Psychology Department Statement on Power Imbalances and Sexual Harassment

Values Statement

The Department of Psychology values free expression and critical examination of ideas in an environment of mutual respect, and we are concerned with preserving the integrity of the classroom environment for learning.  We recognize a shared responsibility to create and maintain an environment of mutual respect for the benefit of all, including faculty, staff, graduate, and undergraduate students.

As psychologists, we are acutely aware of the role that power imbalances may play in relationships between and among our students, our staff, and our faculty. We recognize the potential for relationships with power imbalances to lead to abuses, such as intimidation, coercion, or harassment, including sexual harassment. The Psychology Department does not tolerate coercion, intimidation, or any form of harassment – verbal, physical, or sexual. If we observe harassing, intimidating, or coercive behavior, the goal of the department will be to restore an environment of mutual respect for everyone, including reporting incidents to the Division of Inclusion and Equity, and other appropriate University entities, including Public Safety, if necessary.

Abuse of Power

By virtue of their roles, faculty and staff engage in a range of behaviors that exercise power over students, including evaluation as an instructor or supervisor, and provision of recommendations for future educational or employment opportunities in a wide range of other professional contexts. Similarly, faculty members exercise power over junior faculty, who go through regular personnel reviews on their road to tenure, and over staff, whom they regularly evaluate. Faculty and staff members are cognizant of the power differential of each of these circumstances, and they refrain from misuse of their power. Whenever possible, they take steps to eliminate any unnecessary negative effects of the power differential, and, more generally, faculty and staff members refrain from misuse of any power differential regardless of rank or status in the department or university.

Given the multiple roles that faculty play (e.g., instructor, academic advisor, research mentor), multiple and overlapping relationships with students are common. Multiple relationships call for vigilance on the part of the faculty member because they present an increased potential for inappropriate and exploitative outcomes, particularly in light of the power imbalances that may exist. Per the American Psychological Association code of Ethics, a psychologist refrains from entering into a multiple relationship if the multiple relationship could reasonably be expected to impair the psychologist's objectivity, competence, or effectiveness in performing his or her functions as a psychologist, or otherwise risks exploitation or harm to the person with whom the professional relationship exists.

Multiple relationships that would not reasonably be expected to cause impairment or risk exploitation or harm are not unethical. When faculty or staff members find that a multiple relationship poses potential for concern, our department expects that they will take steps to explore and remediate the situation through consultation with fellow faculty members and/or their unit head, or university officials as appropriate.

Faculty/Student Relationships

Faculty/student dating relationships greatly increase the chances that the faculty member will abuse his or her power and sexually exploit the student. Voluntary consent by the student in such a relationship is suspect, given the fundamental asymmetric nature of the relationship. This behavior can also have negative impacts on other students and faculty, since the behavior may allow the faculty member the opportunity to provide preferential treatment to one student over another, with student benefits possibility implicitly deriving as a result of amorous or sexual favors. Due to the structure of the university, there is an inherent power differential between students and faculty, whether the faculty member has direct supervisory power over the student or not. The psychological power conferred by this status differential is as potent as that deriving from any faculty opportunity to grade or evaluate the student.  It would be very challenging to envision a scenario in which it would be appropriate to enter into an amorous, dating, or sexual relationship with a graduate student in psychology, a graduate student in any other department with which the faculty member has contact, or any undergraduate student at the university.

Campus Resources in the Event of Harassment

Campus Resources and Filing a Report

Title IX Coordinator and Equity Officer/Director, Theresa Rowland
4000 Zumberge Hall (JHZ)
(616) 331-9530

Grand Valley State University Police Department
Facilities Services Building (SER)
(616) 331-3255

Campus Victim Advocate, Krystal Diel
1201 Kirkhof Center (KC)
(616) 331-2748

Additional Reporting Options, including anonymous reporting is available at

Other Resources

Dean of Students
202 Student Services Building (STU)
(616) 331-3585

University Counseling Center (Allendale)
204 Student Services Building (STU)
(616) 331-3266

Milton E. Ford Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Resource Center
1161 Kirkhof Center (KC)
(616) 331-2530

Encompass, Employee Assistance Program
1090 Zumberge Hall (JHZ)

Page last modified November 29, 2022