I’m not dating a student where I teach, but people think I am

A reader writes:

I’m worried that the college where I teach as an adjunct thinks I’m dating a student, who in reality is my sister.

When the department coordinator hired me three semesters ago, I informed him that my sister, nine years my junior, is a student at the college, and I promised she would never enroll in my classes. He was not in the least concerned and proceeded to explain my duties, etc. For the entire first semester, I heard nothing about it, and then at the start of my next semester, my department chair (different from the coordinator who hired me) called me into his office under the pretense of wanting to review my class assignments. He barely glanced at my assignment descriptions and instead launched right into, “Now I really hate to ask you this, but is it true that you are dating one of our students?” Yikes! My mind reeled wondering what on earth he was talking about (I have a girlfriend, but she’s a grad student at another college) and it took me a couple of seconds to realize that he must be thinking about my sister. I supposed that folks must have seen me meeting her for lunch and getting into the same car with her, and assumed the worst. As soon as I explained that, a look of relief came over his entire body, he apologized a thousand times, and repeated what the coordinator originally told me about it being no problem.

So for the second time, I thought I was finished with the entire issue, but something happened at the end of this current semester that got me worried all over again about the misperception and confusion the connection to my sister is causing on campus, and what that might mean for me professionally.

During the last class session of the semester, I walked into my class as two of my students were discussing who the girl might be whom they saw me giving money to earlier in the semester. One of them suggested that she might be my girlfriend, but before they could continue to speculate, I loudly interjected with an “Excuse me, but you are talking about my sister.” It then occurred to me that I might never be rid of this gossip and I’m worried about it potentially getting around to others who might be in a position to help or hurt me professionally.

Things at this college are in a constant state of flux, with new department chairs coming and going, and I am also interested in applying to jobs in different departments at the college, such as the Writing Center or Testing Center. What if the folks in those departments, whom I barely know, have heard rumors about my dating a student and their decisions about placing me are colored by those perceptions? What if a new department chair or adjunct coordinator comes in and hears from a new batch of students that I’ve been seen slipping cash to a female student?

Short of grabbing a bullhorn and announcing to the campus that the girl in question is my sister who has never taken one of my classes, what can I do to preemptively combat these rumors, considering that I thought I had already spread the nature of our relationship far and wide? Also, do you think I’m being overly paranoid about this? Should I just let it go unless something else happens?

I don’t think you’re being overly paranoid about it since you’ve already encountered potentially damaging misperceptions about it twice. I too would be worried that people are assuming it in cases that you’re not hearing about and thus aren’t getting the chance to correct. (Whether or not they should be jumping to those conclusions is a different question — the reality is that they are.)

At a minimum, I would address it proactively with anyone new in your department, any new adjunct coordinator, and anyone else whose opinion is particularly important to your work there. I’d just say something like, “By the way, I want to let you know that my sister is a student here. I’ve ensured that she’ll never be in my classes, but I wanted to let you know because someone previously didn’t realize the relationship and worried I was dating a student, which was obviously alarming for all of us!”

Frankly, if appropriate, you might also mention it to your classes at the start of each semester, which I think you could do in a joking way that would still get the point across.

Of course, then you’re still going to have the problem of students and faculty who don’t know you — and thus aren’t included in the informed groups above — seeing you with your sister and jumping to the wrong conclusion. Because of that, one additional option is for you and your sister to cut down on your interaction while you’re on campus — stop having lunch together, exchanging money, etc. That’s an extreme option, but you could argue that it’s no different than spouses who basically ignore the other if they work together, in order to keep things professional. I’m not sure it’s a reasonable option, but it’s worth considering if it’s not a huge hardship (if, for instance, you don’t live together and thus carpool together every day or whatever).

On the other hand, just writing that last paragraph annoyed me and made me feel gross, because you shouldn’t have to do that.

But the reality is that most colleges take inappropriate professor/student relationships really seriously, and this situation has the potential to affect you without you even knowing about it, which means that you probably do have to engage in some degree of annoying work to ward it off.

Anyone have a different take?

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 106 comments… read them below }

  1. Just Laura*

    As a former instructor, I understand OP’s concerns. I would make my situation clear to any administration/higher-ups, and also minimize contact with the sister on campus. Unfortunate, yes– but to some people, perception is reality, and you have your reputation to protect. Sorry this is happening.

