University College London (UCL) has issued a policy prohibiting student and staff sexual relations.
The decision aims to protect against abuse of power and grooming. UCL is the first Russell group institution to implement a personal relationships policy.
The policy bans “close personal and intimate relationships between staff and students where the staff member has a direct responsibility for, or involvement in, that student’s academic studies and/or personal welfare”.
It instructs staff to “maintain an appropriate physical and emotional distance from students” and “avoid creating special friendships with students, as this may be seen as grooming”.
The policy was inspired by US Ivy League colleges such as Harvard, Princeton and Yale in their zero-tolerance approach towards staff-student fraternization.
To date only two other UK universities, Roehampton and Greenwich, have implemented a similar policy, with both banning relationships wherein the staff member has a direct reponsibility towards the student.
UCL’s behaviour and culture change manager, Kelsey Paske, states that the policy derived from “the need to recognise positions of power and power imbalances within higher education settings, and to help prevent abuses of power.”
“The decision to prohibit certain relationships was centred on protecting both students and staff,” she added.
Staff members at UCL must also declare intimate relationship with a student in the case of non-direct supervision. Lecturers who breach the policy will face dismissal.
In February 2019, the University of Edinburgh released a Policy on Disclosure of Intimate Relationships.
The policy states: “The University does not wish to interfere in the personal lives of its students or staff. Nor does it seek to prohibit intimate relationships between consenting adults”.
Whilst the institution maintains to recognise the risks when one party is in a position of power, the policy does not ban sexual relations.
Instead, staff are only “are strongly discouraged from intimate contact with a current student”.
In the case of romantic relationships, lecturers and pupils are merely encouraged to inform the institution.
Whether UCL’s recent action will encourage other universities to implement stricter policies across campuses remains unknown at this point.
However, statistics suggest changes are imminent. In a 2018 survey, The 1752 Group and the National Union of Students found that four-fifths of the 1,839 students interviewed viewed and described student-staff sexual fraternisation as “predatory”.
The 1752 Group’s Dr Anna Bull described, in an official statement, UCL’s ban as “a real wake up call to the sector to start to take seriously their responsibilities for keeping students safe from potential abuses of power by staff”.
Image: via ucl.ed.ac.uk