Interaction Outside Classroom Not Always Abusive

To the Editors:

On Feb. 9, 2018, The Oberlin Review published Emily Clarke’s Letter to the Editors (“Matambo’s Mentorship Lacked Boundaries”), which describes interactions that Clarke had with former professor of Creative Writing Bernard Farai Matambo. Matambo recently resigned from Oberlin College due to sexual misconduct allegations. From Clarke’s perspective, the interactions described in the letter made their student-teacher relationship “insidious.” I understand that all of Matambo’s students had different experiences with him; however, to me, the actions described in the third paragraph of Clarke’s letter do not seem like boundaries crossed, with the exception of showing up to Clarke’s house at 10:30 p.m. As an English teacher at a Chinese university, I do many of these actions. Sometimes I invite my students out for lunch or tea, we have long conversations, and I may ask them to help me run errands. While Matambo certainly crossed boundaries in relation to sexual misconduct, I do not think students’ interactions with professors that extend beyond the classroom have to be abusive or automatically devalue students’ academic work. Because of the allegations of sexual misconduct against Matambo, many students and alumni are questioning his relationships and actions, and I appreciate this as part of a healing process. However, I think it’s important to make distinctions about what actions constitute or lead to misconduct and what actions do not.