With shows like Pretty Little Liars and Friends normalizing professor-student relationships, it isn't quite clear whether or not these kinds of connections are actually ethically OK. Wondering if you can you date your RA, TA, or professor? This isn't a question you should feel ashamed ask, especially if you spend a lot of quality time with them. Between office hours, dorm meetings, and recitation, it's perfectly natural to feel somewhat bonded to these authority figures.
In Pretty Little Liars, 16-year-old Aria Montgomery meets Ezra Fitz in a bar. At the time, Fitz didn't know Montgomery would become his high school English student, but he continued to pursue a relationship with her after he found out. In Friends, Ross Geller is a New York University professor, who knowingly dates his student Elizabeth. Throughout both series, the inappropriate nature of these relationships is frowned upon, but not condemned. In real life, however, the consequences of engaging in a relationship with a student can carry more weight.
If an authority figure dates someone that is obligated to answer to them, the complex power dynamics at play are tough to navigate. "The biggest issue here is hierarchy," life coach Nina Rubin (no relation) tells Elite Daily. "The student may have a crush on the authority figure and the feelings can be mutual — but because the person in a higher role has more power, the student can never be considered an equal."
For instance, if you date or hook up with your professor because you're attracted to them, it's possible that you subconsciously feel like you have to continue dating them or having a physical relationship for the sake of your grade, academic reputation, and even career. Additionally, there can be mega-consequences: "Authority figures can be suspended or fired, [be the subject of] lawsuits, media campaigns, [and] more #MeToo articles," Rubin says. "The [student] may get a bad reputation as well, [and] could also feel like dropping out of school or needing to transfer."
Beyond the fact that the romantic relationship could result in tainting the reputation of both people involved, there's something even more grave to consider: If the student is younger than 17 years old, the relationship could be illegal in the eyes of the law.
"Statutory rape is a real crime with serious consequences," April Masini, health and fitness advocate and author, tells Elite Daily. "When a minor-aged college student dates and has sex with an adult who is a college professor or staff person, there are legal ramifications."
One campus that recently dealt with its own professor-student relationship controversy is New York University. A faculty member allegedly had a relationship with a graduate student. On the University's website, the school acknowledges that the power dynamics of these relationships can be imbalanced.
"Entering into a sexual, dating, or romantic relationship ('Intimate Relationship') when one individual has power or authority over the other may compromise freely given consent, put the academic and professional development of the individuals at risk, and seriously undermine the foundation of trust, fairness and integrity that is essential to NYU’s academic mission," the NYU Policy on Consensual Intimate Relationship reads.
But not all of these relationships are necessarily so black and white. For instance, if you and your TA really connect, are both of legal age and the attraction is consensual, it may be appropriate for you two to date after the class concludes. "Sometimes these rules are different for professors than they are for RAs or TAs who are often students themselves," Masini says.
That's actually how my parents met — my dad was my mom's TA in medical school, and when their class was over and my dad had began his residency, they started dating. Additionally, founder of relationship coaching company Maze of Love Chris Armstrong says that if the authority figure is single and doesn't have an academic relationship with the student anymore, the relationship may be less taboo.
But entering a relationship with an RA, TA, or professor isn't easy. If you continue to date, you'll have to address the imbalanced power dynamic. This could involve lying to keep your relationship a secret — especially if the truth could get either of you in trouble with the school.
When former NYU student Sasha*, 24, lived in a dorm, her RA knocked on her door one night while she was listening to Beyoncé. She answered it, mistaking it for her cookie delivery. He smiled at her. "Looking back on it he was so obviously into me," she tells Elite Daily. He asked her to turn down the volume. Sasha said she jokingly told him she was upset he wasn't her cookie delivery.
"A few weeks later, he left a sticky note on my door asking me to be his Valentine," Sasha says. "I was so self conscious at the time that I convinced myself he wasn’t into me, and even though the sticky note had his number on it, I just sent him a Facebook message saying 'thanks for the note.'"
In this circumstance, Sasha's uncertainty about their connection played a key factor in her decision not to pursue a relationship with her RA. But furthermore, she felt it wasn't right.
If you find yourself crushing on a professor, TA, or RA in college, check out your university's specific policy when it comes to these relationships. After all, you may find yourself drawn to these seemingly illicit relationships because of the allure of it's 'off-limits' nature — so better to be safe than sorry.
Additionally, Masini says these kind of "forbidden" relationships may have a fighting chance once you've graduated, or if your RA or TA is no longer in a position where they can wield power over you.
Fully equip yourself with knowledge, and then proceed however you see fit. Know that there's a chance it could work out – hey, it did for my parents! Love works in mysterious ways — just make sure they're legal first!
*Name has been changed at the source's request for privacy concerns.
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