    1. Laurie B.*

      And another step further! Faculty usually have a page on the institution’s website that outlines their credentials and has a place for a bio I’d include a write-up of the article there too.

    2. Lanya*

      First impressions are very lasting and will continue to hurt your reputation as long as you are hanging out with your sister on campus, and even years later.

      An old professor of mine had been teaching at university for 30 years, and even 20 years after he had married one of his former students, the rumor persisted that he was involved with a student.

  2. Katie the Fed*

    You should ask an enterprising young writer at the student paper to do a feature on what it’s like being a student in a university where your brother is a professor. Make sure there’s a nice big picture.

    1. twentymilehike*

      You should ask an enterprising young writer at the student paper to do a feature on what it’s like being a student in a university where your brother is a professor

      Oh I like this idea! I was thinking that the more people you talked to about it, the more word would get around. I guess you’d be starting your own “rumor” … only this one would be true.

    2. A Bug!*

      I quite like this idea as well. I’d clip the article and put it on the wall in my office, too – after all, there’s an article in the student newspaper about my sibling, of whom I am very proud!

    3. Blinx*

      This is brilliant! I’d take it a step further and have it repeated in any staff/administration newsletter, since they may not read the student news. Or widely distribute a PDF/link to the article.

      Curious… has the sister gotten the same grief over the rumors from her advisors or profs?

    4. moe*

      My only concern about this is that OP is an adjunct, and the politics of academic hierarchy are such that the folks higher up the food chain might bristle at that amount of attention being given to an adjunct. I wish I could think of a more diplomatic way of saying it, but when your employment is semester-to-semester or year-to-year with no office or other support, it’s often the unstated philosophy that you should be seen and not heard.

      I’d run it by the department chair and a trusted senior, tenured colleague before going this route.

      1. Original Poster*

        Thank you for saying that. Yes, that actually strikes at the heart of why I was a little nervous about that moment when I had to mention having a sister on campus. Adjuncts are just supposed to do their work without making any noise. We are not real employees in the traditional sense, and there are a dozen potential adjuncts on the list waiting for an open class. They have no reason to keep putting me on the schedule if I rock the boat.

        1. TheSnarkyB*

          I understand what you’re saying about rocking the boat. I also think that the school’s size makes a big difference here. Having gone to a school of about 1,900 myself- I remember people being really cool about relatives. There were at least 3 married professor couples, a few dating and married professor and staff couples, some of whom were lesbian couples. Then there were uncles/nieces, etc.
          This obviously depends on the culture there, but why not say it like it’s a positive thing?
          “Hey guys, you surviving finals? My sister’s a senior biochem major- I know it’s hell week!”
          or, at the beginning of next semester,
          “Did anyone have a hard time registering? My sister told me that sophomores get the short end of the stick – she’s a junior over in Art History”
          ya know?
          I think getting the word out to your students might be even more effective than trying to spread it around the faculty..

      2. Katie the Fed*

        Oh yeah, that’s a good point. I forgot that in academia the adjuncts and lecturers are the unwashed masses that everyone relies on but nobody really wants to invite inside. Yeah, less of a splash makes sense in that regard. Still, sounds like middle school on steroids (which is true of most academic environments I’ve ever known).

      3. JT*

        Attention in a student newspaper for something non-academic? I doubt regular professors care about one article like that.

    5. Mints*

      Even if you don’t get an article, you could post a picture outside your office (do all schools do this? My professors always had comics, articles, or pictures on the walls/doors outside their offices) and caption it the family bbq, or whatever gets the point accross

      1. MW*

        I like this idea (if there is a way to label the picture to make it clear it’s his sister – a family photo?), but I don’t know what the OP’s situation is. In many cases (including my school/department) adjuct professors are not given an office. If they are lucky, they may be able to share a space with others to coordinate office hours.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        I was thinking of a picture on the office door, too. Add a caption such as “meet my sister!”

        Or maybe you could wear a shirt/cap/something that says “yes, she’s my kid sister!”

        But seriously, also encourage her to talk up “That is my brother!”
        It shouldn’t just come from you. Does she know this is happening to you? Probably she would want to do something to help dial this back.

    6. Anon*

      +1 to this. My very thoughts. I went to school (and then later worked) where my mom was on staff. My sister also went to school there. When she graduated they did a family piece on all three of us.

      I wouldn’t avoid your sister. That seems like overkill.

