News media outlets have recently been abuzz with the story regarding James Hooker, a 41-year-old high school teacher from Modesto, and his 18-year-old girlfriend, Jordan Powers.
This February it was revealed that Hooker left his teaching position at Enochs High School and his family in order to pursue a romantic relationship with Powers, his
The general response has been one of outrage, with parents and educators decrying the relationship as unethical or immoral. Yet, some have acknowledged that Hooker and Powers are consenting adults. Thus, the relationship is still legal, regardless of the moral implications. But is it really?
Over the past decade, the California State University (CSU) system and its campuses have grappled with this issue and the legal, moral, and ethical questions that surround it. Even though college communities consist almost entirely of adults and relationships between adults is not within the CSU’s purview, a problem arises whenever such relationships occur in a classroom setting.
It is these specific cases that some universities have opted to classify as “Sexual Harassment” due to the “positional authority” of the professor over the student. The term “positional authority” refers to the power one person has over another as a result of title or position. Since professors are responsible for grading, they have an authority over the student, which could be used to coerce an otherwise unwelcome relationship.
This has led schools across the country to consider policies that make it a violation for a professor to engage in a romantic relationship with a student enrolled in their class, even if the relationship is consensual.
“They shouldn’t do it,” one professor at Cal State Monterey Bay (CSUMB) said. “If the student is in the professor’s class then it’s wrong because [of the grading issue].”
Some also question whether or not a relationship born in a classroom could be truly “consensual.” Sophia, a student at Monterey Peninsula College, agrees the issue can be complicated.
“The girl might feel obligated to date [the professor] even though it makes her uncomfortable…She may not know what to do.”
A brochure entitled “Sexual Harassment,” available at the CSUMB Police Headquarters, notes many cases of sexual harassment still go unreported. Victims are often unaware what is happening to them is considered sexual harassment or that they have a right to report it.
The brochure also mentions some may be afraid others will doubt their story or the situation is somehow their fault. The brochure encourages victims to report any sexual harassment to the proper authorities — for CSUMB, the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Employee Development.
How does one know if they are being sexually harassed? According to a document provided by CSUMB, entitled “Sexual Harassment and Sexual Assault Nontolerance,” “sexual harassment” is “unwelcome conduct engaged in because of the targeted individual’s sex,” which results in “an environment…that is considered by the individual as intimidating, hostile or offensive.”
The document adds that sexual harassment can take many forms: verbal, visual, or physical.” For more information, students should contact the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Employee Development.