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Student Handbook: Policy on Consensual Romantic Relationships

HGSE affirms the value of close, caring relationships between members of the HGSE community. At the same time, consensual romantic relationships that might be appropriate in other circumstances have inherent dangers when one person has direct professional responsibility for another — as a faculty member or Teaching Fellow does for a student they teach or advise, a supervisor has for a supervisee, or administrators or faculty members may have for one another. In this situation, any romantic relationship is inherently asymmetrical because it involves one person who, by virtue of his or her role within the HGSE community, holds formal power over the other. Because of this power imbalance, such relationships hold potential for exploitation. Such a relationship may create an impression within the Harvard community of inappropriate or inequitable academic or professional advantage or favoritism that can be destructive of the learning or working environment. Such assumptions can have detrimental effects even if they are untrue.

Accordingly, where one person’s present role involves grading or otherwise evaluating the work of another, or puts the person in a position to affect the other’s present performance or professional future, sexual overtures and sexual relationships, even if consensual, are inappropriate and may be grounds for disciplinary action. Responsibility for preventing and/or ending the relationship lies with the senior person. Moreover, all members of the HGSE community should be aware that romantic relationships between persons of different levels of authority within HGSE can create problems even if neither currently has professional responsibility for the other. One person may unexpectedly become responsible for instructing or evaluating the other. One person may fear adverse consequences if they act to end the relationship. One person’s feelings may change, making unwelcome advances that were once welcomed and leading to a possible complaint of harassment. As noted above, such a relationship may also have detrimental effects on others in the HGSE community. It is incumbent upon those with authority neither to abuse nor seem to abuse the power with which they are entrusted.