Civil Rights and Responsibilities

In accordance with federal law and CNCS policies, VISTA members must serve in service environments that are free of discrimination and harassment. CNCS has a zero-tolerance policy for discrimination or harassment in all national service environments based on any of the following groups: race, color, national origin, sex, age, religion, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity and expression. VISTA members should not experience discrimination or harassment as a result of contact with sponsor and subrecipient staff, supervisors, other VISTAs, clients, and volunteers. All sponsoring organizations and subrecipient sites are responsible for ensuring that all VISTA members assigned to them are not subject to discrimination or harassment during their terms of service.


Discrimination is treating people differently because of who they are, where they come from, or the groups they belong to. Discrimination in a VISTA service setting is illegal when it targets a person or group based on such non-merit factors as race, gender, or religion, also known as protected classes. The Corporation for National and Community Service defines protected classes as the following:

  • Race, color, or national origin
  • Sex/gender
  • Disability (physical or mental)
  • Age
  • Religion
  • Political affiliation
  • Gender identity and expression
  • Sexual orientation

Illegal discrimination targets a person or group because of a difference and singles them out for different treatment. It can happen to anyone and may be a one-time occurrence or part of an ongoing pattern.


Illegal harassment is severe and/or pervasive verbal or non-verbal communication relating to an individual’s gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, or any other non-merit factor that interferes with a VISTA’s performance and/or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive service environment. Harassment can consist of spoken or written words, images, or actions and can happen to anyone. It includes but is not limited to:

  • Explicit or implicit demands for sexual favors
  • Pressure for one’s company
  • Unwelcome, persistent letters, phone calls, emails, or other media
  • Distribution or display of offensive material
  • Offensive looks or gestures, physical encroachment, or threatening behavior

Sexual harassment creates a hostile, intimidating, or offensive service environment and prevents a VISTA from serving effectively.

Sexual harassment can include, but is not limited to:

  • Spoken words or unspoken actions
  • Annoying or uncomfortable behavior
  • Activity that happens over a period of time

Complaint Procedures

 VISTA members who believe they may be subject to discrimination or harassment as described above are advised to first bring it to the attention of their sponsoring organization, if feasible. If, because of the circumstances, it is not feasible to do so, the VISTA member should contact the Equal Opportunity Program (EOP) at CNCS Headquarters in Washington, DC. EOP is the CNCS program dedicated to and charged with reviewing and investigating claims of discrimination and harassment made by service members, including VISTA members. Claims not brought to the attention of EOP within 45 days of their occurrence may not be accepted in a formal complaint of discrimination. No one can be required to use a program, project, or sponsor dispute resolution procedure before contacting EOP, and if another procedure is used, it does not affect the 45-day time limit. EOP may be reached at (202) 606-7503 (voice), (301) 577-7134 (TTY), or