Student Guide to Understanding Power Imbalances

The faculty and staff in the Department of Psychology are committed to providing a safe and respectful environment free from discrimination and harassment for all of our students. Given the various roles in which faculty/staff members are likely to serve during a student’s time at GVSU (e.g., teachers, advisors, research mentors, work supervisors), it is not uncommon for their influence to extend beyond the classroom context.

Any relationship that a faculty/staff member has with a student, regardless of context or role, is one in which there is a fundamental difference in power. Given the power difference between faculty/staff and students, it is important to recognize the potential for misuse/abuse of power in the event that the faculty/staff member is not mindful or respectful of this power differential.

The following are descriptions of features that may characterize inappropriate relationships between faculty/staff and students. The presence of one characteristic does not necessarily indicate a problematic relationship, nor do all features need to be present in order to conclude that an abuse of power has occurred.  The Department of Psychology encourages students to assist us in creating an environment built upon the principles of mutual respect and free from discrimination and harassment by carefully attending to and reporting instances of misuse/abuse of power.

Potential Signs of Misuse/Abuse of Power

Inappropriate Requests and Inappropriately Intimate Behaviors: Faculty/staff members may be abusing their power if they pressure a student to engage in activities that are outside of the boundaries of typical faculty/staff-student relationships or if they behave towards students in an inappropriately familiar way.  Concrete examples include but are not limited to: Requesting work for which credit or compensation cannot be/is not given, pressuring students to socialize outside of any work-related context, requesting special favors not directly related to course/research/or work activities, inappropriately commenting upon physical appearance, or engaging in sexual interactions.

Disrespectful and/or Exploitative Behavior: Faculty/staff members may be abusing their power if they behave towards students in a manner that exploits, harasses, or discriminates against them in any way.  Concrete examples include but are not limited to: Engaging in disrespectful conversations regarding the student’s personal beliefs or aspects of the student’s identity, intentionally disregarding the student’s professional development, failing to follow through with their professional obligations (e.g., writing promised letters of recommendation), and expecting the completion of work that is inappropriately above or below the student’s level. 

Students should never be placed in a position where they feel as though they must tolerate inappropriate behavior or comply with inappropriate requests in order to build their professional skills (e.g., working in a lab) or gain access to needed resources (e.g., advising, letters of recommendation).  Simply stated, if a faculty/staff member asks you to do something that makes you feel uncomfortable, you should never feel as though you must comply. 

Finally, the Department of Psychology and the University are strongly committed to ensuring that students are safe at our institution.  As such, each faculty and staff member is required to report to the Title IX Coordinator or Equity Officer any details that are revealed about an incident of prohibited conduct.  Once reported, the involved student will have access to resources and information to aid their decision regarding filing a formal complaint.


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