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Journal Article

Love or the "Lecherous Professor": Consensual Sexual Relationships between Professors and Students

Marcia L. Bellas and Jennifer L. Gossett
The Sociological Quarterly
Vol. 42, No. 4 (Autumn, 2001), pp. 529-558
Published by: Wiley on behalf of the Midwest Sociological Society
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4121132
Page Count: 30
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Love or the "Lecherous Professor": Consensual Sexual Relationships between Professors and Students
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Abstract

We conducted telephone interviews with twenty-five professors and students, or former students, who have been involved in consensual sexual relationships. We examined the extent to which respondents' experiences are consistent with "lecherous professor" stereotypes. We also assessed differences in the perceptions and experiences of professors and students, and how these may be influenced by gender, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, and undergraduate or graduate student status. Finally, we evaluated whether the experiences and perceptions of respondents suggest that these relationships should be controlled by institutional policies. We found little support for the "lecherous professor" stereotype based on our respondents' experiences. Two-thirds of the relationships were initiated by a student or were mutually initiated by student and professor. All students said they entered freely into these relationships. For many of our respondents, issues related to race/ethnicity, sexuality, and age brought greater challenges to the relationship than did the professor/student status difference. We found that negative reactions from others tended to be most extreme for those who crossed multiple status boundaries. Students, in particular, cited the power difference between professors and students as the greatest detriment in these relationships, although both students and professors tended to refer to power issues in abstract rather than personal terms. Although most students and professors said they would enter into such a relationship again, most advised others against doing so. Nearly all respondents thought consensual relationships were inappropriate in supervisory situations, and they supported institutional policies that prohibit them in such circumstances.

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