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“It sends a message: You don’t sleep with other people’s children — whether they agree to do it or not — because you’re abusing your power,” Dziech said.
The American Association of University Professors stopped short of recommending a ban on relationships, but it sounded a similar warning, saying that professor-student romantic relationships can make voluntary consent by a student suspect because of the power dynamic.
Billie Dziech, a professor at the University of Cincinnati who has studied and written about relationships between professors and students, said policies about such relationships are evolving. “Institutions wouldn’t go near it, just wanted to avoid pushback from faculty. There are many institutions that have what I personally would describe as very weak policies. What Harvard and an increasingly long list of universities has done is to have prohibitionist policies.” Dziech said some policies have earned complaints from students who would say, “‘Oh, we’re grownups, we can choose with whom we have sex.'” She said Harvard’s decision was courageous.
They included contextual prohibitions, she said; “Professors can’t have sex with graduate students if they are teaching or supervising or evaluating them in some way. It just made sense.” “Nobody said, ‘You’re treating me like a child, trampling on my civil rights, I’ll have sex with whomever I please.’ That would be the only argument against it – that it’s paternalistic,” Johnson said.
Graduate students can’t have sex with undergraduates if they are teaching them or grading them in some way. “I like to think of it not as telling students who they may not have sex with,” she added, “but telling faculty who they may not have sex with.” A student anti-sexual-assault advocacy group, Our Harvard Can Do Better, responded with a statement that the ban is “a crucial indictment of unacceptable unequal-status relationships that have the potential to endanger students.
Harvard University’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences now formally bans sexual relationships between professors and undergraduate students.
That’s not because they think there’s all kinds of professor-student dating on campus: The professor who led the panel that wrote the policy said she has never heard of it happening, in years of studying and teaching at Harvard.