Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Schwyzer/Dank interchange

Hugo Schwyzer and myself  have had an interesting interchange on his last posting.   I want to share with my readers one of our last interchanges(I expect there will be more) since this interchange really gets down to some basic issues.   I also would like to note that Professor Schwyzer is one of the very few academics who engages this issue in an open and dispassionate manner.   Bravo to him!

SCHWYZER writes-

As my regular readers know, Barry, I’ve written a bit about student attraction to professors. (I have an archive called student crushes, and I stand by that term, though I know your problems with it.) Many of the women with whom I had unethical, albeit “consensual” professor-student relationships made their attraction very clear to me. I took advantage of that attraction, but that doesn’t render me any less culpable. Lots of folks get mad crushes on their therapists, but we know what that is, and have a good term for it: transference. And you know what, Barry? I haven’t been at this gig as long as you, but I have been teaching for nearly twenty years and have taught well over 10,000 studnets — and I am convinced to my core that most of the attraction to me was basic transference. It wasn’t about me, it was about where that young student was in her process. What got me voted America’s hottest professor in 2008 was less about my looks (I’m not hideous, but I’m no model) but a teaching style that struck a chord with certain students. That some of them sexualized or romanticized that chord was a normal part of their developmental process. It was not an invitation to fuck them.

As I wrote a long time ago:

we don’t just get crushes on people whom we want, we get crushes on people whom we want to be like! Students don’t get crushes on me because they want to go to bed with me or be my girlfriend or boyfriend; they get crushes on me because I’ve got a quality that they want to bring out in themselves. They’re externalizing all of their hopes for themselves. And rather than encourage the crush to feed my ego, my job is to turn the focus back on to the student, encouraging him or her to take their new-found curiosity or enthusiasm or passion and use it, run with it, indulge it, let it take them places!

DANK responds-

I have no reason to doubt the honesty of your analysis of the transference process as to how it applied to some of your students and how it may have facilitated a sexual relationship with some of your students. Of course, as you point out apparently all of your students were young and such should not be surprising since you teach at a two year college which predominantly attracts young students. However, the problem becomes applying this to students and professors in general. You very well know that the genre of policies you advocate apply to middle age graduate students as well as to young professors. I am sure you know that “your” policies apply to student teaching assistants who may end up dating students where there is hardly any age difference. And, in my case, my wife who I met when she was a student has always been two years older than myself. I resent the implication that we should have been barred from dating because of some transference process or because someone may feel offended by such a relationships. Your insistence of using the term “crush” strongly implies that you do not take any of these relationships seriously. Can’t you accept the fact some student prof couples experience “authentic” love, not just a passing crush? Can’t you accept the possibility that some marry and have children and some of these children may end up in your classes as you lecture on how the student was a product of a crush, etc. etc. Do you ever give consideration to said possibility? Have you ever considered the possibility that I myself MAY have been the offspring of a student professor couple.

If your analysis has relevance to some student and professor couples and I believe it does, it also has relevance to non-student and non-professor relationships, to many people from various walks of life.
The social psychological dynamics leading to coupled relationships are a varicolored thing, but whatever the dynamic such does not justify the banning of psychologically “unacceptable” relationships.
At least it does not justify it in a free society, in a totalitarian society, yes; in a Big Brother society yes, but not here. Unfortunately, many of our values relating to freedom and civil liberties have historically been thrown out of the window in regards to sex because our society has been saturated with anti-sexual perspectives. It is hard to get beyond said perspectives. Supporting anti-sexual values has been the ability to control and coerce others who may give sexual offense. My problem with you, Hugo, is not your willingness to engage people on vital educational and sexual issues, but your willingness to coerce others who deviate from your or societal sexual norms. Sexually consenting adult couples should never be coerced or persecuted or prosecuted

October 1, 2010 - Posted by | sex, sexual politics, student professor dating

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