22 January 2010

Sex for grades in universities

[updated Apr 28, 2012]

The term 'sexual harassment' doesn't get to the underlying issues of many problems within universities, in whichever country one happens to be (the country that is the subject of the article the title is linked to, above, is South Africa). But sex and sexuality, I'm sure, must underlie many situations related to grants and the allocation of TA positions to PhD students, for instance. 

I discovered that trying to deal with these, without bringing in the more sensitive aspects of sex and sexual relationships didn't help my situation with teaching or keeping the supervisor of my research. I would say too, as other letters here indicate, that it isn't just a problem associated with men's behaviour, but equally about some women's willingness to use whatever is at their hands to ease their way through the system; and then, not always just to ease their way, but acting politically in matters of sexuality and coupledom, for reasons I'm not clear about.

Thus, one woman's problems with the system might be swept aside by other women more intent on supporting men's 'rights' and desires, it seems. I am now back in Canada where the situation is no different.

Added Apr 28, 2012

'Sex for grades in Africa' (John Morgan, THE, Times Higher Education, UK) opened up this topic for me, and I have left my comments there, and also on the site of the Canadian piece, ‘On-campus sex ban,’ by Dakshana Bascaramurty, which drew over 250 comments - insights from students, professors, parents, law enforcement, as well as teachers and potential teachers and other interested readers.

Other articles have come to my attention from the same time period – the year 2010. It’s good to see someone (a man) presenting what I consider to be practical suggestions for profs in such situations, bordering between consensual relations with students, negotiations for practical rewards, and sometimes, what might be thought of as sexual harassment, when the one with the real power over career or no-career, uses it and causes harm.

In particular I noticed this paragraph by Hugo Schwyzer, "an expert on body image, sexuality and gender justice," and would like to add one change in the wording, which to me must sum up many of the interactions that go on.

Change the first line from ‘When a student has a crush on a teacher or mentor’ to this:

“[When a prof or mentor thinks a student has a crush on him], it’s the job of that prof to “affirm and re-direct.” The affirmation doesn’t have to be as obvious as calling the student out on the crush, unless the student has already confessed it. The key is avoiding three “wrong” responses: shaming or belittling the student, withdrawing from one’s mentoring role, or engaging in amorous relations” (Schwyzer, ‘How do you desexualize that.’)

I recall a professor turning his back on me, after having misinterpreted my behaviour. Having crossed the line, whenever he saw me he turned his back and took off in the other direction. I had looked upon him with admiration, and interest in his work, but that was the end of that. So I do agree with Schwyer that profs do need to learn how to “affirm and re-direct.” It’s not a skill that comes naturally, even though profs are often looked at as the ones who would know what to do, and always do the right thing.

I agree too, with much of what Schwyzer writes in ‘Overselling agency.’ No one is born knowing how to act, how to get what they need and want from a relationship or university education. His focus is one young women, but writing from the perspective of someone who at midlife went to university, single-again as a divorced woman from an overprotective (controlling) marriage, I was ill-prepared for dealing with matters of sexuality and relationships. I thought I had choices, but obviously not. Younger women had the opportunity to engage, without thought, in the kind of behaviour I never did, having been married at age 20, twenty years earlier.

In ‘Crushing student crushes,’ Barry Dank says, “For Schwyzer, students have crushes since students are de facto children. They are not yet grownups who can experience a mature love. Or translated- they have not yet graduated; once they graduate then they are adults. Reminds me of the old idea that a girl cannot become a woman, remains a girl or a child until she married.’

Everyone has their own idea of when a person becomes an adult. It’s true what Dank says, that a common belief used to be that women became adults when they married and became Mrs so and so. Underlying that notion might have been the idea that a married woman was capable of having sex and producing children. In today’s world, I get the impression that becoming an adult, for young women, greatly depends on their willingness to have sex, and most particularly, without feelings, in other words, to have sex on the same terms men have often had sex, historically. Thus, to be an adult is to be more like a man – and that includes the ideas of earning a living and paying taxes, and sometimes, keeping their own name when they marry.

In reality, becoming an adult is a process, and even then, people can resort to childish behaviour (or worse), when the going gets rough. The idea of life stages used to be popular, such as those of Erik Erikson, and I would think there’s more truth to that than the idea of adulthood coming at a particular point in a person’s life. I see this concept of life cycle development as relevant to a person’s sexual development also, as people’s sexual needs and desires change as they grow up, perhaps gain a partner, grow more mature, and grow into old age.

As for female students having sex with their profs, many are young, and most likely either na├»ve or too knowledgeable about their sexual power to be involved with immature profs. For a year or two, as an undergrad in the early 90s, I was a member of Barry Dank’s asc-l discussion list, on this topic of profs, students, and sexual relations. It ended badly when it came to light that my views and experiences were not the same as theirs. Rather than discuss the topic as having victims on both sides – profs being falsely accused and female students subjected to unwanted advances and being punished for not conforming, I finally realized only one side mattered for the Dank group.

Four of the articles below (from the US) are meant to be read in order. The Hugo Schwyzer and Barry Dank conversation took place via both their websites, starting with
1) Schwyzer’s ‘How do you desexualize that?’ to
2) Dank’s ‘Crushing student crushes,’ to
3) Schwyzer’s ‘Overselling agency’ and back again to
4) Dank’s ‘Response to Hugo Schwyzer (on Overselling agency).’

Another times Higher (THE) article, ‘Sex and the university,’ was mentioned in one of the articles so I have included the link, below, as well as a link to a related post in this blog, 'Lust: one of the seven deadly sins of the academy.'

Crushing student crushes (Response to How do you desexualize that?)
By Barry Dank
Dankprofessor’s weblog
Sept 29, 2010

How do you desexualize that? A reprint on the “erotics of teaching”
By Hugo Schwyzer
Sept 19, 2010

Lust: one of the seven deadly sins of the academy
By Sue McPherson
Sue's Views on the NewsSept 19, 2009

On-campus sex ban: Hands off the student body, Prof (with 250 comments)
By Dakshana Bascaramurty
Globe and Mail
Apr 08, 2010
http://samcpherson.homestead.com/files/Miscellaneous/2010_Apr_Comments_OnCampusSexBan.doc (comments only)

Overselling agency: a reply to Barry Dank on teacher-student sex
By Hugo Schwyzer
Sept 30, 2010

Response to Hugo Schwyzer (on Overselling agency)
By Barry Dank
Oct 1, 2010, at 2:43 pm

Sex and the university
By Hannah Fearn
May 22, 2008

Sex for grades in Africa's academy
By John Morgan
Times Higher Education (THE) (UK)
21 January 2010

Links updated April 2012

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