Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Harvard coed reveals sexual relationship with Harvard TF

If one wants to know about the sex life in explicit terms of a Harvard coed, then the blog to go to is Sex and the Ivy moderated by Lena Chen.   The dankprofessor has been reading Lena’s blog for some time as she reports on her various sexual exploits and as others condemn her for being an exhibitionist and being unabashedly promiscuous.  But Lena was not content.  She was lonely and she wanted to find a special other but felt that such was unlikely because of her notorious reputation. 

Now Lena reports in her most recent post that she has found the one in the form of her former sociology TF (Teaching Fellow).  Her description of how this relationship was initiated and developed is probably the most detailed account of a “student-professor” relationship. 

Lena’s relationship is a relationship that is inappropriate in terms of Harvard’s official policy.  Said policy and the dankprofessor’s commentary follows Lena’s narrative-

…Then a couple weeks after my trip to New York, I found myself at dinner with a guy I mostly remembered for his inability to keep me awake during statistics. Patrick was eight years older, German, and a Ph.D candidate in my department. He also happened to be the most attractive person who’d ever been in charge of my grading me. Over the previous year and a half, my best friend Jason and I took three classes with Patrick, and though I’d like to say that it was because I found him impossibly charming, I was mostly just fulfilling sociology requirements. Nonetheless, I silently rejoiced every time I was assigned to his section, especially after I realized my piece of eye candy was a rather efficient and helpful teaching instructor and not merely a hot guy with a funny accent. To Patrick, however, I was then just a sleepy student. Statistics, which I got a C+ in, was a particularly harrowing experience. I recall Jason pinching me a lot in that class … and really not much else.

By the time Patrick and I finally went out, it’d been over two months since I last saw him and even longer since he graded one of my mediocre papers. The prelude to the actual date was fairly undramatic. Following a thinly veiled public declaration of my affection, initial contact was made over email and the date was suggested over text message. Well, actually, I suggested hooking up over text message. But Patrick, for some crazy reason I’ve still yet to figure out, thought that dinner would be more acceptable. I was pretty much thinking, “Yeah, this really isn’t necessary. Can we just fuck?” I somehow suppressed the urge to reveal this thought and along with it, my slutty nature. It would certainly be revealed soon enough.

I immediately gloated to Jason who called me crazy more than once and insisted that I was completely misinterpreting the situation and  going to make things extremely awkward with a former TF who we actually might want to take classes with in the future. Basically, Jason had the mindset of someone who wanted to get into law school. I had the mindset of someone who wanted an interesting story to tell at post-grad cocktail parties. I was already getting started by telling every friend in close proximity about the TF fantasy-turned-reality and spent the day feeling rather smug about myself, despite a looming deadline for some mediocre paper I had not yet written. I probably would’ve taken out an announcement in The Crimson if possible. After all, it’s not everyday you get to fulfill a crush three semesters in the making.

Yet somehow, about an hour before the actual date, my excitement over going out with and potentially fucking my former TF turned into total trepidation over going out with and potentially fucking my former TF. What the hell was I getting myself into? I knew next-to-nothing about Patrick, even less about what to expect out of the evening, and I was pretty sure that Jason was right when it came to me totally misinterpreting the situation. By the time I got off the train to meet Patrick, I was ready to get right back on. In fact, I felt a mild wave of nausea, then panic, followed by paralyzing fear. Um, I had a date in five minutes and I was on the verge of an anxiety attack. After taking several deep breaths, I called Jason and told him, “I can’t do this. I’m about to hyperventilate.” Jason, ever so reasonable and probably fearful of jeopardizing his letter of recommendation by association with a whore whore slut, suggested calmly that I tell Patrick I was sick and then go home. Discouragement was exactly what I needed to snap out of it. “That’s the stupidest idea I’ve ever heard,” I declared. “You’re totally useless. I’ll call you when the date is over.”

About 30 seconds after the exchange with my truly unadventurous best friend, I found myself face-to-face with Patrick who looked considerably taller than I remembered and was dressed in decidedly un-academic clothing. He looked hot, and not even in a scholarly kind of way. Given our previously limited interaction and his non-American background, I didn’t have any idea how to read him. Maybe he thought that I’d be an easy lay, but then again, he always seemed so proper in class. No, it was more likely that his intentions were genuine, which was almost endearing. Here was a semi-awkward foreign grad student too culturally unaware to realize that asking out a former student is a mildly scandalous affair. Poor thing. Also, I thought: he so does not know about my sex blog. It occurs to me in retrospect that I was being extremely condescending, but in all likelihood, I probably employed every defense mechanism available to stay calm and feel in control. Surprisingly, as soon as we got into a cab and started talking, my anxiety dissipated along with my theory that Patrick was awkward with women and clueless about American prudishness. We compared frat life at Yale (where he did undergrad) to the final club scene at Harvard and discussed the “athletic” rivalry between our schools. Patrick actually seemed normal, and my stomach seemed calm. It appeared as if I was not going to puke after all.