  3. Kristina*

    This sucks… Anyway, I attended a small college where similar situations happened. The teachers would make comments like ‘my wife works in X department so I know what’s going on around campus’. Otherwise it looks like two married profs are fooling around. I think it’s a good idea just to be upfront, and even introduce her as your sister when you’re around colleagues. Maybe even have her stop by your office especially if you are in close proximity to your dept chair. Heck, she could even stop by with you as you pop in to ‘say hi’. I agree with AAM, I’d feel bad if you felt you had to ignore your sis. That’s just not cool.

  4. COT*

    I agree that you should try to stop spending so much time with your sister on campus. In a perfect world you could enjoy getting to have a great daily relationship with your sister, but you need to live with the reality of the rumor mill.

    You could also try to mention your sister in class: use her as an example or anecdote.

    As much as you might be able to address the issue with your colleagues and superiors, it might be harder to get the word out to the whole student body. These rumors might be damaging your relationships with your students, whether or not you know it.

  5. LL*

    I’ve worked in university settings and I don’t think the OP is being paranoid at all. Faculty dating students is absolutely taboo, so of course everyone loves to speculate and gossip. I watched a colleague deal with a similar issue, except that the student in question was his daughter and the age gap made the gossip even juicier. Instead of downplaying or hiding it, my colleague frequently talked about his daughter being a new freshman on campus. It was usually something he’d bring up during introductions.

    1. Nicole*

      I was just going to suggest this as well – if minimizing contact isn’t an option, maximize it so it’s obvious you have absolutely nothing to hide.

      1. Elizabeth*

        When they do meet up, they should greet each other loudly: “Hey, sis, I’m over here!” “Hi, big brother! How’s it going? Did Mom tell you the news?”

      2. clobbered*

        Yeah I was going to suggest that as well – increase the contact to the point where it is really easy to introduce her to a bunch of people as your sister. Tell stories in class “my sister who is in department X …”. Have lunch with her AND a colleague. etc.

        You should not have to pretend not to know your own sister. Also, frankly, I’m not even that bothered about the fact that a professor may have a relative in their own class. These things happen.

  6. KayDay*

    I think the rumor has spread enough that it’s worth addressing with the higher-ups in the university. (If only one person had mentioned it, I would say ignore it, but this is too many).

    I really don’t think you should have to stop seeing your sister on campus. College campus are a different type of environment–really social with plenty of places to hang out and spend time visiting with people. You should be able to visit her on campus, just like you would if she went to a different school. If it gets really bad, it might come to that, but I would try talking to higher-ups first. It sounds like every time you have addressed it with them, it has been no big deal, so hopefully that will be enough.

  7. Wilton Businessman*

    First day of class bring your sister in for 5 minutes. Just say “I’d like you all to meet my sister. She is a Sophmore/Junior/Senior/Grad Student here and when you see her you can introduce yourself. And by the way, she’s single.”

    5 minutes, done. It’s called nipping-it-in-the-bud.

    1. Andie*

      I don’t think the OP needs to bring his sister in to the class but I like where this is going. If it were me, at the start of the first class I would give students a little background about myself, why I chose to teach at this school and throw in a “by the way” my little sister goes to school here as well. Then say something like “but don’t worry I would never let her take my class sharing a bathroom with her when we were kids was torture enough!”

      1. Jesse*

        Alternavtely, OP, you could discuss understanding the concerns of balancing life/school. Then say “My sister, who is a freshman/sophomore/junior here at XX, has given me tips to pass along to my students.”

        Makes it sound that 1) you know how difficult it is to be a student, and 2) you’re connected at the student level.

        1. Anonymous*

          I wouldn’t go overboard with the ‘tips from my sister’ though – life as a student can be hard too, and I’m sure OP doesn’t want to paint his sister as a know-it-all or something.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Yeah, or sounding like you think the sister has special insight that other students wouldn’t have, or that you think having a sister in the student body gives you more insight than it really does. I’d be careful with that one.

            1. Original Poster*

              Yes. I believe my best sense of insight is that I was an undergraduate a mere 5 years ago, and a student at this very college 10 years ago. I’ve got plenty of insight into the lives of college students without putting her in a potentially awkward position among her peers.

          2. K*

            Agreed, but you could say “My sister is a student here and mentioned X about student life” in a pretty natural manner (“Yeah, my sister is a student here and mentioned that it’s tough for you guys to have such a compressed finals period,” e.g.)

        1. Zahra*

          Um, no.

