Discourse / Editorials / October 23, 2014

Thoughts from the embers: Stand for students, reform policy

Knox markets itself as a place where individuals can thrive and become part of a larger, more meaningful community. Overall, we as an editorial board see this vision emulated in many aspects of campus life, but we must also be wary of places where our community is threatened due to leftover policies of a backwards era.

Currently, much attention has fallen on Knox’s adherence to Title IX standards, as it rightfully should. We are choosing to use this space to address a portion of Title IX compliance brought up at last week’s faculty meeting. When President Teresa Amott presented the school’s loosely defined amorous policy as a topic of discussion, a few different views seemed to emerge. There is only one true option for the Knox community.

Many do believe that the administration should outlaw relationships in which one person has academic power over another (as is the case in numerous situations where TAs, professors, advisors and staff might be involved romantically with a student), but feel so only for the sake of Title IX regulations. This dismissal completely undermines the underlying reason why our policy might be outside of compliance in the first place. The issue is that of the individual students who are left in a vulnerable position when these types of relationships occur.

Currently the policy states: “It is the responsibility of a faculty member or teaching assistant to avoid such relationships and to remove himself or herself from any position of supervision or evaluation of a person with whom he or she has an amorous relationship.”

Yet the policy goes on to state that adults are free to pursue consensual relationships with whomever they choose, having already noted the “inherently problematic” nature of student-faculty relationships. With Knox’s culture of friendship with professors and advisors, it is not uncommon for students to engage with their professors frequently outside the classroom. However, these amiable relationships, rightfully free of undue administrative restrictions, are far different from romantic involvements which need clear and concrete restrictions to protect our students.

Thus, under the current policy, relationships between class takers and class teachers are “strongly discouraged,” but the college recognizes that adults can make their own decisions regarding who they enter relationships with. Additionally, if a faculty member enters into one of these “inherently problematic” relationships, then he or she is responsible for removing him or herself from any position of “supervision or evaluation” with the faculty member’s significant other.

 This policy is problematic. The same professors involved in these relationships that supposedly “blur motives and intentions” are given the responsibility of monitoring the relationships in which they are taking part. This takes us right back to the core issue of students being left vulnerable to emotional manipulation and abuse due to the power their significant other has over them academically.

It can be difficult to imagine these types of upsetting relationships taking place at Knox. That, however, is no reason not to put a clear message in writing: romantic relationships between professors and students are not tolerated. By the same reasoning, this restriction must be extended to all others with academic power over students, including limited-time positions such as teaching assistants. The new policy must therefore factor in a way for any members of the Knox community entering positions of academic power to certify that they understand the restrictions of their romantic involvements.

Knox is built on the relationships of people within the community. There is no greater threat to the stability of these relationships than a policy that passively allows for the development of potentially manipulative interactions to occur. In order to protect students and professors, there is little choice but to prohibit romantic relationships between the two.

TKS Editorial Board

Tags:  amorous policy change faculty meeting Knox reform romantic relationships Students Teresa Amott

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