to some extent now, was to have someone who could address complaints by individuals against officials. Although having no decision-making power, the Ombudsman conducted investigations, made recommendations and worked to implement systemic changes. Today, there are ombudsmen (“ombuds” for brevity and gender neutrality) throughout society in both the public and private sectors–from government to health care institutions and from corporations to universities.

Here at Wellesley, we have an organizational ombuds who works with staff, faculty and students. Although the position reports to the President, there is never any ‘reporting of individuals or identifying incidents;’ indeed, there is never any questioning along those lines. The position is independent, confidential, neutral and informal. If there is any advocacy out of the office at all, it is for procedural fairness, equality, equity and transparency.

Individuals and groups who come to see the ombuds will often seek help with some type of conflict on campus and through sorting out potential options, coaching on techniques for how to deal with the issues themselves, and/or intervening at the behest of a visitor, the matters are often resolved favorably. Issues can range from one-on-one interpersonal communication problems to a report of policy deficiencies.

Ombuds see the entire campus–not just a sliver–and deal with complex issues that require careful listening and appropriate responses. In addition to this role as ‘helper,’ the Ombuds is able to report on trends, make suggestions for equitable improvements, and advocate for better functioning of all aspects of the college campus. Thankfully the Swedish role of “protector” has expanded both in function and world-wide.

It is an odd mix of responsibilities and authority. Wellesley is wise - along with quite a few other colleges & universities- to have the position of ombudsperson. Clearly the very existence of this role shows the administration’s respect and support for the well-being of its faculty, students and staff. The upholding of the International Association of Ombudsmen’s ethical standards reflects the College’s commitment to those high values.

Top Ten Reasons Why People Don’t Consult the Ombuds Office

September 2019

The office is utilizing, with a few changes, a great David Letterman-style top ten list created by the University of Iowa on “reasons why people don’t consult the ombuds office[1].” This is handy because it summarizes what the office does and hopefully encourages everyone on campus to contact the office either with an issue, to brainstorm possible solutions to a problem, or perhaps just to say hi.

Top Ten Reasons Why People Don’t Consult the Ombuds Office

10. I didn’t know that the Office of the Ombudsperson existed.

Wellesley College has had an Ombuds Office since 2008, and we work hard to get the message out about the office. Still, there are people on campus who don’t know we exist and don’t know we serve the entire College (staff, students and faculty). The office is in an out-of-the-way spot on the 3rd floor of Clapp Library, making it both private for visitors but also a little difficult to find! 

9. I don’t know what the Ombuds Office does.

People tend to think we only deal with major problems, but we are available to help with most issues[2] and we can help you sort through options, do role-plays of difficult conversations, help identify resources on campus that can assist you further, etc. Other services are facilitating conversations among 2 or more people, conducting trainings in mediation and navigating difficult conversations, and conducting mediations. Additional services are available, such as if a group wants to learn about restorative justice.

8. My issue is too small; the Ombuds Office only deals with crises.

We encourage visitors to call us early and often: the earlier the better and the smaller the issue the better, since we have a better chance of helping address matters that way. It’s true to the old-fashioned phrase “a stitch in time saves nine” and it is always better to get a matter straightened out early on.

7. Human Resources—or the Dean’s Office—or Title IX/Diversity—is already involved.

It’s great if you have already been working with an office on campus. If you feel like you could benefit from knowing about additional resources and/or if you would like to speak to a confidential, neutral office specializing in additional problem solving, you may wish to speak with us.

6. I should be able to solve this on my own.

Many people think they are being weak or ineffective if they reach out for a little assistance. However, it shows strength if you consult with others in order to fully understand options and resources. Additionally, we’re confidential: no one will ever know you called us.

5. I don’t believe the Ombuds Office is confidential.

You can believe it and you can trust us. We don’t talk with anyone about our visitors unless you give us written permission (exceptions: threat of physical harm to someone or requirements by court or law).

4. I don’t want the way I’ve handled the situation to be “second-guessed” or criticized.

We may refer you to policies, procedures, best practices, other offices, etc., but we’re not judgmental. Call/come by with anything, and we’ll help you figure out your options.

3. Once I call the Office of the Ombudsperson, the situation will be out of my control.

The situation remains in your control because the office will not take any action without our visitor’s permission; the exception is as stated above in #5.

2. I don't want to “air my dirty laundry.”

Sometimes merely talking about an issue—venting—helps a great deal. Using a neutral, confidential and impartial person as a sounding board can both help you feel better as well as assist you in coming up with ways to handle that “laundry.” We may find that one of your best options is for you to talk with a professional counselor to help you deal with handling serious issues.

1. I am afraid that my supervisor/department chair/RA will find out that I contacted the Ombuds Office and see it as breaking the “chain of command,” resulting in me getting in trouble.

Again, because of our confidentiality, no one will know we were contacted. Plus, this office is not even in a “chain of command” because it is an informal resource that does not advocate for anyone. Coming to the Ombuds Office is a good idea, whether it is at the beginning, middle, or towards the end of a problematic situation because it allows you to view it from 10,000 feet and gain a bit of perspective.


