Asking for a Friend is a weekly Sex and Relationship column hosted by Arts and Culture writer Dana Sparks and fueled by your curiosities. Click here to anonymously submit questions regarding sex, relationships and sex education.
“I’m in a course with a GE I’ve had before. We’ve chatted during office hours and after class regularly and have a lot of substantial things in common. Can we date after this term? They may end up being my GE spring term, but I really, really like this person and I feel it is mutual. The age difference is only three years.”
Dear GE Joe or Jane,
I don’t think it would be a good idea to date a GE, even though you are close in age and have a lot in common. In fact, University of Oregon and President Michael Schill agree.
On January 30, 2018, Schill updated the policy banning student-faculty relationships, and two days later it was approved by the University Senate. It was made effective July 1, 2018, so it seems like this type of situation might be on the administration’s mind too.
Let’s break it down:
Section 2 (B) of the policy, called Conflicts of Interest and Abuses of Power: Sexual or Romantic Relationships with Students, might apply to your question in particular, as it addresses the relationship while the individual is not directly your teacher.
“A Relationship between a faculty member and a student outside the instructional context is a Conflict when the faculty member and student are in the same academic unit, or in units that are academically allied and the faculty member has the power to make decisions that may reward or penalize the student with whom he or she is in a Relationship,” stated the policy in section 2 (B).
In other words, dating someone that works in your department of study is considered a Conflict — with a capital C — to the university, even if they are not directly responsible for teaching you. This is because, as a staff member, they still have the ability to interfere with your success as a student.
Section 5 (B) states further that even if the relationship is consensual from both parties, it still remains a conflict of interest.
If this policy is violated, it could get really ugly.
Section 7 covers sanctions, or discipline, if someone is found guilty of violating this policy. Punishment begins with written reprimand (A), but might also result in a “reassignment of duties, reduction in salary, suspension without pay or dismissal” (B). I don’t know about you, but these looming consequences would stop me from being fully present or invested in my relationship.
I care deeply about my career because I consider it an extension of myself in the world. Initiating a relationship that threatens the professional investment I’ve made would have to be a very methodical and transparent move made with the institution in which I work.
The policy goes as far as defining “faculty,” “staff” and “supervisor,” to eliminate misinterpretation and loopholes that might have provided an opportunity for a student and GE to pursue a relationship without consequences.
The student-teacher dynamic is built on power and respect, in which the teacher holds power to keep classroom order. Romantic relationships are similar but need balanced power and mutual respect. I think that you’re putting yourself at risk by bringing the inherent power structure of a student-teacher relationship into a romantic one because their job as a teacher, and your responsibilities as a student, remain. Both positions can be negatively impacted or jeopardized by initiating a romantic relationship.
I can relate to the heart of this situation in my own way. A true connection with someone is something that is incredibly difficult to let go of and leave outside the workplace or classroom. It is genuinely agonizing — especially if it does not work out. Policy and power aside, I still can’t give you my blessing.
I wish I had better news, but sometimes it’s just not worth it.
P.S. It’s cuffing season, so maybe there is hope elsewhere.