Grooming refers to a series of behaviors by abusers to ensure that victims and people around them accept abuse as normal and desirable. ASU professors have been known to groom and sexually abuse students for decades. ACD 402 exists to protect students from faculty abuse, but students and faculty do not receive training on this policy.
Researchers and mental health professionals agree grooming follows a pattern:
- Identifying and targeting vulnerable victims
- Blurring boundaries and gaining trust
- Isolating and fostering secrecy
Although grooming is typically discussed within the context of child and adolescent sexual abuse, established grooming patterns have been observed among several professors at ASU and Barrett Honors College over the past decade. College students are legally considered adults, but the part of the brain that makes decisions and controls impulses does not fully develop until age 25 and many neuroscientists say most people do not reach full adult development until age 30.
In addition to drastic age differences, students are especially vulnerable because of the power a professor holds over a student’s academic career and quality of life on campus. Even when students believe they can consent to relationships with professors, their ability to give true consent is undermined by asymmetrical power and the consequences students must weigh — consciously or unconsciously — when deciding whether or not to engage romantically or sexually.
ASU policy bans relationships between professors and students over whom professors have or could be expected to have academic power.
The grooming process at Barrett starts in mandatory first-year “Human Event” seminars and often progresses to Study Abroad trips, teaching assistantship, and thesis direction. Professors outside Barrett have also been known to groom and sexually abuse students.
Identifying and targeting victims
Sexual predators look for victims they can easily manipulate. Honors students are especially vulnerable because of the reverence they tend to have for their teachers’ approval and the importance they place on academic status. Barrett professors have behaved flirtatiously in class and targeted students they believed were physically attracted to them. Barrett professor Eric Susser targeted female students other students felt had crushes on him.
“Dr. Susser seemed to target a female student for special attention in class. His behavior seemed flirtatious to me, because he was constantly complimenting or teasing her in front of the class, and he did not give other students this kind of attention.”Anonymous student, Title IX complaint (2014)
Barrett professor Jacquelyn Scott Lynch also targeted a student she knew had a crush on her, and created a dangerous power dynamic by inviting that student to be her teaching assistant, a pass/fail course for upper-level Honors credit the student needed to gradate.
Blurring boundaries and gaining trust
ASU professors have blurred professional boundaries by communicating with students via text message and online, and by drinking alcohol with students. Barrett encourages close relationships between students and professors, and professors use intimate “Human Event” classroom settings and mandated office hours to obscure the necessary boundary between teacher and pupil.
Barrett professors Joel Hunter, Eric Susser, and Jacquie Lynch all made romantic and sexual advances during office hours.
“During office hours Dr. Susser would sit with his thigh pressed against mine with his arm around my shoulders, or take his shoes off and play footsies under the table. In class he discussed the benefits of a relationship where the young mentee could learn from their mentor both sexually and professionally.”Anonymous student, Title IX complaint (2014)
Professors who behave inappropriately with students are often known as the “cool teachers” because they lack boundaries. Dr. David Conz was nicknamed “Dr. Beer”/”Professor Moonshine” and led a popular ASU course where he taught students to brew their own alcohol; his contract was not renewed after a student reported him for providing alcohol to an underage former Human Event student he was dating (he later tried to kill her). Dr. Lynch told her first-year students she believed the drinking age should be 18, and is known for not having boundaries. She offered to buy underage students alcohol and provided alcohol to underage students at her home in the United States.
“Jacquie is admired by her students for creating a ‘fun atmosphere’ and because she ‘doesn’t put up a barrier between teacher and student.'”Your Online Frat House
On a Barrett Study Abroad trip to Europe in 2008, students were required to invite each professor over separately and cook them dinner. Many of Dr. Lynch’s students were under 21 and drinking alcohol for the first time when she brought them a bottle of limoncello, which has an alcohol content of 24-32%.
Dr. Lynch behaved flirtatiously towards students on Barrett Study Abroad—putting her hand on a student’s face, giving students piggyback rides, putting her arms around a student’s neck while talking about kissing him, taking off her clothing and putting it on a student’s head, and dancing inappropriately with both male & female students. Students on Lynch’s Study Abroad trip the following year “were openly told that we weren’t as ‘cool’ as last year’s group” because they didn’t want to go out drinking with her.
