No formal protocol in place on student-staff relationships

According to an FOIA disclosure, Trinity has no policies in place limiting sexual or romantic relationships between lecturers and students

This article contains discussion of sexual assualt and harassment. 

Trinity has no formal protocols or procedures governing staff entering romantic or sexual relationships with students, information given to Trinity News under the Freedom of Information Act 2014 has revealed.

There is no specific regulation in place, but “should a complaint be made, then it will be investigated under HR procedures”.

Both University College Dublin (UCD) and Maynooth University have policies governing such relationships. UCD’s policy states that “employees are strongly advised not to enter into a personal or intimate relationship with a student for whom they have a professional relationship. It can involve serious risks, and may lead to difficulties due to the unequal power of the parties involved.”

Maynooth’s policy says that “for a member of staff to embark on a sexual/intimate personal relationship with a student will always involve serious risks and may lead to serious difficulties which have their roots in the unequal power of the parties concerned.”

Both policies oblige staff to immediately declare to the university if such a relationship develops, after which steps are meant to be taken to minimise professional contact between the staff member and student in question.

Several UK universities, including University College London, the University of Greenwich, and the University of Roehampton, prohibit the establishment of such relationships outright.

Speaking to the Guardian in 2020, Rachel Fenton, a lecturer at the University of Exeter who reviews policies in this area, believes that such relationships should not be allowed. “These may contain such an abuse of power that consent isn’t really there,” she said.

Policies should “send a really clear symbolic and loudly-publicised message that such relationships are prohibited, so they are not normalised and not condoned.”

Last month, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science launched the findings of national student surveys of student and staff experiences of sexual violence and harassment in higher level institutions.

The findings showed that approximately four in ten students thought that sexual violence and harassment were a problem in their higher education institution, with almost one third of staff members agreeing that their higher education institution is proactive in addressing sexual harassment and assault of thier campuses. A large percentage of staff members, typically a third or more, responded to this question by selecting “neutral” or “don’t know”.

According to the survey findings, approximately one fifth of staff were in agreement that there would be a negative response from the higher education institution (HEI) to a person who reported sexual violence and harassment, or that there would be “retaliation from the alleged offender or their friends”. Depending on the statement, approximately one third of survey participants chose the “Neutral” or “Don’t know” response.

According to the report, a majority of students said they had experienced sexism and sexist hostility. 67% reported this happening at least once, 63% reported offensive remarks, and 66% reported being put down or condescended to because of their gender.

54% of students said they had experienced sexual harassment, such as repeatedly being told offensive sexual stories or jokes, and over half experienced unwelcome attempts at being drawn into a discussion of sexual matters, or offensive remarks about appearance, body or sexual activities.

While 72% of university staff reported feeling safe from sexual harassment on campus, a quarter had also faced unwanted sexual comments. 81% of staff respondents agreed that they felt safe from sexual violence at their HEI.

Over 80% of staff members agreed that they would be willing to complete bystander intervention training and consent awareness (76%), if such training was made available by their HEI.

According to the Irish Examiner, there have been 75 reports of sexual harassment in colleges and universities between 2015-2020, with ten students and staff members being fined, suspended or expelled from HEIs following sexual harassment allegations over the last five years.

If you have been affected by the issues discussed in this article, the following supports are available:

TCDSU Welfare Officer – [email protected]

Student Counselling Service – [email protected]

Niteline (9pm-2:30am) – / 1800 793 793

Crisis Text Line – 50808

Shannon Connolly

Shannon Connolly is the Editor-in-Chief of the 69th volume Trinity News, and a Senior Sophister student of English Literature and Philosophy. She previously served as Deputy Editor, News Editor and Assistant News Editor.