Hopefully now you know that you can consult with the Ombuds Office about practically anything, that it is confidential, neutral, impartial and equitable. Visit 301 Clapp Library, call x3385 or write Thank you for your time and we hope to see you soon.

[2] Except those that are prohibited by a collective bargaining agreement and those that require professional assistance.


The Ombuds Office Reflects the Values of its Organization

October 2019

An ombudsman’s office needs to be reflective of the values of the organization it serves. Values are principles, standards, and things that are considered beneficial and important. Recently, Wellesley engaged in a campus-wide process to identify and choose its most important values, and those values are:

Intellectual Discovery and Excellence: We believe in the transformative power of curiosity, learning, and teaching.

Gender Equality: As a women’s college, we have always been committed to gender equality as foundational to societal progress.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion: We affirm that diversity is essential to educational excellence, and we are committed to being a community in which each member thrives.

Connection and Community: We value the equal dignity of every member of the community and our sustained connection to one another, to our campus, and to our mission.

Empowerment and Social Change: We believe in the power and potential of our students and all members of our community to envision the world in which they want to live and to take action to make it real.

Integrity and Academic Freedom: We commit ourselves to high standards of personal and intellectual integrity, we embrace the principles of freedom and rigor in scholarly inquiry, and we assert the importance of holding to the truths such inquiry reveals.

By choosing these values, Wellesley stands for a fundamentally fair and intellectually rigorous campus community. Open communication and conflict resolution are fundamental foundations for these values. In its Terms of Reference, where the College articulates that it will support and respect the Ombuds’ Standards of Practice and all that they stand for, the above College values are incorporated into the fabric of the office, as seen below.

Confidential: As a confidential resource, the values of empowerment and social change may be energized. Visitors who aspire to improve their abilities to be change agents within the college can find in the Ombuds Office a secure space to verbalize these desires and a willing coach to assist them in discovering ways to do it.

Independent: Connection and community as well as integrity and academic freedom are ratified by the independence of the Ombuds Office. Since there is no one telling the Ombuds how to run the office and no one to report to (but for budgetary/administrative matters), community building and academic freedom can be reinforced and supported without fear of negative consequences.

Neutral/Impartial: Being neutral and impartial, the Ombuds Office will always support gender equality along with diversity, equity and inclusion. By never taking a position for/against one group, status, gender, choice or hierarchy, the Ombuds is able to support all visitors equally and fairly.

Informal: The informal nature of the Ombuds Office allows for intellectual discovery because it has the flexibility to explore many different options with visitors when trying to determine the next best steps in resolving whatever concern the visitor brings to the office. There is no formal “lock step” system and thus greater ability to “expand the pie” and think of creative options for bringing about better solutions.

The office is fair, safe, accessible and credible. It endeavors to deliver respect and good customer service for all; receive vital information; listen actively by reframing issues to make them comprehensible, manageable  constructive; provide and explain information; and help individuals and groups explore options and thereby seek to resolve issues. The Ombuds Office is proud of the fact that it reflects the values of Wellesley College and it will endeavor to live those values in its work with the campus community.

The Healing Benefits of a Face-to-Face Discussion

November 2019

When a problematic issue arises and tensions increase, the way in which we respond largely depends upon how those of us who are affected want the tensions to be handled. There are three ways to handle such problems. On one extreme, we may want to merely expose the problems and hope the tensions take care of themselves. On the other, we may want to make the tensions explode to a point where we expose the other parties and call them out with accusations and/or one-sided demands. The third route can be to raise the tension-heavy issues directly in a dialogue which is both respectful and substantive and end up with some tangible, meaningful and effective change.

It may not seem to be the easiest, this third route of dialogue, but it is the most positively effective one. It is a face-to-face exchange of ideas and/or opinions on issues, with a view of possibly reaching an amicable resolution. It allows the people to explore the matter together. If both people approach this dialogue with ground rules of respectful language and the purpose of finding a solution rather than merely venting or ripping someone apart, then the chances of a successful encounter will be multiplied.

These types of talks cannot only benefit specific relationships, but they can change your life. Many people fear having a difficult conversation because they may believe that they will lose the friendship, be the object of anger, cause someone else to be hurt, and/or be perceived as a bad person. However, when you have a truly good conversation— where you both show compassion and understanding—you and the other person end up helping each other grow.

If you are not accustomed to having these types of dialogues, you may want to practice them with someone else first. Practicing and learning phrases which can help begin such a conversation, how to stay centered, how to avoid taking things personally and thus becoming angry, and other pointers can help you be successful in these discussions. There are resources on campus to assist with these skills, such as for students the counseling center and others in Student Life, for employees there is EAP, and for everyone, you can visit the Ombuds Office.  

Once you gain familiarity with these skills, you will use them often and they will help you throughout life.

Can’t We All Just Disagree?

December 2019

I recently read a wonderful speech from 2017, reprinted in the New York Times, by journalist and news contributor Bret Stephens, on the Dying Art of Disagreement. He believes that disagreement is the most vital ingredient of any decent society.

