Exploring Romantic Student-Professor Relationships at Cal Poly

Before our group decided to cover this topic, it was originally brought up in passing as kind of a funny idea, but was quickly passed by. We mulled over different topics that were far less interesting, and when pitched them to our Brady. After each pitch was shut down for many  valid reasons, he asked us if we had anything else. The group sat in silence for a few moments until one member, Audra Wright, chose to speak up and pitch the Student-Professor dating story. Brady started laughing hard and simply said, “Yes”. From there we knew we had something.

With our topic decided, we now faced the task of finding sources for a story that absolutely nobody wanted to be associated with. Initial attempts at reaching out with students and faculty were met with a lot of apprehension, as well as a strange comment from a former manager. Overall, each group seemed to feel like they were being coaxed into a witch hunt, the complete opposite of what our goal was.

Some of the responses received from my post to the Class of 2017 Facebook page were hilarious, and you should check them out. Below is a response from one of the professors we ended up interviewing, and a link to the Cal Poly subreddit page with a similar posting.

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Student-Professor Romantic Relationships At Cal Poly/Universities from CalPoly

Even with all the lukewarm feedback, we managed to secure sources on the grounds of professional opinions, not experience. At this point, the group realized we may have to narrow our story’s focus down to the policy of student-professor relationships and the grey area involved. It seemed like even that aspect of the topic got people stirred enough to want to talk about it.

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Laura Daniele, said she saw this as a good reason to keep going with this story, as follows:

“I had never considered the fact that a relationship could be so controversial. Hearing so many different perspectives on student/professor relationships really helps me understand why it is a hard topic to talk about, but why it is one we need to talk about.”

As a sidetone we did also interview a student who had met a professor on tinder, but once she started telling her story, she let us know that it happened a.) In Germany and b.) With a professor in no way affiliated with Cal Poly.  She did still have some interesting viewpoints on the subject as a whole but unfortunately, the SD card on the camera we recorded her with was corrupted and the entire interview was lost. A lesson learned from that experience was to always back up a video interview with a voice recording, so that at least we could have salvaged a quote or two from it.

As Audra Wright, the group member covering the broadcast portion of this project put it,

”This project definitely had its challenges. For example, we were able to find a student who was willing to share her experience of a fling with a non-Cal Poly professor. We met up with her at a local coffee shop, filmed her, and the interview exceeded our expectations. Unfortunately, the AP card was corrupted and the footage couldn’t be retrieved. Though it was miserably unfortunate, it was a learning experience.”

Luckily, we had some really great interviews lined up in addition to that one, and the interview that I thought was the best was our interview with Professor Loving.

Professor Loving waits for his interview while Audra Wright sets up the camera.
Professor Loving gets ready for the interview while Audra Wright sets up the camera.

Although I knew Professor Loving was going to deliver, having taken some of my most memorable classes with him throughout the years at Cal Poly, he exceeded all of our expectations. He clearly explained the legal and ethical sides of the dating policy in a soft-spoken and eloquent manner. I’m sure Audra will have a hard time cutting down the 20 minute interview into 90 seconds, and Cal Poly will definitely miss having Loving around going forward.

This story was a lot of fun to work on and I think Sara Portnoy, working the Multimedia aspect of this project, summed it up best when she said,

“Being able to hear so many perspectives from students, professors, and administrators about the CSU Policy for Consensual Relationships really allowed me to see why this topic, that’s considered taboo and controversial, needs to be looked at through many points of view.”

It will be very interesting to see more reactions if this story happens to make it into Mustang News, but overall our group is just happy we got to break some new ground on a topic not previously covered.