Sexual Harassment in Learning Contexts

Sexual Harassment in Learning Contexts

Instructors exercise power over students, whether in giving them praise or criticism, evaluating them, or making recommendations for their further studies or employment. Actions by instructors and students that harm this atmosphere of mutual trust and respect undermine professionalism and hinder fulfillment of the university’s educational mission.

It is a violation of the Code of Rights, Responsibilities and Conduct if instructors engage in amorous or sexual relations with students for whom they have professional responsibility, either in an instructional context (a student enrolled in their class) or a non-instructional context (any decisions that may reward or penalize a student with whom he or she has or has had an amorous or sexual relationship, especially when the instructor and student are in the same academic unit or in allied units). In other words, all amorous or sexual relationships between instructors and students are unacceptable when the instructor has any professional responsibility for the student. Such situations greatly increase the chances that the instructor will abuse his or her power. In addition, such behavior places the instructor in a position to favor one student’s interest at the expense of others and implicitly makes obtaining benefits contingent on amorous or sexual favors.

Issues of sexual harassment can be especially tricky for associate instructors: as instructors they have some power over their students, and as graduate students they are subject to the power of the faculty over their academic records and letters of recommendation.

The following are some general guidelines for protecting yourself and the students you teach from sexual harassment:

  • Don’t ask students to do favors for you, of any kind. This will help to avoid misunderstandings concerning the singling out of students for what might appear to be preferential treatment.
  • Schedule meetings with students during office hours or by appointment. For more informal meetings with individuals or groups, meet in public settings such as the Union or a nearby cafe. Students should not be able to misconstrue the sentiment behind informal get-togethers and read inappropriate meanings into your invitations.
  • Attempt to resolve disputes or disagreements with students in the presence (or within hearing distance) of witnesses. This may prevent a disgruntled student from making false accusations out of anger over academic matters. For AIs, another alternative is to meet simultaneously with the supervising professor for the course and the student in order to avoid similar misunderstandings.


The formal definition of harassment and the procedures to follow in such cases, can be found in the IU Code of Student Rights, Responsibilities, and Conduct, Part I. A. 3 and Appendix 2.

For More Help or Information

The Office of Affirmative Action investigates complaints of sexual harassment brought by any member of the university.
The Office of Women’s Affairs provides resources for victims of sexual assault and harassment.
The Division of Student Affairs provides support and resources for student victims of discrimination through the Office of Student Ethics.