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Index > Operations Policies > Consensual Relationships Policy

Consensual Relationships Policy

Purpose

RISD is committed to the integrity of the educational process, which depends upon the maintenance of a professional relationship between faculty, staff, and students. Sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, including non-consensual sexual relations, are clearly a violation of RISD policy and federal and state law. Moreover, other types of sexual or romantic relationships may raise concerns of conflict of interest, abuse of authority, and unfair treatment when both people are in the RISD work or academic environment and one person holds a position of power or authority over the other. Such relationships may also affect others in the work or academic environment by creating perceptions of favoritism and thereby undermining the integrity of their own educational process, supervision, and/or evaluation.

These concerns exist even when the relationship is considered fully consensual by both individuals. In other instances, consent may not be as freely given as the more senior person in the relationship believes. And, regardless, consent may change and relationships may end, possibly resulting in difficult situations or adverse effects on one or both parties in the relationship within the RISD environment.

Definitions

For purposes of this policy, the relevant terms are defined as follows:

Sexual or Romantic Relationship – any intimate, sexual, or other type of romantic or amorous relationship, whether casual or serious, short- or long-term, or consensual or non-consensual. A single sexual encounter is considered a sexual relationship under this policy. Conversely, the relationship does not have to include physical intimacy if a romantic relationship exists that is beyond the normal, reasonable boundaries of a collegial or professional relationship.

Academic Staff – all full- and part-time faculty in either a permanent or term capacity, Continuing Education (CE) instructors, and staff serving as instructors of record for a course.

Administrative Staff – all staff other than academic staff

Employees – all administrative and academic staff

Student Professionals – all students acting as instructors of record for a course, teaching assistants, tutors, graders, or residence life staff or in other capacities in which they have academic, administrative, or similar supervision of other students.

Academic Responsibility – teaching; assisting teaching; critiquing; advising a thesis; supervising research; supervising teaching; supervising an independent study project; grading; serving in a leadership capacity in a student’s academic program as a department head, graduate program director, or concentration coordinator; or engaging in any other similar responsibility with respect to the student.

Administrative Responsibility – advising, mentoring, evaluation, student organization management, or any other similar supervisory responsibility

Policy

Because of the possible adverse effects on the parties in the relationship and on their fellow students, co-workers, colleagues, and others, RISD prohibits all employees and student professionals, from having sexual or romantic relationships with RISD students and employees under the circumstances specified below, regardless of whether the relationship is consensual. If there is any doubt whether a relationship falls under this policy, individuals should seek guidance from their supervisor, dean, or human resources partner.

Relationships with Undergraduate Students

All employees of RISD are prohibited from having a sexual or romantic relationship with any undergraduate student enrolled at RISD.

If an employee is or was in a sexual or romantic relationship with an undergraduate student that predates either the employee’s employment with RISD or the student’s registration at RISD, the employee must notify their dean or supervisor of the relationship. Under no circumstances may an employee have academic or administrative responsibility for a student with whom they have or have had a sexual or romantic relationship. Identified situations will be addressed on a case-by-case basis. Failure to notify their dean or supervisor is considered a violation of this policy and is subject to reprimand or other disciplinary action, including but not limited to termination of employment.

Relationships with Graduate Students

All academic staff are prohibited from having a sexual or romantic relationship with a graduate student enrolled at RISD over whom they have or are likely to have academic responsibility, and all administrative staff are prohibited from having a sexual or romantic relationship with a graduate student enrolled at RISD over whom they have or are likely to have administrative responsibility, even if the student consents to or initiates such a relationship. Any employee who has had a past sexual or romantic relationship with a graduate student is also prohibited from exercising academic or administrative responsibility with respect to that student, regardless of whether the relationship was consensual.

Once any employee learns that they will have academic or administrative responsibility over a graduate student with whom they have or have had a sexual or romantic relationship, they must promptly notify their department head, dean, or other supervisor, so that other arrangements for such responsibility or supervision can be made for that student, and must recuse themselves from exercising any academic or administrative responsibility over that graduate student. For the purposes of this policy, the Dean of Faculty determines other arrangements for such responsibility or supervision. Failure to notify their department head, dean, or supervisor is considered a violation of this policy and is subject to reprimand or other disciplinary action, including but not limited to termination of employment.

