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Institutional Policies

Policy PRES-AA-007

logo of The University of Southern Mississippi  
Responsible University Administrator: President
Responsible Officer: Director of Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunity
Origination Date: 08/01/03
Current Revision Date: 06/04/19
Next Review Date: 06/04/23
End of Policy Date: NA
Policy Number: PRES-AA-007
Status: Effective


Policy Statement

The University of Southern Mississippi recognizes that special problems can arise in a consensual relationship between individuals who are employed on campus and/or attend classes on campus. This policy addresses those concerns.

Reason for Policy/Purpose

Sexual misconduct is inconsistent with the standards and ideals of our community and will not be tolerated. The University is committed to fostering an academic, work, and living environment that is free from all forms of harassment, including sexual misconduct and sexual assault. Additionally, federal law views sexual misconduct and sexual assault as forms of sexual harassment prohibited under Title VII and Title IX.  This policy assists the University to comply with federal and state legal mandates and University policies in relation to such misconduct.

Who Needs to Know This Policy

This policy is required for the effective communication of university policy regarding consensual relationships

Website Address for this Policy


employee Any person employed by The University of Southern Mississippi as faculty or staff, full-time or part-time. This definition includes graduate assistants and adjunct faculty.
student Any person enrolled full time or part-time in any academic program associated with The University of Southern Mississippi.
consensual relationship A sexual and/or romantic relationship between two persons who voluntarily enter into such a relationship.


There are special problems in any romantic or sexual relationship between individuals where one party possesses direct academic, administrative, supervisory, evaluative, counseling, or extracurricular authority over the other party.

Such positions include, but are not limited to, teacher and student or assistant, supervisor and employee, senior faculty and junior faculty, mentor and trainee, advisor and advisee, counselor and client, teaching assistant and student, coach and athlete, and the individuals who supervise the day-to-day student living environment and student residents.

A unique problem occurs when a consensual relationship takes place between a teacher and the student is enrolled in one of the teacher's courses, or when the student is likely to be enrolled in such a course in the future. Such relationships are of significant concern to The University because of the ethical and administrative problems they can pose.

Because of the potential for conflict of interest, exploitation, favoritism, harassment and bias, such relationships may undermine the real or perceived integrity of the supervision and evaluation provided, and the trust inherent particularly in the teacher-student context.

There are numerous ways in which a consensual romantic or sexual relationship can create problems within the university community. For example:

  • What seems to be consensual to the party in the position of authority may well be unwelcome or coercive from the perspective of the other party. Where a party has the ability to grade, advance, promote, recommend, or otherwise influence the employment or academic status of another, that person may fear that refusal will result in loss of employment or academic benefit. They may even consent to the relationship even though it is in fact unwelcome. 
  • There is also a serious risk that either party may exploit the other. The more senior person may be interested in the other person solely for sexual or romantic reasons, but the other person may construe that attention to be due to intellect and academic interest. There is also the risk that the person with less authority might seek out a relationship solely because of a desire to obtain some academic or employment benefit from the relationship. 
  • The circumstances may change, and conduct that was previously welcome may become unwelcome. Prior consent does not remove grounds for a charge based upon subsequent unwelcome conduct.
  • The relationship can cause problems for both parties and harm the academic and work environment at the university. There is the appearance, and often the reality, of a conflict of interest on the part of both parties to the relationship. Third parties may believe that the person in authority favors the other person because of the relationship, thus creating an atmosphere of suspicion and resentment among others who think that person is obtaining undeserved benefits.

No university employee shall enter into or maintain any romantic or sexual relationships with students or with employees over whom they exercise any academic, administrative, supervisory, evaluative, counseling or extracurricular authority or influence.

Similarly, no university employee shall exercise any academic, administrative, supervisory, evaluative, counseling or extracurricular authority over any student or employee with whom that employee had previously been involved in a romantic or sexual relationship.

Teaching professionals in particular are under a special obligation to preserve the integrity of their relationships with students, and therefore are expected to maintain at all times the highest level of professionalism with students, whether or not any real or perceived authority over the student exists.

Should an employee become involved in such a relationship, all parties to the relationship have a duty to immediately report the relationship to the next supervisory level. Supervisory personnel shall take steps to promptly resolve any conflicts in such a manner as to avoid even the appearance of impropriety:

         a.  Faculty: If a student is not enrolled in any of the faculty member's courses when the relationship begins, the student shall  not be eligible to take any future course with the faculty member even after the relationship has ended, and it is the duty of the faculty member to take all steps necessary to assure that the student is not so enrolled.

        b.   Counseling:  If a consensual romantic or sexual relationship begins during an official counselor/client relationship, the counselor shall immediately terminate the relationship and never again enter into a counseling relationship with the client.

Employees who enter into or remain in a romantic or sexual relationship where an authority differential exists and who do not report it, or who fail to cooperate in efforts to remove the conflict, or who are otherwise in violation of this policy will be subject to disciplinary action up to and including termination. Willful violations of the policy may be considered "gross misconduct" per our progressive discipline policies.


NOTE:  Non-consensual relationships are addressed in the university’s sexual harassment policy. Marital and family relationships are addressed in the university’s nepotism policy.


The Director of Affirmative Action and Equal Employment Opportunity is responsible for the review of this policy every four years (or whenever circumstances require immediate review).





Related Information 


Amendments: Month, Day, Year – summary of changes

11/01/11: Formatted for Institutional Policies website.

02/19/13: Formatted for template. Minor editing of punctuation and word usage throughout.
06/04/19: Added last paragraph to policy in Policy and Procedures section.



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