College students, particularly women, are vulnerable to sexual harassment and even sexual assault by adults they are supposed to be able to trust. The horrible case of Larry Nassar at Michigan State is an extreme example of the kind of manipulation and control these predators exert over their victims. At The Cronin Law Firm, we encourage parents to talk to their college-aged kids about what’s appropriate contact with a professor and what’s not before they leave for their freshman year of college—or anytime during their college career.
Overcoming the Awkwardness of an Uncomfortable Situation
Situations on college campuses involving sexual harassment are very difficult for young people to navigate. A student may at first be flattered by special attention from a professor and may even be friendly in return in hopes of raising her grade. If the situation goes too far, the student may be embarrassed that she encouraged the attention and may think she should stay silent. After all, the professor has clout and social standing on campus, and she may feel powerless against him. If she speaks up, she could face ostracism and even retaliation in the form of lower grades. It is hard for young people who are out on their own for the first time in their lives to gauge when a relationship with a professor has become inappropriate and to know what to do about it.
Times Have Changed and Students Should Speak Up
Following the Larry Nassar trial and the exposure of Harvey Weinstein and other Hollywood and network news personalities as sexual predators, it has become less stigmatizing to come forward with an accusation. As a result, many universities have established broad-reaching policies to stop harassment and to provide protections to students who believe they are victims. It is not easy to prove charges of sexual harassment under the law, but students can often make a case under their school’s policies rather than in criminal court. In most cases, they can even bring their own attorney to help them hold the predatory professor accountable for his actions.
How to Avoid These Difficult Situations
A recent survey found that one in ten female graduate students has been sexually harassed by a faculty member. As a college student, you want to do all you can to avoid being caught up in an uncomfortable and dangerous situation with a professor. Founder and Managing Partner Sabrina Shaheen Cronin offers the following advice to both male and female college students:
- Know your school’s policies. Is it appropriate to go to a professor’s house or to meet him at a restaurant? Should a faculty member have your cell phone number? Know what your school says about issues like these before you agree to meet outside of the classroom or office.
- Avoid social interactions that involve alcohol. Receptions, cookouts, discussion groups, and social gatherings involving students and professors should never include alcohol, even if you are 21 or older. When people are drinking, they are more likely to take risks and make mistakes.
- Maintain a professional relationship at all times. Understand what professionalism looks like and don’t allow a relationship with a teacher to cross the line between the professional and the personal.
- Don’t go to secluded areas alone with an authority figure. Offering to walk you home or to your car may seem like a kind act, but you should not go anywhere alone with a professor or graduate student assistant. If they have bad intentions, it might provide the perfect opportunity to take advantage of you.
- Trust your instincts. Outside of the university’s policies, there are no clear-cut laws about what harassment is. If an interaction feels uncomfortable to you, trust your gut and put a stop to it. If you can’t stop it and it escalates further, take advantage of the university’s resources to report it.
Parents can help their college-aged kids protect themselves from these kinds of toxic relationships by having conversations at home about professional standards. Young people have to be educated about proper behavior—both on their part and what to expect from teachers. College professors are not like high school teachers and young people need to be aware of boundaries in these new relationships.
Contact The Cronin Law Firm
If your child is the victim of sexual harassment or sexual assault on their college campus, you have the right to discuss the situation with an attorney to make sure your child’s rights are protected. The university may have a disciplinary procedure they follow, but that doesn’t mean you can be represented by a lawyer. The Cronin Law Firm is experienced in these kinds of cases. Click the “Text Us” button on this page, complete our contact form, or call us at 248-258-3500 today to schedule an appointment for a complimentary initial consultation.