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Editorial: New relationship policy on track but questions remain

Published: September 14, 2012
Section: Editorials


We were happy to read President Lawrence’s letter detailing the university’s official policy on faculty/staff-student relationships this week. The policy seems very straightforward, which is a good thing: Romantic or sexual relationships between students and their professors or administrators with direct authority over them are completely inappropriate. The university is quite right to note that these situations create a dangerous inequality. Even consensual relationships destroy the environment necessary for a student to be fairly evaluated, appreciated and educated.

The policy does, however, appear to come out of the blue. There has been no publicly recorded incident of a problem arising from a consensual faculty-student relationship. It is heartening that the university is clear on their stance, but it currently lacks necessary context.

The administration should now provide a proactive implementation to accompany the welcome policy announcement. Students in pressured and unfair relationships that may appear consensual at first are unlikely to feel empowered enough to speak up without a lot of encouragement.

And even more importantly, students or other community members who are victims of non-consensual sexual advances and contact can feel especially vulnerable. Even with the new guidelines released in Rights and Responsibilities that appoint a Special Examiner to oversee cases of sexual assault, students may not know where to take their complaints and concerns. Should a victimized student first contact Community Standards or Student Life or Human Resources if the complaint involves faculty or staff, or go straight to university police?

Brandeis has gone to great lengths to make known its disapproval of unequal relationships and condemnation of sexual harassment. We should be willing to go even farther to make sure these policies are implemented, with students not only aware but confident that their concerns can be addressed quickly and ably. Knowing that the university wants there to be no sexual wrongdoing is one thing. But for students and staff who encounter sexual harassment or inappropriate relationships, they need a central point of contact that will help them navigate the entire complaint and reporting process.

We don’t doubt that the resources are in place. We just think students need to be more aware. The administration could start by increasing its outreach and context for these policies by creating a central point of contact for students, faculty and staff.