Exploring Faculty and Students’ Attitudes About Consensual Sexual Relationships and Sexual Harassment on College Campuses

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Over the last several years, there has been an increased awareness regarding consensual sexual relationships (CSRs) between professors and students. Specifically, there has been a growing movement for academic institutions to develop policies addressing, discouraging, and/or prohibiting these relationships due to the potential for sexual harassment cases. Even though the appropriateness of such relationships has been widely debated among the university community, a limited amount of empirical work has examined this issue with the majority focusing on attitudinal studies. The current exploratory study consists of a content analysis of 278 faculty and student responses to the question, “If there is a difference between consensual sexual relationships and sexual harassment, what is it?” Responses indicate that there are several overlapping themes for both faculty and students in how they view these differences, with a large number of responses specifically indicating themes such as “CSR is consensual” while “sexual harassment is one sided.” There are also some unique perspectives given by faculty regarding the complexities and acceptability of CSRs, who are generally more specific and nuanced in their answers. Considering the complexities of this issue, it is the recommendation of the current study that much more research fully exploring the attitudes of faculty and students is needed to develop a well-rounded and comprehensive policy.