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Wits could ban staff, student relationships

136 16/11/2012 A student at Wits Main campus. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng

136 16/11/2012 A student at Wits Main campus. Picture: Motshwari Mofokeng

Published Aug 6, 2013

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Johannesburg - Wits University could outlaw relationships between staff and students. This is just one of a raft of proposals being considered by the board of inquiry investigating sexual harassment at the university.

Headed by Professor Bonita Meyersfeld, the director of the Wits Centre for Applied Legal Studies, the board will present its final report on August 16.

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Meyersfeld said the number of sexual harassment incidents at Wits was no higher than at any other university. “It happens at every university, the difference is that there’s an inquiry at ours,” she said.

The general sense among staff at the university was that they were upset with the sexual harassment that was taking place between lecturers and students, as well as between colleagues.

“It’s not the happiest place at the moment,” she said, adding that one of the issues they faced was that staff and students might be unaware as to what qualified as harassment or how to deal with it.

“People are unhappy, partly because people are nervous on where to turn or how to engage with the issue.”

Meyersfeld said the inquiry was looking at broader issues around sexual harassment at the university and the codes of conduct regarding student-lecturer relationships.

She said addressing the university’s codes of conduct on relationships was a “very big part” of their inquiry.

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“Should a university ever allow a relationship between students and a lecturer?” she asked, adding they had heard arguments for both sides.

However, she said although some had argued that a student-lecturer relationship may be between two adults, there were still issues of abuse of power by the lecturers.

She said the regulations for social media and interacting over messaging platforms between lecturers and their students needed to be overhauled as there were no provisions for these.

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