“Dr. Lynch referred to me many times over the trip as ‘the young John Lynch [her husband].’ She told me that I was one of the worst dancers she had ever seen and proceeded to try and teach me how to dance by placing her hands on my hips and guiding me along.”Anonymous student, Title IX Complaint (2014)
“As she was pouring shots down my throat and feeling me up at the bar, she started telling me that she would like to make out with students, but she can’t because the administration is watching. … She said, ‘different people have different types of marriages,’ and she pointed a bunch of random people that she would make out with. Later at the dance club Dr. Lynch danced with me with her back pressed against me and her hand in my hair.”Jasmine Lester, State Press & Title IX Complaint
Abusers gain victims’ trust and lower their inhibitions by showing interest in their interests and personal life. Both Dr. Hunter and Dr. Lynch showed interest in their victims’ interests to gain closeness: Dr. Hunter taught Harry Potter classes and Dr. Lynch taught RENT because they knew their victims were interested.
“When [Dr. Lynch] asked me to be her teaching assistant I was uncomfortable because of sexual tension between us. When I expressed hesitation she leaned forward over her desk so that I could see the bra she wore under her blazer, and told me she’d been ‘thinking about [me] and my interests.’ She told me she had never seen one of my favorite musicals and wanted me to help teach it. She also promised to see my other favorite musical with me when it came to town.”Jasmine Lester, Title IX Complaint (2014)
Dr. Hunter sent inappropriate emails and text messages to the student he was targeting, and other ASU professors have used late-night emails, text messages and messages on social media to test how far they can push boundaries with students.
Dr. Hunter had a habit of taking female students on dates to lunch and parks near campus, in one instance taking a student to a park instead of to back campus without telling her.
Professors outside Barrett, like School of Transborder Studies professor Marivel Danielson, also blurred boundaries by communicating with her thesis student via email about outings to gay/lesbian bars and house parties.
Isolating and fostering secrecy
College students are often outside their comfort zones and away from support systems. Professors have already isolated their victims by encouraging inappropriate verbal and/or physical conduct during office hours and off campus away from others. Dr. Lynch isolated her sexual harassment victim by taking her to different bars away from the group of students, and suggesting that the victim “remove herself” from her best friend.
By this point in the grooming process the professor has built a strong enough relationship with the student that the student is less likely to consider the relationship abusive. Even if a student does recognize the abuse — which is unlikely because ASU provides no training to students on power and consent — the bond with the professor often prevents the student from reporting for fear of consequences for the abuser. Dr. Lynch guilted her victim, saying she would not be able to feed her child if her behavior was reported. Dr. Hunter’s victim also worried about his job.
“I felt like I had to protect him and was worried that getting help would jeopardize his job. So I suffered in silence and the pain grew worse and I almost killed myself.”“Jane,” Fox 10 News (2014)
A greater culture of secrecy and apologism exists at ASU, where administrators silence complainants to protect ASU’s reputation and ASU faculty voice resistance to the policy banning them from romantic and sexual relationships with students. Thanks to survivor-led activism faculty sexual abuse at ASU gained local and national media attention. SDASA’s 2014 federal Title IX complaint lists 11 Barrett professors for inappropriate conduct with students, some professors serial offenders. Five of those listed, including Dr. Lynch, still teach and lead Study Abroad trips at Barrett.
Sign our petition to protect students from Barrett faculty predators, and share this page so students know the red flags and early warning signs of faculty sexual abuse.
ASU’s priority is to protect itself from negative media attention and lawsuits. If you or someone you know is being groomed or abused by a professor, contact us for support and to learn about options.
- Maturation of the adolescent brain. – Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment
- Scientists say adulthood doesn’t really begin until age 30. – Earth News
- History of ASU’s student-teacher dating policy
- ACD 402: Romantic or Sexual Relationships Between Faculty Members and Students – Arizona State University Academic Affairs Manual
- Title IX Complaint against Arizona State University & Barrett (2014)
- Alumna travels to DC to speak about ASU sexual harassment – State Press
- Hot Professor of the Moment: Jacquie Lynch – Your Online Frat House
- ASU probes relationships between students and faculty – Fox 10 News
- Barrett, the Honors College at ASU, Is a Close-Knit Community; Some Say Too Close – Phoenix New Times
- Faculty votes to restrict teacher-student dating – USA Today
- Stages of Sexual Grooming: Recognizing Potentially Predatory Behaviors of Child Molesters “Journal of Deviant Behavior
- Adolescent Maturity and the Brain: The Promise and Pitfalls of Neuroscience Research in Adolescent Health Policy – Journal of Adolescent Health
- At What Age Is The Brain Fully Developed? – Mental Health Daily