BY MELISSA JOHNSON ’20
Mount Holyoke faculty have joined together to create a campus-wide policy prohibiting all romantic relationships between faculty and students. Pre-existing faculty-student relationships must also be disclosed to the College under the new policy. Mount Holyoke joins a growing number of institutions in updating these policies, including, the UMass, Amherst, which recently announced an immediately effective policy barring all faculty-student relationships on its campus.
According to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, “The [UMass Amherst] policy prohibits those sexual relationships when a faculty member has any responsibility for supervision, evaluation, grading, advising, employment or other instructional or supervisory activity related to a student or post-doc. Faculty must report any previously existing relationships to their immediate supervisor and remove themselves from those responsibilities if possible.”
Smith College, Amherst College and Hampshire College already have similar policies in place.
According to Mount Holyoke campus spokeswoman Keely Savoie, faculty at the College have voted to draft a new policy on faculty-student relationships and are expected to vote on that new policy very soon.
Vice President for Student Life and Dean of Students Marcella Runell Hall said of the impending policy, “The last time this was discussed [was] over 20 years ago. At the time, the sort of pervasive thinking was that students were adults and could make their own decisions about their relationships. However, regardless of the ability to consent, there is an inevitable power dynamic that is inherent in all of these relationships.”
Hall added that even if a student who is involved with a professor would not be negatively affected by an intimate relationship, there could be repercussions for the student’s friend or roommate interacting with that professor in the classroom.
The policy is a faculty-led initiative, and campus staff have separately come together to create their own staff-student dating policy. Although the staff-student policy is not as far along in the development process, faculty and staff are engaging in conversations to ensure that both policies are very similar to one another.
Students opinion about the policies is varied.
Julia Leland ’20 is in support of the policy. “I don’t think there should be intimate relationships between students and their professors. I think it creates a power imbalance that isn’t healthy either in a relationship or an academic setting,” Leland said.
Some students think the regulation is unnecessary. Maddy Berkowitz-Cerasano ’18 is against the policy. “I think that as long as the relationship has two consenting adults and that there are other policies put in place to protect both the student and faculty member in the event that the relationship should end, then it would be acceptable,” Berkowitz-Cerasano said. “I think allowing such a policy [prohibiting relationships] would provide the College with too much control over students and faculty.”
Ultimately, Hall believes that the goal of the policy is to protect both students and faculty members inside and outside the classroom. “I absolutely support this policy,” Hall said. “The health, well-being and safety of students is my number one priority.”