Longform

Barrett, the Honors College at ASU, Is a Close-Knit Community; Some Say Too Close

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The problem at Barrett admittedly is complex.

Even 18-year-old freshmen are adults capable of giving consent under the law.

But experts tend to agree that stricter policies, such as the one ASU is considering, make more sense. Doctors can't sleep with patients and lawyers can't sleep with clients, so why should professors be able to sleep with their students?

Dr. Jeffrey Jensen Arnett, an expert on young adults, author of Emerging Adulthood: The Winding Road from the Late Teens Through the Twenties, and professor at Clark University in Massachusetts, says his research supports "a taboo" on all faculty-undergraduate relationships.

"It's almost inevitably exploitative," he says, "even if neither side thinks of it that way."

Arnett coined the term "emerging adulthood" to describe the time from 18 to 25 before people take on the full set of adult responsibilities, like career, marriage, and family. His research on emerging adults in many ways reflects common sense: People between these ages look and can act like grownups, but they just aren't equipped to make the greatest decisions.

"People's decision-making abilities are not as developed at 19 or 20 as they will be at 40 or 50," Arnett says. "Do you really want to be 19 and in a class with a professor you like, and your roommate's dating him? That is weird by any standard, and it's disruptive to the central mission of the university, which is to teach young people, to prepare them for adult life."

Seth Schwartz, a professor at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine and the incoming president of the Society for the Study of Emerging Adulthood, similarly is concerned.

"It's sort of hard to say no," Schwartz says. "That's the major problem with these relationships between students and faculty: Are you willing to say no to someone who is in a position of authority over you?"

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Ashley Cusick
Contact: Ashley Cusick