Is this sort of scene what comes to mind when you think of professor-student relationships? Maybe that’s why so many universities have bans that forbid faculty from having sexual relations with students, especially after the Supreme Court ruling that universities should be financially responsible for sexual harassment suits. But in this week’s Food For Thought, our staff writer argues that the rationale behind these bans often manipulates a definition of consent that we should not be okay with condoning.
Universities…are rationalizing their policies with the “there’s no such thing as consensual relationships between professors and students” approach….The reasoning behind this approach commonly involves the power imbalance argument: if Sam has significantly more power than Alex, Alex cannot consent to having sex with Sam. Before addressing this flawed understanding of consent, I’d like to point out that this thinking suggests that power balance is required to engage in a consensual sexual relationship. Assuming that relationships require a balance of power in order to be consensual is unrealistic. Thanks to the wide spectrum of biopsychosocial factors that can contribute to power imbalances—such as an individual’s age, race, class, career, religion, gender, or even past dating history and sexual experience—perfectly balanced power ratios rarely exist within relationships. The possibilities for imbalances are endless and common.