Staff editorial: Romantic relationships between students and professors are problematic

Franklin College does not have a policy on student-professor romantic relationships. Does this mean that students should engage in relationships with their professors (or vice versa)?

Probably not the best idea.

Dean David Brailow said in an interview with The Franklin earlier this semester that there is a “very clear understanding by the faculty” that relationships with students are not acceptable, but also notes that there is a lack of a formal policy.

While undergraduate students older than the age of consent (which is technically 16 in Indiana, but is 18 in The Key, the college’s student handbook), are considered adults and are fully capable of consenting to a relationship with someone older, it is necessary to be cautious before doing so.

Having a relationship with an older random person and having a relationship with an older professor are two different things. A random person doesn’t, for example, potentially have control of your grades. The same power dynamics between you and a random person are also not at play as they would be between you and a professor.

A professor’s job is to teach students. Power is granted to them to both control the learning and teaching environment within their classrooms, as well as to determine the grades student receive, which can play a significant role in a student’s overall success. If a professor and student entered into a relationship, even if it is considered consensual, the student’s success (and psychological well-being) is jeopardized.

Saying this is not to discredit any FC professors or say that they are incapable of impartiality or “good” judgment. Rather, it is to address the issue that exists when a relationship is formed between any people of differing places of power. A professor in this instance is no different than a boss: both hold higher positions of power than students (or employees at a job).

When a professor (or other faculty member) and a student are involved in any way, it is the responsibility of the professor to be, for lack of a better way to put it, “the adult.” If a situation reaches a questionable point where sexual advances are made — even if by a student — the professor should ultimately be the one to stop it.

Do students have their own agency to make their own decisions, actions and responses? Yes. Do we have a right to make mistakes and derive meanings and lessons from them? Yes. But in these situations, the power is ultimately out of our hands. We cannot foresee how the situation will affect us in the future, and it’s likely not a risk worth taking. It’s very easy to think, “Well, if ‘x’ happens, I will do ‘y.’” But it’s impossible to know how any situation will go until it is actually happening.

On the flip side, if someone is adamant that a relationship between a professor and student will and must absolutely happen or the entire universe will collapse on itself, consider waiting until after graduation. By that point, feelings may have either subsided or may be stronger than ever. Either way, there’s more room for a healthy relationship to form and grow outside of the realm of school.

So, will Franklin ever decide to adopt a formal policy? Maybe in time. Harvard just announced its formal ban of sexual relationships between faculty and undergraduates in February, according to NPR.org, and, while there are not many schools with formal policies, more may begin to adopt them.

Students of Franklin College, what’s most important is that you do what’s best for yourselves and your community, whatever that means to you. As with any decision, about relationships or otherwise, consider all the factors involved and make sure to take care of yourself.

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About Ashley Shuler 1253 Articles

Ashley Shuler is the executive editor of The Franklin. She has held various multimedia journalism and public relations internships, including positions at Indianapolis Monthly, The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and Dittoe Public Relations.

When she isn’t staying up late to edit stories, Ashley spends her time boutique shopping and drinking as much vanilla Coke as possible.

This is Ashley’s third year in a leadership role and her fourth year on The Franklin staff. She previously held positions as web editor and news editor.

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