Haas Take: Syracuse professor overlooks the dangers of faculty-student relationships


Ella Haas

Ella Haas, News/Opinion Editor & Podcast Supervisor

On Sept. 26, Syracuse University’s Daily Orange newspaper ran a story highlighting one professor’s stance that Syracuse’s ban on faculty-student relationships is a violation of women’s freedom.

     According to the Daily Orange, “Amardo Rodriguez, a professor in SU’s communication and rhetorical studies department of College of Visual and Performing Arts, argues in his essay (“Feminists Betraying Feminism to Restrict Faculty-Student Romances”) that the goal of faculty-student relationship bans, like restrictions on abortion, is to impede a woman’s bodily autonomy. 

     “Rodriguez also likens opposition to faculty-student relationships to that of same-sex and interracial relationships.”

     Rodriguez is wrong for multiple reasons. Faculty-student relationships aren’t always predatory by nature, with some even being initiated by the latter party – but a power imbalance exists regardless, not even considering the threat to a fair grading system.

     In these relationships, one person’s institutional advantage over another can be abused at any time. Even if the younger party threatens to report the faculty member, students often face social repercussions such as ostracization.

     What doesn’t help is the cultural influence vindicating these dynamics. Media like “Riverdale,” “Pretty Little Liars,” “Skins,” “Friends,” “One Tree Hill,” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” all depict romanticized examples of faculty-student relationships. 

     Masked as “forbidden” and “steamy,” these “affairs” are too often framed in sexy, glorified lights that tend to forget what they’re really showing audiences: statutory rape.

     It’s not only the student who risks a sort of safety when becoming involved with a faculty member. 

     Imagine a case of a student and a professor who enter a consensual relationship, only for it to end on bad terms – say the professor leaves the student for whatever reason. The spurned student might create false allegations framing their affair with the professor as abusive (they might claim they were coerced into sleeping with the professor), damaging the other party’s reputation and career for life.

     Consider the setting in which these bans are implemented. Were faculty-student relationships explicitly permitted at Syracuse, no doubt the school’s reputation would suffer even more so than that of a humiliated student or a falsely-accused professor.

     To place a ban on sexual and romantic connections of a faculty-student nature isn’t a violation of women’s freedom. Rather, these measures are a step taken to protect young people from being victimized by authority figures, the older party from false allegations, and the institutions from accusations of condoning statutory rape.

     Rodriguez’s claim that these relationships are an expression of sexual liberation is a thinly-veiled excuse in defense of the most arguably dangerous dynamic in academia. 

     In many ways, lifting a ban on these relationships would compromise everyone’s well-being, despite what Rodriguez and “Pretty Little Liars” want the world to believe.