Pomona College bans all faculty-student relationships

A wall with the sign "Pomona College Established 1887" is surrounded by green trees.
Pomona College prohibits any relationship whatsoever between faculty and students at the 5Cs in new policy. (Regan Rudman • The Student Life)

Pomona College became the first of the 5Cs to prohibit all relationships between faculty and students when the college’s board of trustees approved a new policy in May. 

The new policy prohibits faculty “from pursuing or engaging in any romantic and/or sexual relationships with students of the Claremont Colleges,” according to the 2020-21 faculty handbook.

The change comes after a November 2019 faculty meeting in which faculty voted for the Faculty Executive Committee, a governing body made up of faculty members, to review previous legislation.

Payal Kachru PO ’21, president of ASPC, believes that this policy change is long overdue. 

“Truly, I did not know Pomona allowed such relationships up until last year when Professor O’Leary and the Faculty Executive Committee came to an ASPC meeting to discuss this change. When I heard about the move to essentially prohibit all forms of romantic or sexual relationships with students at the Claremont Colleges, I was like, ‘Oh, that already isn’t a thing?’” Kachru said in an email to TSL. 

The new policy, unlike the past policy, does not specify any parameters or restrictions on relationships between staff and students. A Pomona spokesperson did not respond to a request for comment concerning the new policy.

Previously, the faculty or staff member had to disclose a relationship or potential relationship to the college, and relationships were prohibited if they/the member had professional responsibility for the student, including “teaching, advising, supervising, coaching, or evaluating the student in any way.”

The faculty and staff member also had to demonstrate that a relationship with the student would present no likelihood of “adversely affecting” the learning environment of any student in forms such as “an appearance of bias, conflict of interest, favoritism, unfair academic advantage or disadvantage or undue access to or restriction from opportunities at the college.”

The updated policy says faculty-student relationships, “even if consensual,” “potentially violate the integrity of the student­-teacher relationship, can impair the academic environment through actual or perceived conflicts of interest and bias, and can lead to increased risk of alleged violations of the college’s Harassment and Discrimination Policy.”

“To have a relationship with a Faculty member, especially at a College so small as ours, is ridden with too many power structures that, to me, will impact a student’s ability to be an independent, academic agent (and their overall personal growth and developmental journey),” Kachru said.

Faculty who violate the current policy are subject to disciplinary action, “up to and including termination of employment,” according to the handbook.

Faculty can disclose relationships that existed before the start of a student’s enrollment at the 7Cs, and the dean of the college will be responsible for ensuring that such relationships do not pose conflicts of interest.

Scripps College, Claremont McKenna College, Pitzer College and Harvey Mudd College continue to allow faculty-student relationships in limited circumstances. The colleges do not outline policies for faculty-student relationships.

“A student shouldn’t have to worry about how a relationship can impact their long term academic journey at Pomona; emotional and mental pressures already impact our ability to learn as is,” Kachru said. “So to struggle in navigating this power dynamic would only make it worse, in my opinion.” 

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