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UMass Announces Policy Against Faculty-Student Dating

The UMass Amherst campus.
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UMass Amherst in a file photo.

UMass Amherst has announced faculty and students may no longer be in a romantic relationship when one person has power over another.

Faculty and administrators at UMass had spent years discussing a policy on consensual relationships, but Eve Weinbaum, president of the faculty union, said few could agree on how strict it should be.

"Everyone has a story of someone who was a graduate student and ended up marrying her advisor," she said.

But when the #MeToo movement took off, Weinbaum said all sides agreed to ban relationships between faculty and students when there's a power differential.

"Even if a relationship is consensual, when there's great power dynamic, it's really hard to say what consensual means," said Weinbaum. "If you're working in a lab and your advisor asks you out, and you say 'yes,' is it really because you wanted to go out with him? Or is it because he controls your future?"

She said women in science and math feel particularly vulnerable, in part because there are fewer women in power in those fields to protect them.

Under the new policy, faculty can still date students they don't supervise, but those relationships must be disclosed.

Several other colleges in the region have similar policies; Smith, for instance, prohibits relationships between students and faculty or staff, while Hampshire College strongly discourages them.

Karen Brown is a radio and print journalist who focuses on health care, mental health, children’s issues, and other topics about the human condition. She has been a full-time radio reporter for NEPM since 1998.
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