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March 24, 2006

Comments

Sandy

I was thinking of sophonisba's post. I stumbled onto a situation where I saw my (technical) college instructor receiving oral sex from a woman 20 years younger than him (and he saw me!!). (I had a class adjacent to his office & she would perform on him, near his window in the dark while my class was going on.) I have suspicions something went badly the last time she was in there as there was a lot of banging & thrashing around, including a desk chair being turned over. She came out with a horrified look on her face.

He then ended up as my instructor. He bragged in class about what he'd "been offered for a better grade". I realized what I saw might've been related. This is the dark side of fudging boundaries with people who are profoundly vulnerable to you.

He was a huge control freak. I was nearly driven out of the program except for a disability coordinator who felt he needed to protect me from this instructor. I never told him what I saw & that this instructor had been aware of what I knew. The DC just felt I needed to be protected from this man. (I do have suspicions this instructor may have manipulated my grade at one point to try to force an "offer" out of me. He did & said some things that leave me wondering.)

I could go on for several pages about the humiliation I've been through. I have been torn up about it for a long time & still feel like I failed to do *SOMETHING* right enough & that it would've never happened if I had just behaved correctly.

I also think about a married prof in the University I'm attending. He seemed to have a crush on a student who was painfully obviously attracted to him to the point of pestering him at all hours of the day for little things, including knocking on his door several times while doing homework with me one day. This prof seems to be just a nice guy with less than ideal boundaries.

However, it brought back so many awful memories. It was so obvious that although her feelings seemed so sexual, all she wanted was to be like him. (She made comments in class about him being a prof & how important that was.) I felt such a need to confront him (& protect her) about the way he was responding to her. I didn't..thankfully.

I just felt so pissed off that he wasn't pushing her away more...like he was feeding his ego by her feelings. He came dressed up one day & kind of seemed to want our female attention..preening, I guess. I blew him off as that's not my job as a student to make him feel handsome.

The power differential between student/instructor is a very odd thing. It brings all sorts of hidden things to the surface. It can be a very powerful feeling when you know a man/woman is sexually aroused because of you. It can be a short-cut to feeling safer, & thus avoid any learning of how to cope with feeling vulnerable & scared.

Maybe student (and teacher) crushes are like the Stockholm syndrome. You identify with your "captor" so you can feel more in control.

Sandy

BTW, I realized after that first paragraph what a victim I see myself as!

Actually, I came out the victor. I had gone all over the state to find another program I could complete w/o starting over, & there wasn't one. This brough the Associate Dean into the situation as I went back to finish under him as I absolutely didn't have a better option. That tech instructor was forced to change some things that ALL students needed him to do. He still is a major pissant who has brought more than a few students to a sobbing wreck during his final, but now is being watched much more carefully by the school.

(The school still doesn't know about the oral sex w/ student in his office. I was afraid that would be perceived as manipulative on my part to bring it up.)

Hugo

Sandy, thanks for some good comments.  I really like this bit:

I just felt so pissed off that he wasn't pushing her away more...like he was feeding his ego by her feelings. He came dressed up one day & kind of seemed to want our female attention..preening, I guess. I blew him off as that's not my job as a student to make him feel handsome.

The power differential between student/instructor is a very odd thing. It brings all sorts of hidden things to the surface. It can be a very powerful feeling when you know a man/woman is sexually aroused because of you. It can be a short-cut to feeling safer, & thus avoid any learning of how to cope with feeling vulnerable & scared.

The part I put in bold is right on.  As a teacher, it's  vital that I check my own motives all the time for my clothing, my words, my behavior.  If I use my students to make me feel handsome, I do them, me, and my marriage a real disservice.  Another reason to loathe the chili peppers on Rate my profesors!

Me

I wanted to add to this as well. When I was 14 I had a huge crush on my Social Studies teacher. Yes, he did pay special attention to me and he was the first male that had ever done that. I made the mistake of writing him letters and telling him how I felt. Needless to say after that, he pretty much tried to avoid me at all costs. I'm sure he was worried about losing his job. I know I wasn't the only one who had a crush on him,(I used to hear girls talk about him in the hallway). Well its 17 years later and I have tried to talk to him about this through the years(I'd send an email once or so every couple years), but he never responded to me. Recently I found out he had cancer and I actually started a fundraiser to help raise funds for him. He did acknowledge that, but he refuses to talk to me about this other issue. How do I get him to talk to me, because I feel so unresolved and I want him to know my intentions were good and to let him know I still care very deeply about him.

Hugo

Me, I feel for you here. But there are teachers/professors who even years after the fact, are going to be uncomfortable acknowledging student crushes.

What would you like him to do? Are you looking to see if a romantic relationship is possible, or would you merely like to process your feelings out loud with him? While at 31 (which I gather you are) you are certainly no longer age inappropriate, your former student status could still create a significant baoundary in his mind. You may have to accept that.

