Friday, December 2, 2011

Does Sleeping with your Staff Count as a Community Builder?

With the two sexual scandals in the college athletic sphere continuing to grab headlines, it is necessary to point out that Residential Life is just as guilty—or at least my department is. Thankfully, I have not heard of any my peers molesting young children; however, there are plenty of stories, both rumor and truth, of Hall Directors having sex with their staff and residents. I would love the chance to ask the professional staff members why they did it. Was it for the power? The sex? The companionship? What made them do it?

Two years ago, our department discretely fired Edgar, or let him quit on his own, depending to which rumor you subscribe, because he admitted to sleeping with a resident in his first-year building. Okay, this student was 18 years old, past the age of consent in my state, but our employment contract clearly states romantic and sexual relationships with students and staff members under our supervision are strictly forbidden. Why was he compelled to risk his job for a fling? Was this an ego trip? Was he lonely? In addition, did Fannie feel she had the right to say no? Did she love the idea of having a taboo relationship with someone who held all the power? Were they in love or were they just in it for the sex?

Plus, this was not the first time Edgar was caught in a compromising position. The year before, he openly discussed how he was giving out his personal cell phone number to residents he had counseled for domestic abuse and alcohol addiction, and would visit them at their room in the middle of the night when they would call him. Edgar claimed he was just a supportive shoulder and that he did not want other professional staff members involved. Again, does a first-year student who is dealing with a traumatic experience like being beaten by her significant other have the frame of mind to push off an advance from someone she sought out for help? Should the peers who knew about this behavior contacted Edgar’s supervisor sooner? And, like Paterno, Edgar’s supervisor sat on the information for a good while before acting—what should happen to him?

Another issue arises when you consider that some Hall Directors or Graduate Assistants are only a year or two older than staff or residents. In fact, one of my Grad Assistants awhile back was a year younger than my oldest RA. At what point is the line crossed over from tight-knit bonding, which is required as a Residential Life team, to harassment or an inappropriate relationship? The nature of our positions is living with our staff and the students we counsel, yet how can we stop emotional attachments that are just plain creepy from forming? I am not advocating for more HD/RA relationships…yuck! But, what I am pushing for is a more open conversation about how the Residential Life position almost encourages unhealthy boundaries to be created.

We are expected to be friends with our staff and be available for our residents in their time of need. Can we really be surprised when a few relationships develop? Of course, can we really be surprised when the older professional does not take the responsible role and say no? Where do we draw the line and how can we identify these issues sooner?


  1. an RA and HD, I have had at least 6 relationships (for lack of a better word) with residents/staff (never staff I supervised...yet haha). What caused me to do it? Some of it was the sex, part of it was the excitement of a taboo relationship. I'm willing to wager a lot of money, however, that the main reason I did it was because I wanted to help my students come to grips with their sexuality. Sounds crazy, right? Maybe this is how I justified it to myself. Maybe I truly was showing them something in an anonymous, caring, and safe way. Either way, I held on to this sense of obligation I had to help or "service" (haha) my students. Are there others out there like this???

  2. My supervisor (HD) used to tell us that we were all a family. Which meant my fellow staff members were now my adopted brothers and sisters. He drilled into our heads that it was incest if we even remotely thought of the idea of being with one another on another level. It worked :)

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  4. Dear Anonymous #1,

    You are a disgrace and I hope you are no longer in student affairs (or at the very least have ceased using your students for sex). That is all that you were doing, after all. "the main reason I did it was to help students come to grips with their sexuality."
    Bullshit, the only person you were helping was yourself, and once is helping yourself too much. You were given a great responsibility and it even sounds like some students looked to you for guidance and support and you took advantage of that to "service" them and then have the audacity to laugh about it.

    Regardless of age differences, sexual relationships with traditional undergrads or staff members is unacceptable. You are just part of the reason many people do not respect the work of respectable student affairs professionals (aka not you)

  5. student affairs is not all it's cracked up to be. "you people" take credit for lessons that students will learn in the normal course of life. Then you sit back at the end of the day and recognize each other for all the amazing work you do. I laugh at you. I was once one of you but I realized that student affairs professionals are living in a delusional fantasy world that is as unhealthy as the problems you think you are helping your students through.
    This is the real world. Don't take yourself so seriously.
    Anonymous #1

  6. I hear what Anonymous #1 is saying. I too have had numerous hookups with undergraduate students as a professional staff and as a GA. I have hooked up with downlow student athletes, RA's, desk assistants, and residents alike. Did anything adverse or horrendous happen as a result? No. This is more common behavior than some would like to believe. We are all consenting adults and whomever we have sex with is none of the university's business. Many in student affairs take things way too seriously and make out that our work is somehow sacred. We have regular, down-to-earth jobs just like everyone else and "office romances" are NORMAL.