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Credit: Mona Lee

Penn is taking a more stringent stance against consensual sexual relations between faculty and students in a significant policy change that will go into effect March 27.

The new policy states that all sexual relations between a faculty member and an undergraduate student will be prohibited. This marks a considerable shift from the University's previous policy, which stated that sexual relations between teachers and students were only prohibited "during the period of the teacher-student relationship." 

For the first time in the University's history, there will be a blanket ban on all sexual relations between current faculty members and undergraduate students, regardless of whether the faculty member directly oversees the student. 

This new policy, as laid out in the Faculty Handbook, also applies to "all academic advisors and program directors, including those based in the College Houses and other University-owned or administered housing." 

This update in policy does not extend to graduate students. While the University still "strongly discourages" sexual relations between graduate students and faculty members, it is not "categorically prohibited." Rather, in keeping with the previous policy, sexual relations will only be prohibited "during the period of the faculty-student relationship."

Provost Wendell Pritchett laid out the changes to this policy in a presentation delivered to the Faculty Senate Executive Committee earlier this month. His announcement marked the first time since 1995 that this policy has been updated. 

While this policy pertains to consensual sexual relations, Pritchett explained in an emailed statement to The Daily Pennsylvanian that the changes are a part of the University's efforts to update its policies around sexual harassment and sexual assault. In a school-wide email sent on March 13, Pritchett called on all students to submit suggestions on how Penn can improve its procedures around sexual harassment so that they are "more effective and equitable." 

"It is one of our highest priorities at Penn to sustain a campus free of sexual violence, sexual harassment, and all other forms of sexual misconduct," Pritchett wrote in his email. "In this light, we have updated the University’s policy on Consensual Sexual Relations Between Faculty and Students, which was originally published in 1995."  

The updated policy does not include changes to procedures governing sexual relations between graduate students and faculty members. However, research has shown that graduate students at Penn are more likely than undergraduate students to identify faculty members as sexual harassment offenders. 

The 2015 Association of American Universities Campus Climate Survey found that 23 percent of female graduate respondents identified a faculty member as the perpetrator of harassment, as opposed to the only 5 percent of female undergraduate respondents who did. 

Earlier this year, five anonymous respondents of a public survey reported alleged incidents of sexual assault and harassment by Penn professors. Four out of those five anonymous respondents identified themselves as graduate students. 

Credit: Lucy Ferry

On top of changing the rules governing students and faculty, the updated policy on the Faculty Handbook site is also more explicit about the repercussions that faculty members face for violating this policy. 

Until this month, the 23-year-old policy that Penn implemented stated that the Provost and other administrators ought to respond to reports of prohibited sexual relations by "inquiring further" and if necessary, "initiating appropriate disciplinary action" against the teacher involved. 

In the updated policy, the University added another line, stating explicitly that, "Violators of this policy will be subject to sanctions ranging from written reprimand to tenure revocation and/or termination of employment or expulsion."

While it's not immediately clear when the discussion for this update to the policy began or why, Pritchett wrote in his email that the changes had been approved by multiple administrative departments as well as student leaders from the Undergraduate Assembly and the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly. 

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