In spring, 2013, Robin Thicke, Pharell, and TI released the chart topping song, “Blurred Lines” which discusses the courtship intentions for a woman who is currently in a romantic relationship with another man. The premise of the song suggests that the woman is a “good girl” but that she wants to get “nasty” (sexually provocative) and be with the relevant suitor. The concept of blurred lines also extends itself to instructing and education.
Some professors struggle with their own blurred lines as it relates to their role as an educator and friend to their students. Because of the personal, emotional, institutional, programmatic and sometimes financial investment to students, educators may become attached to their students in a manner in which they may not have anticipated. This attachment pattern may come in the form of potentially inappropriate boundary violations with students, including hugging, gifts, curricular (e.g. discussion of morally and emotionally charged issues with vulnerable populations) and temporal infractions (e.g., providing one or more students with more time than others), emotional and power infringements, and/or improper communication (e.g., discussing or offering advice on personal issues).
Typically, colleges and universities address traditional boundary violations with policies that may consider various forms of sexual harassment, coercion, and debilitative interpersonal relationships. Oftentimes though, the instructor-student relationship evolves beyond conventional expectations and teachers find themselves extending their educational relationship beyond assumed parameters within and outside the classroom. Policies typically don’t address the complexities of emotional and social navigation including dual relationships, codependence, and relational extraction. Professors are typically left to manage the educational, social, emotional, and cultural assumptions of themselves, their students, and the teacher-student relationship.
In the light of the potential blurred lines that can develop between teachers and students, I extend an invitation to you to reflect and share about any of the following questions:
Here are a few tips that may reduce the likelihood of boundaries becoming blurred:
Finally, for amusement, below is a video link to the “oldie but goodie”, “Blurred Lines.” 🙂
Dr. James Wadley is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Counseling and Human Services Program at Lincoln University. He’s a licensed professional counselor and marriage, family, and sexuality therapist in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He is also the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Black Sexuality and Relationships. Finally, he serves as conference chair for Black Americana: Springround Table Series in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Follow him on Twitter @phdjamesw.