“Amorous Relationships”

Posted anonymously to “Arizona University Watch” blog, November 27, 2010

Arizona State University’s policy on sexual harassment (Academic Affairs Manual article 402) is very clear defining its sexual harassment and “amorous relationships” policy – (amorous meaning, related to sexual desire):

The university does not prohibit fully consensual amorous relationships [but] even an apparently consensual amorous relationship, however, may lead to sexual harassment or other breaches of professional obligations, particularly if one of the individuals in the relationship has a professional responsibility toward or is in a position of authority with respect to the other, such as in the context of instruction, advisement, or supervision . . .

Should a person in power wish to engage in any more-than-friendship activity with a subordinate, the person in power must alert their superiors of the relationship, and all power the former has over the latter must be dissolved; anything else, according to the policy, is considered sexual harassment and a “violation of the law:”

Employees and students must be accountable for sexual harassment under applicable local, state, and federal law as well as under university and Arizona Board of Regents’ policies.  Disciplinary action by the university may proceed while criminal proceedings are pending and will not be subject to challenge on the ground that criminal charges involving the same incident have been dismissed or reduced.

The terrifying problem that I and my peers face is that we are thrust into an environment where most teachers are not even aware of the University’s amorous relationship policy–or if they are aware, they choose to ignore it. The problem is that victims are intimidated and will not come forward, because there is virtually nowhere on campus to report such incidents without the person in power being made aware of who is doing the reporting.

Anyone familiar with rape culture (an environment in which sexual harassment and the like are tacitly accepted and even encouraged) is well-aware that a system in which a victim has to brand him or herself as an accuser is not a just system—especially in cases where the power differential is so vast; if someone is in charge of your grade or your graduation, what incentive do you have to report them for wrongdoing?  If someone is hugely popular among students and other faculty, what incentive does one have to report “awkward,” weird,” or “quirky comments” that make a student very, very uncomfortable? And what does one do when comments lead to something more?

I have witnessed, first-hand, the damage that can be done when a person in power—a professor—takes advantage of a person with less power—a student.  Something needs to be done to prevent this from happening to anyone else.  Although rumors of law-violating amorous relationships have existed for years, nothing has been done to stop the perpetrators, both those in power who refuse to alert superiors, and the superiors who choose to turn a blind eye. No one should be thrust into uncomfortable situations, and no teacher should have the audacity to believe that he or she can get away with such abuse of power.

Update: As of July 2011 the “amorous relationships” policy has been separated from the “sexual harassment” policy. Language explaining how the uneven power dynamic between a professor and student can compromise consent has been removed. Current policy: ACD 401 Amorous Relationships.

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