While not expressly or absolutely prohibited, sexual or romantic relationships between employees and graduate students that occur outside the direct academic and administrative responsibility context can also lead to difficulties. In a personal relationship in which no current academic or administrative responsibility exists, the individuals involved should be sensitive to the possibility that such responsibility could nevertheless arise at some point, particularly in an institution of RISD’s relatively small size and openness to interdisciplinarity. Such responsibility could, for example, involve being called upon to write a letter of recommendation, to serve on a thesis committee, or otherwise to evaluate the graduate student. In such circumstances, the Employee must recuse themselves from the situation.

Relationships with Continuing Education Students

All employees of RISD are prohibited from having a sexual or romantic relationship with a CE student over whom the employee has or is likely to have academic or administrative responsibility, even if the student consents to or initiates such a relationship. Any employee who has had a past sexual or romantic relationship with a CE student is prohibited from exercising academic or administrative responsibility over that student, regardless of whether the relationship was consensual.

Once an employee learns that they will have academic or administrative responsibility over a CE student with whom they have or have had a sexual or romantic relationship the employee must immediately notify the Executive Director of CE, so that other arrangements for such responsibility or supervision can be made for that CE student, and must recuse themselves from exercising any academic or administrative responsibility over that CE student. Failure to notify the Executive Director of CE is considered a violation of this policy and is subject to reprimand or other disciplinary action, including but not limited to termination of employment or non-renewal of contract.

Relationships Between Student Professionals and Other Students

All student professionals are prohibited from having a sexual or romantic relationship with any student over whom the student professional has or is likely to have academic, administrative, or other responsibility, even if the student consents to or initiates such a relationship. Any student professional who has had a past sexual or romantic relationship with another student is prohibited from exercising academic, administrative, or other responsibility over that student, regardless of whether the relationship was consensual.

Although student professionals may not think of themselves as being in a position of authority over other students by virtue of their professional responsibilities, they should recognize that they might be viewed as more powerful than they perceive themselves to be given their access to tools, equipment, studio time, or years in the department. In addition to the prohibited relationships defined above, student professionals should be aware of the dynamics and risks of relationships with a power differential.

Once a student professional learns that they will have academic, administrative, or other responsibility over another student with whom they have or have had a sexual or romantic relationship, the student professional must immediately notify the Director of Graduate Studies (for graduate students) and Title IX Coordinator (for undergraduate students), who are empowered to address and remediate such situations, and must recuse themselves from exercising any academic, administrative, or other responsibility over that student. Remedial measures are intended to eliminate any real or perceived conflict given the existing relationship among the involved students.

Relationships with Employees

No employee involved in a sexual or romantic relationship with another employee may have administrative responsibility over the other employee, including but not limited to responsibility for evaluating the performance of, or for making decisions regarding the hiring, promotion, evaluation, reappointment, compensation, or termination, or any other term or condition of employment of, the other employee. Accordingly, in circumstances where any such administrative responsibility exists, the employee in the position of greater authority is responsible for notifying the relevant department head, dean, or supervisor, or the Dean of Faculty and/or Human Resources, to evaluate the situation and ensure that alternate arrangements are put in place.

Consensual Relationships and Professional Power Differential

In cases where a consensual relationship exists between individuals who occupy inherently unequal positions of authority, the person in the position of higher institutional authority must realize that if a charge of sexual harassment or misconduct is subsequently lodged, it may be exceedingly difficult to prove mutual consent. The person in the position of higher institutional authority will bear the primary burden of accountability.

Procedures

Policy Questions and Reporting of Violations

Questions about this policy and/or reports of possible violations may be directed to the Provost, the Dean of Faculty, the General Counsel, Human Resources, the Associate Provost, Social Equity and Inclusion + SEI Advisor to the President, and/or the Title IX Coordinator.

Other RISD Policies

This policy is intended to supplement, and not to supplant, RISD’s existing policies, including but not limited to its policies on discriminatory harassment, equal opportunity, and Title IX.

Revision history

This policy was created on: 6/3/2019

This policy was last reviewed/modified on: 11/26/2019

Next scheduled review will be on the following date or as needed: 7/20/2022

Responsibilities

Issuing Office

Human Resources

Responsible Officer

Vice President for Human Resources

Individuals/offices required for review and changes

Dean of the Faculty

Associate Provost, Social Equity and Inclusion and SEI Advisor to the President

Title IX Coordinator

Office of the General Counsel

Director of Employment