Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

April 18, 2017

GPSA Debates Student-Professor Sexual Relations

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The Graduate and Professional Student Assembly continued its discussion on Resolution 14 regarding sexual relationships between students and individuals who hold academic power over them, and ultimately voted to table the resolution until next meeting due to unresolved concerns.

To move the resolution forward, a GPSA delegation had spoken with the Student Advocacy Committee, which had internal disagreements about the resolution on the grounds that it did not involve the entire graduate student body in its creation.

“The disagreement hinges on whether this is enough of an ethical issue that we do not need the overwhelming mandate of the student body because this is a matter that affects a small minority of students, or whether because we are attempting to bind ourselves to this … we do need to take it to them and get their approval,” said Anna Waymack, grad, who proposed Resolution 14.

As of now, Waymack said that the SAC recommended that the GPSA “ask for the creation of a working group over the summer to write [its] own policy, which [it] would then ask the Faculty Senate to approve.”

Members of the GPSA had mixed feelings about this proposition. Some believed that this was an issue regarding the right of students to have an equal opportunity to succeed academically with regard to their peers.

“I think this is absolutely a rights issue [that doesn’t require a majority vote of the student body],” said Casey Franklin, grad. “By saying that these relationships are allowed, then you’re automatically saying somebody has an unfair advantage [academically] based on the sexual interest of someone who’s in a position of power.”

Others believed that it would be easier to carry out the resolution if the GPSA could show that it had strong support from the graduate student body.

“The faculty senate … would be much more willing to support a resolution, support action, if they knew it had grad student backing,” said Iian Smythe, grad.

Another issue discussed by the members present was a clause saying that the GPSA would hold the graduate student body to the standards proposed in the resolution banning student-instructor relationships.

“It came up last meeting that we have some situations where grads are grading grads who they are in romantic relationships with,” Waymack said. “A lot of us may be implicated in this if we are asking to ban these relationships [immediately].”

But other GPSA members believed that the graduate student body should lead by example, since Resolution 14 originates from the GPSA.

“Should we not take the moral high ground in doing what we preach?” asked Aravind Natarajan, grad. “Everything that applies to a faculty-[graduate] student relationship also applies to the same relationship that a T.A. would have with an undergraduate student.”

However, Nathaniel Stetson, grad, points out that the crux of the matter is in asking faculty to regulate their own behavior, and that graduate students are in the middle of this hierarchy in that they can be subjugated by faculty but hold power over undergraduates.

“What we’re asking for here is that we’re asking faculty to govern their behavior toward students in a way … that we can’t make them do,” Stetson said. “It seems right now that we are in the position of supplicants. We are asking the faculty to bind themselves, and as far as I can tell, nobody can make them bind themselves [but themselves].”

Waymack agrees with this viewpoint, stating that she sees the communication between students and faculty as one of the biggest hurdles in regulating student-instructor relationships.

“The well-meaning faculty do not see the problem, not out of any deliberate blindness, but because they are not in a position to see it,” Waymack said. “Because of the nature of these ethically-compromised relationships, most of them are underground.”

Waymack said that many graduate students in questionable relationships are pressured to keep quiet to avoid repercussions from the faculty members involved. As a result, many faculty members mistakenly believe that most of these student-instructor relationships are healthy due to underreporting.
“The people who are most harmed [by these relationships] simply leave academia,” Waymack said.