College represents the final years of adolescence and the beginning of the “Odyssey Years”—a period of transition when fantasy, professional ambition and creativity are explored in a variety of contexts–Including sexuality. This expected exploration can lead to sexual relationships between faculty and students on college campuses, but these relationships are not without their psychological results. Dr. David Salvage, psychology expert, explores this growing trend.
Blurred morality and legality of on-campus sexual relationships between facility and staff complicate questions of unbiased treatment. While both parties are often consenting adults, the relationships—however fleeting or long-lasting—create conflicts of interest and raise questions of trust and equal treatment. Can a professor or tutor involved with a student ever be truly unbiased when it comes to evaluation or grading? How is this relationship dynamic perceived by other students?
Modern university campuses have seen an increase in the amount of relationships between professor and students, due, in part, to the increase in diversity on campus. Where past relationships might have included an older male professor and a younger female student, the ages of students spans a wider range, meaning tutor and student could be more demographically similar, which could make a relationship seem more culturally acceptable.
Morality and legality are also questioned when applied consent issues. The teacher-student relationship relies on a power dynamic that is often laced with erotic overtones. Can a student, the typically perceived less powerful role of the two, be able to enter a sexual relationship that might have otherwise been avoided if the roles were different? How can you remove that influence dynamic to determine if the relationship is truly consensual? And where is the line that defines sexual harassment?
Often, American universities require the relationship be disclosed to the institution at the outset. Other times, relationships are strictly and universally banned. But some faculty fear that these rules and regulations stifle the ability of a teacher to effectively instruct his or her students or of forming personal—non-sexual—relationships with students. The question remains, should universities define specific rules to address these relationships?
There is no comprehensive moral, legal, or pedagogical approach to these situations. Dr. David Salvage, MD, recognizes the need to assess and evaluate each circumstance individually, considering environmental, personal and circumstantial influences.