The University of Witswatersrand (Wits) saw the approval of a new policy today. It aims to govern the engagement of romantic and sexual relationships between students and staff. The regulation comes after a heated scandal at the institution involving a lecturer being subjected to sexual harassment and rape allegations. The new policy holds similar rules for relationships between undergraduates and honours students as well.
Wits claims to recognise the dynamics of the influence that can exist between academic staff and university attendants. In recognition of this, the university has put measures in place that prohibit romantic and sexual relationships between students and lecturers. The aim is to protect students from any predatory superiors.
Tsepo wa Mamatu was a drama lecturer at Wits and was accused of around 10 cases of rape and sexual harassment back in 2013. The news lead several headlines for months. After nearly 12 months of denying the allegations, wa Mamatu gave a public apology for his actions and was dismissed from Wits in July 2013.
The numerous rumors regarding wa Mamatu could no longer be ignored once complaints about the lecturer being a sexual predator came to the fore. The lecturer is reported to have taken advantage of female students for around six years. The acts are said to have happened both off campus and on school grounds, during lectures, rehearsals and auditions.
Wa Mamatu posted this apology on his Facebook account:
“I apologise to my community, my society and every woman for failing them. I apologise for abusing my power, vested in me by the university, to fail to be consistent with principles and values of best practice.”
In light of the fact that it is possible for staff and higher ranking students to hold certain influences over students, the university worked towards drafting the policy approved today. With this regulation in place, Wits hopes to actively combat rape, sexual harassment and gender-based harm at the university.
The university also acknowledges that, in most cases, such relationships between students and lectures are technically consensual. However, Wits claims that many student-staff relationships leave students feeling utterly unable to have a say in the nature of the relationship. More specifically, they can have students feeling unable to reject the sexual advances of lecturers due to threats of exposure or the influence that they hold at the university.
According to Wits: “This new policy on sexual and romantic relationships between staff and undergraduates and honours students is designed to protect students in this kind of situation by prohibiting sexual and romantic relationships between staff members and undergraduates and honours students, who are least able to navigate university systems and most susceptible to being abused by staff members who enjoy significant powers and autonomy within the university structure.”
There are, however, exemptions for serious relations contained in the policy. Wits admits that not all relationships of this nature are troublesome, but the recent events certainly called for countermeasures to be put in place.