Posted on February 23, 2018
Recently, the Consensual Relationships Policy Committee has provided a revision of Cornell’s policy on romantic relations between students and staff. The difference in experience and power jeopardizes this type of relations, causing troublesome effects on a conversation within our workplaces, and escalating conflicts of interests.
At the same time, another aspect of relations remained undiscussed for a long time: romantic and sexual relations between students from the same workplace or department.
Graduate students move from their young adulthood to the complete professional realization. Thus, graduate students mature as they follow the course of study. Faculties include many additional activities for students, such as supervising, training and teaching undergraduate students, managing teamwork, and writing credentials. Big research groups often imply editing and reviewing proposals and articles. Usually, such groups consist of a complex hierarchical structure of assistants and students headed by a professor.
Despite such a complexity in professional relations, in sexual and romantic relations, students follow an unwritten principle: everything is possible.
It’s fair if students of the same department or from the same research groups or collaborations date each other, even if they have a considerable difference in age. Suppose two students (X and Y) participate in the same research headed by Z, who is a senior graduate student. Z starts dating X. How will this fact impact Z’s attention to the development of Y? How will the professional activity of both Y and X be impacted if Z and X break up? Another example: A new student D is hired by a professor B. Now D is dating A, who works in the laboratory next door. But previously he dated C who also is the B’s student. How the history of their relations will affect the professional collaboration of D and C? And let’s not forget that their professional development is funded by taxpayers.
On one of the online discussion websites, graduate students noted that it’s hard for other students who don’t participate in such relations to maintain good performance without being influenced by the peculiarities of such students’ intimate relationships. There are many possible scenarios of such relations, and only a few of them may cause a positive effect on the workplace that we are looking for at Cornell.
We have to admit the fact that many people find their spouse in graduate school, and that such relationships are often successful and long-term. This applies both to romantic relationships between students of the same department, and between students and staff. However, if these situations develop in the conditions of the same working group, they are almost always followed by conflicts of interest and other complications.
In areas with considerable gender imbalances, the problems caused by dating among graduate students in the same workplace are especially serious. The minority gender is often exposed to higher social pressure, including annoying invitations to participate in every kind of activity, unwanted attention from infantile or lonely people, or even sexual harassment. Obviously, each of these cases is always accompanied by a lot of rumors.
The ability to overcome such stressful situations may be useful for the development of leadership skills, but we have a limited amount of cognitive capacities which are affected by a dating culture among students. This phenomenon must successfully coexist with studying and professional growth that most students consider more meaningful in the context of their futures.
Recently, Mary Jo White, the former U.S. District Attorney, reported details of accusations of sexual misconduct in the University of Rochester. She noted that Professor Florian Jaeger dramatically changed his behavior during the period from his graduation to the Ph.D. degree, unquestionably blurring the boundaries between his social and professional life. Maybe it’s time to help students sharpen these lines for good.