College Senate recommends maintaining current Sexual and Amorous Relations policy

 The SUNY administration asked its campuses to consider adding a policy to explicitly prohibit sexual or amorous relations between students and faculty. The College Senate voted in its Tuesday Dec. 5 meeting to express that Geneseo’s policy, which “prohibits” relationships between students and faculty or staff who have a direct professional relationship and “strongly discourages” relations between students and any other faculty or staff member, is better than strictly prohibiting all relationships between students and professors or staff members.

The 31-8 vote does not represent a formal change to Geneseo policy, but simply expressesthe college’s opinion to SUNY.

The college already created Consensual Sexual and Amorous Relationships policy in 2005, shortly after an alumna alleged that professor of history Emilye Crosby had engaged in an improper relationship with her when she was a student. Therefore, the college assessed its own stated policy in comparison with SUNY’s proposal.

President Denise Battles explained what SUNY asked of Geneseo’s administration.

“I just want to clarify that this isn’t actually a vote that would change our policy,” Battles said at the Senate meeting. “This is what SUNY asks us to do: ‘Each SUNY campus and system administration should consider a prohibition against any sexual or romantic relationships between faculty or staff and undergraduate students … and report its opinions …’ So, it’s not a change.” 

Some faculty senators who spoke against changing the policy felt that it would create extra unnecessary restrictions on both faculty and students. Faculty members also questioned whether changing the policy would prevent perfectly healthy relationships between consenting individuals who did not have a power imbalance.

Those who supported the SUNY initiative to explicitly prohibit any relationship between students and a member of the faculty or additional staff felt that allowing SUNY to prohibit relationships fully would provide too much restriction in circumstances that may be complex.

College Senators who felt that the prohibition on all relationships between students and staff believe that the power imbalance will exist even if the individuals aren’t in a direct student-teacher environment.

“I voted [to recommend the prohibition] because I think that the power dynamic between any faculty or staff member and student on campus is so severe that the student can’t really consent to that type of relationship,” College Senator junior Scott Williams said. “If [you] have a teacher anywhere who’s older than [you] or who has a strong role in the college, you might feel like you can’t say no because they have that power.”

Williams understood some of the critiques of the prohibition, but he believed that the possible benefits outweigh the drawbacks.

 “I think the idea of SUNY policy not always directly influ encing Geneseo policy is good,but I think in this case it’s such a sensitive topic,” Williams said. “When it’s a sensitive issue, having a SUNY directive saying you shouldn’t form relationship with students when you have that power dynamic is really important because it would’ve protected a lot of students from entering uninformed or bad relationships.”

SUNY will proceed to accept opinions from different campuses and administrations until Jan. 2, 2019, according to Battles. Depending on what campuses respond, SUNY may make a determination to implement a SUNY-wide directive relating to this issue.