Dinner was at a South End establishment with live music and dim lighting, the key facilitators to close-up conversation, which is like the foreplay to foreplay. It was a relatively grown-up venue given my recent romps in fraternity houses and dorm rooms, and I realized early in the evening that I felt uncharacteristically nervous. Typically on dates, I acted self-assured and liked to challenge guys by teasing them or being playfully argumentative. With Patrick, however, I couldn’t muster up my usual feistiness. I was so used to viewing him as an instructor that it seemed inappropriate to treat him like a peer. For the first time in a long while, I actually felt flustered. Patrick, on the other hand, was completely at ease which only disarmed me further. When I failed to look him in the eye while clinking glasses, he said to me, “You know what that means, right? Seven years of bad sex.” I almost choked on my drink. My TF just the word “sex” in a reference to me. Thankfully, my nerves were nothing alcohol couldn’t fix. I rarely drank but on this night, I happily chugged glass after glass of wine. Liquid courage along with Patrick’s disarming attitude made for surprisingly entertaining conversation. I was regaining my confidence and ten-fold at that. Two hours and several courses into the date, I put my hand on his knee and leaned in closer. I wanted to kiss him and was too drunk to even be subtle about it.

All in all, the turnaround from initial email to his cock in my mouth took about 24 hours. We had sex that first night. And again the next night. And then he went away to New York for two days, picked up the pair of flats I left at  a West Village repair place during that miserable Valentine’s weekend, and returned them to me first thing when he got back, not even stopping by his apartment beforehand. I spent spring bouncing from my Harvard Square dorm to his place in Beacon Hill and summer bouncing from Kennedy’s Heidelberg flat to his home in Osnabrück. When September came, I paid a full month’s rent for a sublet I never moved into. I cancelled it and have been in Beacon Hill ever since.

Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t like we went out and it was happily ever after that, not unless your fairy tales include Internet sex scandals advanced by overzealous online stalkers or unprecedented emotional outbursts from yours truly. The path toward cohabitation has hardly been a smooth one, but slowly, I infiltrated Patrick’s life and apartment to the point where breaking up would have been both awkward and inconvenient. And now, here we are today: me, Patrick, Hamlet, and two suitcases of my stuff under the bed! It’s more than I ever could’ve hoped for. And to think, all I wanted on our first date was to get laid.

I write all this because a year ago, I really, truly didn’t believe in the possibility of love (at least not for myself) and it wasn’t just because I was single during Valentine’s Day. My blog was a legitimate barrier to meeting guys, and as the nude photo leak and subsequent breakdown suggested, it was perhaps a barrier to, um, life. Maybe if my friends were different people, they would’ve told me to shut it down instead of insisting that I was lovable, blog or no blog. Maybe if I were a different person, I would’ve listened. I’m glad I didn’t, not just because my friends were right, but because I would’ve always thought from then on that the only desirable version of myself was the sanitized version. The fact that I’m now happily playing house with the Adorno-spouting, bulldog-owning German of my dreams indicates that there is hope for pretty much ANYONE out there. If I can finagle a boyfriend with my reputation and dismissive attitude toward dating “rules”, then love is a possibility for everyone.

Now here is the Harvard policy regarding relationships such as the one between Lena and Patrick-

Officers and other members of the teaching staff should be aware that any romantic involvement with their students makes them liable for formal action against them. Even when both parties have consented at the outset to the development of such a relationship, it is the officer or instructor who, by virtue of his or her special responsibility and educational mission, will be held accountable for unprofessional behavior. Graduate student teaching fellows, tutors, and undergraduate course assistants may be less accustomed than faculty members to thinking of themselves as holding professional responsibilities. They may need to exercise special care in their relationships with students whom they instruct, evaluate, or otherwise supervise, recognizing that their students might view them as more powerful than they may perceive themselves to be.

Amorous relationships between members of the Faculty and students that occur outside the instructional context can also lead to difficulties. In a personal relationship between an officer and a student for whom the officer has no current professional responsibility, the officer should be sensitive to the constant possibility that he or she may unexpectedly be placed in a position of responsibility for the student’s instruction or evaluation. This could involve being called upon to write a letter of recommendation or to serve on an admissions or selection committee involving the student. In addition, one should be aware that others may speculate that a specific power relationship exists even when there is none, giving rise to assumptions of inequitable academic or professional advantage for the student involved. Relationships between officers and students are always fundamentally asymmetric in nature.

So should Patrick and Lena be concerned that others may speculate that “a specific power relationship exists even when there is none”?  Should they be concerned that others may think that there may be “inequitable academic or professional advantage for the student involved”?  Should Lena and Patrick discard their relationship because it will always be “fundamentally asymmetric in nature”?

In terms of Lena’s description of the relationship, she and by implication Patrick, never gave a thought to the Harvard policy and warnings.  The policy for them was probably an irrelevancy.  And if it was an irrelevancy for them such should not be surprising since TF’s are essentially novices who are learning to navigate the teaching process.  Those who wish to have the TF punished for what they consider to be a flagrant violation are simply out of order, whether they be in favor or in opposition to such rules.  Learning by a novice as a result of ones “mistakes” represents a positive outcome; punishment of a novice for ones mistakes may very well represent a form of sadism or simply small-mindedness.

The irony for Lena who has flagrantly violated the societal dominant sexual norms as applied to women is that she now embraces a loving relationship in cohabitation which may be in violation of Harvard’s official norms as applied to students and teaching fellows.  And it also should be piointed out that the Harvard rules, like most rules in this area, are ambiguous.  But when it comes to sexual norms or rules, ambiguity almost always rules the day.

The dankprofessor believes that Lena has made a significant contribution albeit unintentional in exposing the utter absurdity and impossibility of Harvard’s policy regulating student professor relationships, a policy which is both anti-sexual and conformist in nature.

February 8, 2009 Posted by | consensual relationships, ethics, exhibitionism, Harvard University, higher education, love, sex, sexual harassment, sexual politics, student professor dating | 4 Comments

   

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