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Student Sends Flirtatious, Then Menacing Emails to Professor

Student Sends Flirtatious, Then Menacing Emails to Professor
4/3/2018
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Susan Dutca-Lovell

A professor at the University of California at Santa Cruz believed she was "unstalkable" up until a student of hers began sending messages that were at first flirtatious and ultimately turned to threats of rape and murder. Much of the #MeToo conversation in higher education revolves around educators who "harass" or "target" students; but some educators themselves actually become vulnerable to harassment by their own students and remain silent out of a sense of guilt, embarrassment, and often the fear of losing their jobs.

Professor Jody Greene had made it clear to students that she was "their professor, not their friend, and the classroom was a space she had marked out to be the safest place." Greene began to experience unsettling correspondence with one of the female students in her course who kept sending her "borderline flirtatious emails with soft propositions." Unsure of what to do, Professor Greene ignored the student's advances and "put aside her unease and didn't tell anyone." However, the situation escalated when the student kept sending emails, leaving notes under her door and eventually, threatened her with "rape and death." In one note, the student wrote, "I know where you live." Greene continued to keep the situation secret because she was "worried that she would be seen as having exerted her professional power inappropriately - that she might've been hitting on the student."

The student would begin the emails by referencing the course, including "jocular references to particular characters in the assigned novel," and gradually became more suggestive, "describing dreams and issuing soft propositions." Sometimes, they would end in winking emoticons. Greene would always direct the female student to "keep all email correspondence related to the class" which would aggravate the student, then she would appear apologetic and cut off correspondence for a while. Then the cycle would start over. According to Greene, there were "about five rounds of this."

Greene finally put an end to the student's advances by calling them out as "inappropriate" to which the student replied that she was "straight" and that Greene (an open queer) was "clearly a lesbian." The student became hostile and went so far as to write, "I know where you live, my brothers are in the military...I'm not a lesbian, you're a lesbian and my brothers are going to come and rape you and set you right and then kill you." Five minutes later, Greene called the Title IX Officer. Greene admitted to being "protective" of the student and did not want her to suffer academically, and that the student appeared to be going through "identity issues." With only one class and final exam remaining in the semester, Greene took the option to have the student take the final exam in an alternative space and let her know she was not allowed to have any further contact with Greene.

For the next five years, at least once a year, Greene would receive emails "purporting to be from strangers interested in working with" and "every time, they turned out to be from the [female] student." Greene chose to not reveal the student's identity because she, like her colleagues, "feel protective of our students, many of us, particularly in their vulnerabilities, and we don't want them to pay a high price for something that may just be a growing pain."

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