KK

I'm not looking to start a relationship with him, but I do still care very deeply about him, and he has set the standard for the guys I tried to date in my life, although most of them didn't hold a candle to him. I would think 17 years later I could be seen by him as an adult and we could have a mature conversation about it. It's not like I can get called down to the office for it :)

Hugo

Well, it may be worth calling him, and if that doesn't work, writing him a letter. Is he married or with someone? If so, be mindful of his commitments and the feeling of his spouse as well.

It is interesting, isn't it, how our early crushes set standards for us!

kk

One other thing I may add, is that because of my letter writing I did get in trouble for it and the social worker told me that I had to pretend he was dead and I couldn't discuss it with him. Today, that seems pretty silly to me.

KK

I did send him an email today, once again. I will see what happens. He is now a dean.

Thanks!

kk

I just wonder why this bothers me some 17 years later. Probably because I never got the chance to talk to him, I feel very unresolved. The fact that he has cancer also, makes you realize how fast time goes. I just hope that I am not out of line for bringing this up now.

stephanie

That was beautifully written. The way you explained the crushes is the absolute way I feel. That girl, the one you had a crush on, she was right on the dot. When a teacher is passionate, its damn attractive.

crazy2007

Very good article Hugo. I too had a crush on one of my professors. He wasn't one of those professors who you would say was one of the "hot" professor on campus. The article definitely makes sense why I would be attrached to this professor. I have never really gotten over the crush. While in college, I never thought about making a move on this professor. Don't know why I never thought about it. He was my advisor and was one of the best professors I ever had.

TS

I agree with you to a large extent regarding why any professor can become the object of a crush. But at what point does it really become something more meaningful and deeper than that? Over the last year, I have gotten to know one of my professors very well and on a very personal level. At some point during this, he stopped being "The Professor" and became an unlikely close and valuable friend. I've had a severe crush on his throughout this, but never flirted or made my feelings known to him in the slightest. However, calling it a crush at this point seems to cheapen what I feel for him. I know him, I know many his failings, and not just his strengths in research etc. And I've realized that in his humanization, I've come to love him.

I think student-professor relationships can be beautiful, intimate things, even if they never extend into the physical realm. Of course they often end up riding along on the thin line that separates nurture and inappropriateness. But however mine progresses, I will always look back on it as one of the more formative and meaningful relationships of my life, and no one can reduce that to silly schoolgirl desires.

Elle

I'm so glad I came across this Hugo... even if it is months after you posted it. It was good therapy for me to read this.

I would like to chime in on a warning to students (particularly older female students) about predatory male professors. I am in my mid 30's and fell prey to an adjunct prof who was in his mid 40s. Early on this prof complemented me on my intelligence and seemed to want to engage me in conversation beyond class boundaries. About mid-way through the class, I decided to drop, and when I told him this during office hours he began to seduce me with kind words, physical closeness and inappropriate touching.

I was so shocked by his behavior I did eventually report him to the college. He used as a defense that he was having so many students drop his class, and he wanted me to stay since I was a good student. He was mildly disciplined at the time (actually simply warned not to do this again).

For the two years that followed, this prof. then sought revenge on me for reporting him. He went so far as to gain my personal information from my college records and attempted to sue me for damages to his career. He was stalking me at my home and work, and blackened my name at the college by filing a false and malicious police report (through which he also gained my driver's license number).

Unbelievably, the college still did not fire him, until I publicly humiliated the college president and vice president at a board meeting for condoning his behavior.

Like many of the previous comments have alluded to... this professor was deeply psychologically disturbed. During the process, he described himself as shy and socially awkward; I suppose offered as some excuse for his behavior. It is not just the teenaged girls who use the student-teacher relationship to "try out" what works for them with the opposite sex.

This incident has sadly left me with an anti-social attitude towards my professors. And when a male professor now asks me to come to office hours I get nervous and upset.

head over heels

Hi Hugo,

Thank you very much for this post. I am currently experiencing the most intense crush I have ever had on a professor, and it is extremely distracting, as I find myself thinking about him almost all of the time. My question to you is: do you think he knows how I feel about him? How could you tell when one of your students was crushing on you? I would be terribly embarrassed if he knew. At the same time, I'm curious to see if he'd be flattered...or disgusted. I'm not beastly, but there are certainly a lot of attractive girls in my class that he'd probably be more into. Any insight you could share would be very much appreciated.

Hugo

You know, there's no magical way a professor knows. Obviously, love notes and little gifts tend to give the game away -- and there is the "googly eyes" phenomenon where a student's gaze is so adoring that it's hard to construe as anything other than a crush.

But frankly, it's hard to tell whether a student is turned on by the subject or by the professor. Given that many students aren't clear themselves which they find more arousing, it's hardly surprising that professors can't either.

Academics are rarely mind-readers. I think you're probably pretty safe. And it is flattering to be the object of desire, but it's important -- as I made clear in this post -- to be realistic about what that desire means, and more importantly, to be scrupulous about boundaries.

Burton

It's unfortunate that such things as crushes can be criminalized under "sexual harassment" laws. What used to be worked out by consenting adults is now the purview of the academic inquisition.

