It wasn’t until I tore my pupils away from the screen and took heed of the fact I had lost twenty minutes of my life staring at the end credits of ‘The OC’ finale, that I made a snap decision: I would watch Channel 4’s drama ‘Fresh Meat.’ I had read mixed reviews about Channel 4’s (at the time) new comedy, which details the lives of six university students of clashing calibre, thrown together into the slightly shabby housing accommodation that is pretty much standard studenthood.
To my surprise I loved it. At the heart of each character there was an exaggerated stereotype from every walk of life; the virgin, the heavy-metal-Doc-Martens-sporter who couldn’t give a f***, and the uber-posh-girl…who tries so hard not to be.
It was the habits of the final character, Miss Identity Crisis, that were of particular interest. Edgy Oregon (secretly privately-schooled Melissa) decides to engage in a sexual relationship with her lecturer at least twenty years her senior, perhaps in a bid to assert her new self. This got me thinking. Although it was Oregon’s choice to sleep with her Professor, and there was technically nothing illegal in it per se, is it acceptable for a student and a lecturer to pursue a romantic relationship?
There is undeniably an opposing knee-jerk reaction to this scenario. For a school teacher and a student to have romantic relations is categorically unacceptable, as in the case of Jeremy Forrest and Megan Stammers: the Maths teacher who eloped to France with his underage pupil – the pair have since split, with Megan now dating someone her own age. This man abused his position of power over a minor. Yet university students (mostly being aged 18 and above) are not minors and therefore arguably are well within their capabilities to make an informed judgment on situations of this nature.
Even being of a legal and apt age to make such a choice, there is still the socially unacceptable stigma. However hot your lecturer is – and let’s be honest here, there’s at least one you wouldn’t say no to – to some extent he or she is in a position of power over your future. The most obvious scenario would be that as your seminar leader they personally mark your assignments. Or supposing you really threw caution to the wind and dated the module convener they would still have a say in your mark. Even if you became tired of the stiffness of your History lecturers and went for something a bit more rugged in the Environmental Science department, people talk.
And it’s because people talk that this decision to cross an intimate boundary with your lecturer comes with social repercussions. When a student’s private life is being so heavily criticised by people they don’t even know, the effects would no doubt manifest themselves in their degree work. Not to mention the social repercussions for your lecturer of interest. The same kind of gossip can deem him or her unprofessional in the eyes of fellow staff, impacting not only on their feelings but also, potentially, their job. I think it is fair to say then, that above the racticalities of work submission and marking, it is predominantly the disdain of others that would cause the most difficulty and heartache in this manner of relationship.
I could go on for pages with all the reasons why it is technically not acceptable to sleep with your lecturer, but then again, why shouldn’t you? We need only go to the theatre, the library or a cinema to come to the obvious realisation that there is something particularly alluring about forbidden love – think Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, with its themes of unattainable courtly love and the obvious Romeo and Juliet, with its family feud complication. Because society has created this forbidden aura around student/lecturer relationships, there is a lingering element of danger, and as human beings, we are drawn to situations that produce that high of an adrenaline rush. So really, can we help ourselves?
Whether the relationship is based on love or lust, there is that definite biological element that totally surpasses any strict societal norms and values. These rules we have made for ourselves do not take into consideration that actually, two consenting adults, whether they are inside or outside of a professional setting, are and should be entitled to do what they like. It is unrealistic to suggest that boundaries of social acceptability are going to deter two well-matched individuals from falling for one another – the evolutionary process of lust didn’t take into account anything but pure attraction, and neither should we.
Ultimately, if the lecturer and the student didn’t meet in a professional scenario, instead meeting on the Underground or at a party or in some other generic place, we wouldn’t bat an eyelid. Perhaps it’s time to abandon our initial disdain and mind our own business. In the words of Doris Day, who incidentally married a man ten years her junior (shock horror), whatever will be, will be.