By Sarah Wright
That Professor is… Hot?
There are a few factors in play that make the professor-student relationship different than any relationship college students have had before. For one, most college-age students are legal adults, past the age of sexual consent in their respective states, meaning that it isn't illegal or theoretically immoral for romantic relationships to occur. Another factor is that many colleges foster a culture of closeness between professors and students, with everyone operating on a first-name basis and in a relatively informal social structure. Even at colleges where students never really meet their professors, romantic relationships can blossom between Teaching Assistants (TAs) and their students.
For those who value intellect in romantic partners, professors can be extremely alluring. They're often older, but sometimes only by a decade or so, meaning that physical attraction is often a possibility right from the start. Plus, college-level instructors are often authoritative and knowledgeable in their field, which can help a harmless sense of attraction develop into a full-blown crush. And professors often aren't unaware of their younger students' charms, either. But entering a romantic relationship with someone who grades your tests and may have a hand in your future success comes with its own set of problems.
Things to Consider
In case the above-mentioned set of problems isn't obvious to you, let's break it down here.
Things might not end well.
Is it possible that you'll have a loving, mutually respectful relationship with your professor? Sure. But it might not be a good idea to assume that it'll play out that way. Not to be too pessimistic, but it's rare that any sort of romantic relationship, no matter how casual, will end with neither party feeling hurt or upset. Do you really want to risk having your grade in the hands of an angry ex?
Other professors might find out.
Professors gossip about their colleagues the same as adults in any other job. You're probably not being as sly about your relationship as you think, anyway. If other professors find out, their opinion of both you and their colleague might change. Some of them might not take you as seriously as a student after they find out. That's probably unfair to you, but that's sort of the way the world works sometimes. This kind of thing could end up backfiring on you in the workplace as well, so maybe it's not a good habit to get into.
It could destroy the professor's career, or make the TA lose their assistantship.
Even if you're of legal age to give adult consent to a relationship with a professor, many colleges and universities have strict rules against romantic fraternization between instructors and students. In some cases, violators are disciplined and might even be fired. It might not technically be your responsibility to look out for someone else's career, but if you genuinely like and care about this other person, their well-being should be worth something to you.
You might be in it for the wrong reasons.
Think carefully about why you're getting involved with your instructor. Is it genuinely because you have an interest in him or her, or do you think that you might get a bump in your GPA? Worse still, do you feel obligated to go along with flirtation because you're afraid of defying someone with a degree of authority? In either case, you should avoid getting involved. If you're feeling pressured, seek help from the Dean of Students or Dean of Faculty.
What to Do
If you've considered the consequences and still think it's worth the risk, protect yourself by taking a few important steps. First, try to wait until you're no longer actively being taught by the object of your desire. Second, check on official school rules to make sure that no one will be getting in trouble, even if you are no longer officially in a student-teacher relationship. Third, take it slow. Romantic expectations can be dramatically different when there's a significant age gap dividing a couple, so you should make sure you're on the same page with what you want so neither party gets too hurt. Even if you're no longer in a professor or TA's class, they can still do some damage to your reputation if they want to. And unfortunately, there are crazies in every profession, including academics.
If you want to get closer to your professor (platonically), check out these tips for socializing with college instructors.