In this article, Stephens makes the point that it’s vital that we listen to one another with an open mind and receiving ears and without the belief that the other person is wrong before they even have a chance to share their opinion about something. 

He writes that it is critical “[t]o listen and understand; to question and disagree; to treat no proposition as sacred and no objection as impious; to be willing to entertain unpopular ideas and cultivate the habits of an open mind.”

Here at Wellesley, we are in the perfect place to celebrate and demonstrate all that a liberal education has to offer. Where better can we learn about great ideas from past centuries to today, to have interesting conversations about controversial topics and speakers, to intellectually inform each other and consider alternative viewpoints? 

Stephens suggests that “to disagree well you must first understand well. You have to read deeply, listen carefully, watch closely. You need to grant your adversary moral respect; give her the intellectual benefit of doubt; have sympathy for his motives and participate empathically with their line of reasoning. And you need to allow for the possibility that you might yet be persuaded of what she has to say.” (I took liberties with the pronouns here, by the way)

We need to be a leader and an example of what a community of higher education can aspire to. We should not pre-judge, shut down, call out, or be self-righteous.  This is a safe, open, supportive and amazing environment where ideas ought to be enthusiastically shared without fear of reprisal. 

If someone disagrees with us, we should respond with an intelligent and respectful reply that begins with making eye contact and saying something like “I have heard your argument that X is the problem and that Y is the solution and there may be some merit to it; what I’d like to posit is that Z is the problem and A is the solution and here’s why …” This method of conversation is effective and allows for both sides to really listen to each other, acknowledge what they’ve heard, explain the reasons for their disagreement and either keep the conversation going or simply move on.  It is a far cry from harmful labelling and selfish lecturing.

As Stephens says, “Intelligent disagreement is the lifeblood of any thriving society … [and we need to] revive the arts of disagreement” so that we can reasonably and rationally converse WITH one another.

Our Strong Need for Emotional Intelligence

January 2020

Happy New Year, New Decade, New and Better Conversations.

This month’s blog will focus on the importance of emotional intelligence and why it is as important as intellectual intelligence. In fact, without emotional intelligence, we cause others to shut down and then our conversations are stalled, our relationships compromised and our effectiveness gone.

When responding to something someone has done or said, do your best to check your assumptions about it and pause a minute before reacting. Be aware of yourself and regulate your response to them.

One good 3-step practice is to reflect, advocate and test, as shared from Rick Ross’ Fifth Discipline Fieldbook in the Ladder of Inference:

  • Become more aware of your own thinking and reasoning (reflection, or reflective practice);
  • Make sure that others understand your thinking and reasoning (advocacy);
  • Ask questions of others about what they are thinking, and test your assumptions (inquiry).

As an example, you have scheduled a conference call with one person on campus and another who is off campus. All three answered yes to the meeting, format, etc., and there were follow-up communications about it. At the appointed time, you and the off-campus person came on the conference call but the on-campus person (let’s call her “Carol”) does not come on the call until 20 minutes later and when she gets on, merely says “Hi there, how’s the planning coming along?”

You might assume one of several things: Carol thinks she is too important/busy to join the call on time; Carol is rude and has bad manners; Carol is a jerk and should be dropped from this project immediately. A number of unpleasant things could result from this line of assumptions: you could destroy the project and/or the relationship with Carol; you might go on social media and blast Carol as being an awful person; you could even report Carol to someone with authority to negatively affect her life. The truth is that you don’t know why Carol was late and it could be that it was for a legitimate reason: a personal situation that she is unwilling to share; an illness that caused her to oversleep; an emergency.

To respond to this situation with Emotional Intelligence, you should directly and with true concern, ask her why she was late. Be sure that you do not do this in front of the off-campus person nor that you talk with that other person about Carol being late, as it never helps to vent by putting someone down.

You could ask Carol directly and calmly in person: “I’m just wondering why you were unable to be on time for our conference call today–could you let me know?” or “Hey, I hope everything is ok because I’m concerned that you were 20 minutes late for our call today.” Avoid texting as voices tell a lot. If Carol blows it off, you will have to decide how to appropriately respond. However, if she shares that she was unavoidably delayed and was too embarrassed to “own it” on the call, you would decide with her how (and if) to share this with the third person and then get clear about going forward.

Great sources of information are the famous books by Daniel Goldman, “Emotional Intelligence” and “Working with Emotional Intelligence.” He bluntly states that “out-of control emotions can make smart people stupid” and explains that both Personal Competence (self-awareness, self-regulation and appropriate motivation) as well as Social Competence (empathy for others and social adeptness to induce desirable responses in others) make up the Emotional Competence Framework.

The ability to manage emotions in ourselves and in our relationships allows us to utilize both parts of our brains and thus be successful, happy and engaged in our educational endeavors, careers, families and communities. There are many resources here on campus to help improve our emotional intelligence and making this a new year’s resolution just might be the best one you’ve ever made.