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Motion banning student-staff relationships spreads across JCRs

A motion banning relationships between staff members and any students over whom they have responsibility is being discussed in many JCRs. The motion states that such relationships “raise issues, relating to inequalities of power in a relationship, or perceived favouritism, or the undermining of trust in the academic process” and urges JCRs to appoint representatives to lobby their colleges for reform.

The motion also urges colleges to set up a concrete policy banning relationships of this nature, outlining unacceptable behaviour and disciplinary action. It gestures to the St Hugh’s Policy on Prevention of Sexual Assault as an example which prohibits staff from “engaging in romantic or sexual relationships with students with whom they hold any such teaching, professional, or pastoral responsibility”.

This legislation does not apply to members of the Decanal Team due to Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights but members are urged to consider “potential conflicts of interest”. Some taken issue with the motion on this basis, seeing St Hugh’s definition of sexual harassment as too expansive. It includes “any sexually-orientated conduct, including “joking”, “banter” or innuendo” and “display of sexual materials, including on a computer screen, for reasons other than genuine academic endeavour”.

Lady Margaret Hall’s JCR has passed the motion this week while Regents Park’s JCR passed the motion with emendations, shifting from support for a ban to “a college-wide reform of the policies regarding romantic or sexual relationships between staff members and students with whom they hold any such teaching, professional, or pastoral responsibility”, as well as to appoint student representatives to “communicate and collaborate with college to put in place a policy that will work for and benefit all parties”. The original motion aimed to appoint student representatives to “communicate” the request for a ban.

St Peters, Lincoln, Magdalen and Balliol have all also been approached with this motion, although Balliol is not running JCR meetings at this time.

It Happens Here, an Oxford SU group aiming to end sexual violence on university campuses, is encouraging this motion, telling students to “bring this motion to your JCR, to your JCR President or Gender / Women*s Representative to help spark this (long overdue) change”.

The group’s chairwomen, Clara Riedenstein and Kemi Agunbiade told Cherwell that a ban would “protect both staff and students, ensuring the power dynamic that exists between them cannot be misused – as in these cases it can be difficult to distinguish consent and coercion”.

This year, University College London became the first Russell Group university to ban intimate relationships between a staff member and a student over whom they have responsibility. In the US, all Ivy League universities have a ban on such relationships.

The University has been contacted for comment.

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