New guidelines on student-teacher relationships released

By Mikayla Van Loon

Content warning: this piece discusses sexual assault.

Universities Australia has released a set of guidelines regarding student-teacher relationships between supervisors and post-grad students, marking a year since the Australian Human Rights Commission’s report on sexual harassment and assault on Australian university campuses.

The ‘Principles for Respectful Supervisory Relationships’ laid out a 10-point action plan which focused on relationships between academic supervisors and their research students.

It states a sexual or romantic relationship between a supervisor and their student is never appropriate, indicating such a relationship “compromises the academic integrity of all parties, including the university”.

Universities Australia Chief Executive Catriona Jackson said in a statement the principles made it clear that “if a university academic is supervising a student, then they should not be in a romantic or sexual relationship with that student”.

“Universities understand that supervisors have power over their students,” Ms Jackson said.

“A sexual or romantic relationship that develops in that context also raises questions about capacity for consent and academic integrity.”

Other principles include: recognising the power imbalance of student-teacher relationships, respect and trust are at the centre of the relationship, and clearly outline the roles and responsibilities of each party.

These guidelines are part of the ‘Respect. Now. Always’ campaign launched in August 2017 to prevent sexual harassment on university campuses.

Vice Chancellor Martin Bean has been a key figure in RMIT’s ‘Be the Change’ campaign, which launched in April this year.

“It’s a basic right that we should all feel safe, secure and respected when we come to work or study,” he said.

‘Changing the Course’ is the three-year plan implemented to remove sexual harassment and assault across RMIT.

The Vice Chancellor says the university’s response has “gone further than the report’s recommendations”.

“We’re supporting and responding to disclosures with care and urgency through better staff and student leader education as well as a stronger relationship with Victoria Police,” he said.

RMIT University, along with 38 other Australian universities, has taken part in implementing some of the 800 significant actions and initiatives over the past year.

Since 2017, RMIT students have had access to CASA House, a specialist counselling service for students who have experienced sexual harm.

The university has educated student leaders and teachers in responding to sexual harm disclosures and promoted bystander awareness around the campuses.

In 2017, the Human Rights Commission found half of the 30,000 participants in a survey had been sexually harassed, and seven per cent had been sexually assaulted while on university grounds.  

If you have witnessed or suffered from sexual harassment or harm, 1800 RESPECT is available for 24-hour support and information referral. You can report the incident to Safer Community by emailing [email protected] or calling 03 9925 2396.

Catalyst has been the student publication of RMIT University since 1944. We may be older than your parents but we’re still going strong!

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