Karla at PCC

Haha! You are the subject of quite a few student crushes, Hugo, and some of the students don't just want to listen to you. Your popularity and your perceived sexual attractiveness are more closely linked than you would ever want to admit. Wait until you get older and gain weight and watch your evaluations fall and your popularity decline. I think you are a good teacher, Hugo, but your looks and your clothes play a part in your popularity. Deal with it.

Me, I don't think you're all that hot. I don't get crushes on teachers, but if I did, it would be on someone with more meat on his bones than you, runner man.

thebizofknowledge

Now this is a subject one doesn't often see addressed, especially not in such honest and forthright terms! I am an educator myself, and, yes, I've experienced my share of student "crushes" but I, like you, recognize them for what they are and do not let myself get overly flattered. I also agree it's wise to just let these things pass without encouraging further involvement.

lost

I loved this article.. I was searching for something to put this in perspective for me and I think your article helped a lot. I'm a student with a massive crush on a professor..who is also an adjunt. Hes a great guy and is his personality that I really like and can relate with. But as your article states, he probably just is doing one hell of a job of teaching. He's incredible at opening up our minds... and making us feel important.

After reading the article, as well as the responses, I can finally see the other side of things though. It's hard to think of that side when your blinded by what you want.

I'm not sure what I'm going to do or what is going to happen.
But thanks.

Hugo

It's hard to think of that side when your blinded by what you want.

That's why I wrote the piece. Been there, "lost"! Take care, and thanks for your kind words.

confused

I'm in grad school and have a crush on one of my professors (big surprise I know). I had a crush on a professor in undergrad, but not like this one. With this guy, Dr. T, I am sexually and intellectually attracted to him. But like a lot of these posts have talked about, he is not a model looking guy, but he is sexy to me (these beautiful blue eyes). He's not married, but he has or had(not sure)a girlfriend. He's in his late 30's and I've tried not to like him, or tell myself that its just an intellectual attraction, a sort of mentor need or something(or possibly the fact that I haven't had sex in forever). But I am attracted to him, and I think he might be to me too. what do i do? (p.s: I just started the program this year, and have one class i'm in with him now)

Hugo

Confused, the same rules apply in grad school -- even more so, given the proximity we get to each other in grad programs. If your attraction is mutual, and you wish to have it go further, you both have to find a way to make sure that you are no longer in a professional relationship. And given the gossippy nature of virtually all grad programs, dating a prof -- even one who is not your direct supervisor, can unfairly damage your budding professional reputation. That may not be fair, but it is a real possibility.

If the feelings are mutual, it is primarily his responsibility to make sure that you are in no way under his supervision before anything happens.

Hang in there.

confused

thanks

aketch

This reply is probably a bit late since this topic has been posted for months now, but I've stumbled on this just right now so please indulge me. I think all of the explanations and stories presented by everybody are really helpful and enlightening for both students and profs.

I myself am an undergrad student who's currently, madly infatuated with one of my former profs. I had never had any bonding or casual conversations with any of my former profs or teachers before this Prof D.. I attribute that to my, not exactly being an anti-authority, but more like an aversion to structured environment in which an authority figure is involved. To say it simply, I was never close to anyone who's a figure of authority. Prof D was a breath of fresh air. In all of my university years, I've never encountered a prof who gives no due date on essays. He does have a "hypothetical due date" which means failing to hand in an essay on that date will receive no penalty at all. Needless to say, a lot of students handed in their essay on the day of the final exam. No penalty at all. His less structured style of teaching coupled with his passion and knowledge of his subject material(religion & film) are just amazing. His topic about humanity's quest for spirituality require extensive introspection, which I still keep pondering on. I'm sure he's a very introspective person himself to be able to develop a lesson plan like that. He changed the way I see films. Though I've always been passionate about films, he opened my eyes more and made me see the subtle messsages in them. i.e. extracting religious or spiritual themes in films like memento, or dogville, fight club, or royal tenenbaums, etc..

I guess what I'm trying to say from my extensive illustration, is that Hugo's pop psychology quote that we get crushes on people whom we want to be like, is a very valid point. In my case, I value freedom-loving, unstructured, introspective, film-loving qualities in a person..by film-loving I mean someone who's a HUGE film buff.. I've always been aware of those values of mine and in fact, those are what I look for in my potential partner. It amazes me to meet a person who possesses all that. His non-authoritative demeanor is precisely what attracted me to him so I guess the idea that women sometimes look for a power figure doesn't apply to me. I heard someone said that we tend to admire a person or bestow our love upon someone whose qualities we hold dearly in ourselves. I really agree with that.

I had felt a sense of sadness when the class had finished. But I still email him and he seems to enjoy our exhanges of film knowledge. I've never moved past our friendly exchanges. I am actually in my late 20s now and so have gained a bit of maturity not to expect anything from these exchanges, they are merely for enjoyment and enlightenment purposes. On that note, I don't think I can ever express my infatuation on him

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