I remember thinking he was funny, kind, and attractive. I don’t find that many people attractive to begin with, but as a student, I felt particularly guilt-ridden about attraction to a teacher.
“I saw him holding hands with a really young looking woman in the Mile End back in winter,” another friend remarked. I told one of the friends I was out with that I’d been having an affair with him, and she urged me to confront him. When I told him what I’d heard, he asked to Skype me, and he denied all the allegations. It turns out ‘anything’ is going to be more difficult than I thought — other women this professor has slept with, propositioned, sent inappropriate emails to, or generally made uncomfortable are unwilling to come forward and talk about their experiences.
I was given an ambiguous response, but then we resumed right where we were before: sleeping together. If students knew, then professors knew, and in my mind that meant I could say goodbye to my career, or at least a career where people weren’t constantly whispering that I’d slept with my boss to get the opportunities I was presented with. All I could do was hope that my name wouldn’t get connected with this gossip. So I told him that I wasn’t ready to talk at that time but I would let him know when I was ready. I asked if he could leave it in his mailbox so that I could pick it up without having to be seen going into his office, as I was still on edge from the alleged rumours. He sat down across from me, and told me he couldn’t stop thinking about me. He took my hand, and unlike the first time he did so, I very much wanted him to let me go. “Did you feel the same way [after seeing each other]? I mumbled something about how I’d been scared because of the gossip and so I hadn’t really thought of it. I tried to avoid him, but minimizing our time together just frustrated him. Even though I couldn’t articulate it yet, in that moment, the nature of what I had been involved in became crystal clear. He was abusing his power, and he had no intention of stopping.
Not too long after, I got a phone call from him where he told me “a friend” overheard two students talking about how he was sleeping with one of his RAs. I scanned the book and emailed him the files, but he still asked if I could come into his office quickly, saying it wouldn’t take long. Then he kissed me, and things that hadn’t seemed important before, suddenly seemed overbearing — he was my boss, I was in his office, and we had this history. He told me to just tell him if I ever lost interest, but he would also say that he’d try to seduce me even if I did. “You’re not the only student he’s doing this with,” she said. I had known he was seeing other women while he had been seeing me, part and parcel of not being in a relationship, but I didn’t know some of them had been students. I told him not to contact me personally again, and only professionally if absolutely necessary.
But my experience with him was far from the glamorized narrative often found in people’s minds.
While still a taboo, this is the kind of subject that titillates imaginations, often causing people to gloss over the inevitable ethical confusion regarding both consent and the abuse of power.