          While most people will understand that “By the way, she’s single.” is an ice-breaker and not necessarily true, some will absolutely cross the line to creepy/harassing behavior such as not taking “no” for an answer, badgering her brother for a blind date, etc. As a woman, I really take exception when a man assumes I want to “get a guy” (when I don’t have a significant other). It is presumptuous, paternalistic, patronizing and may put me in danger. While it is the responsibility of men not to harass women, I have no confidence that enough will do so for me to feel safe. Thus, do not set a woman up to be the target of harassers, it’s your responsibility as a human person.

  8. Katie in Ed*

    This…ugh…I’m so annoyed, I can’t even comment. This is annoying. Sorry you have to deal with it, OP.

  9. Peaches*

    Sort of off topic, but assuming your sister is an undergrad, how many more years of study does she have left?

    If it offers even a little bit of comfort, just remember, this won’t be a permanent issue for you to worry about if you just protect your reputation for now.

    I think AAM’s advice is great. Make sure people know. I especially like the idea about joking about in a sort of serious way at the beginning of each class to cut those rumors off at the throat. Students and faculty are notorious gossips. Get a few people on your side and it should be ok.

  10. Lisa*

    OP can you get your official HR file to state that you have a sister that attends the school? That way if you are ever looked into for promotion or lateral moves, the right person would see the notation? Like you said the coordinator that hired you knows, but not every new dept head.

    Avoiding your sister clearly isn’t an option since you are giving her car rides and most likely commuting with her on occasion if she doesn’t live on campus. You could wear a hat that says, “she’s my sister – quit gossiping” when you are out with her.

      1. fposte*

        The problem is that HR stuff is generally pretty separate from departmental and academic. So it wouldn’t hurt, but I think the solution needs to be more up-front. OP, do you have a nice family picture that includes your sister and other family members so that it’s obviously family? Make it a nice size, put it on your desk or door if you have one and your webpage, and add names and grad year dates for your sister and anybody in the family who’s an alum (making sure they consent so you don’t unintentionally fall into FERPA fire trying to get out of the gossip frying pan) .

        You can also joke up front in classes that your little sister is your spy in the student body, so no claiming you were in the library when you were really out with friends.

        1. Kerry*

          “You can also joke up front in classes that your little sister is your spy in the student body, so no claiming you were in the library when you were really out with friends.”

          I really, really love this – I think it’s the perfect way to deal with it. It has a reason, so it’s not just awkwardly going “SISTER! SHE’S MY SISTER!”, and it’s a funny, friendly way to introduce yourself.

    1. Original Poster*

      Wow! I really like this idea! I had actually assumed when I told my coordinator the day I was hired that they would require me to officially disclose our relationship with something like this, but he brushed it off like it wasn’t even worth mentioning, so I forgot all about official recognition. I’ll have to see about this right at the beginning of next semester.

  11. Michelle*

    I used to work in higher ed, so I know this is a real concern and the OP is not being paranoid. Universities and colleges are very political and gossipy. And of course, if a faculty member where dating a student, it would be a serious issue.

    I really like the suggestions already made. I would strongly recommend that you talking about your sister attending school at the university to students and colleagues as this will definitely will help. It can be natural but forced. Mention how you can relate to the student experience given your relationship with your sister. When having lunch on campus, introduce your sister to students and colleagues you know. Make it VERY public.

    Worst case scenario is what AAM recommends which is limiting contact on campus. I do think this is good advice but I would try going with extreme public acknowledgement first.

    Good luck.

  12. Blue Dog*

    Yeah, don’t worry about it too much. It was pass soon enough.

    If she’s anything like my kids, she will be out of undergrad in 6 or 7 years. Grrrrrrrrrrr………………

    1. fposte*

      The problem is that his position is a really tenuous status to start with; it’s less like a staff position and more like a plumber that you could just call somebody else instead of.

  13. Cruciatus*

    Having someone write an article is a good idea. But something to do more immediately, at least with your colleagues, would be maybe when the majority of the professors are having office hours, you could bring her in and introduce her around. Maybe she’s going to be taking some classes in those courses soon, or just wanted to see what her brother’s office/colleagues were like–there’s a million reasons you could introduce her to a few colleagues who then could maybe dispel future rumors “Oh, no, that’s Mike’s sister, not his girlfriend!”

    1. TheSnarkyB*

      I understand the thought behind this, but I think this might come off as making it a bigger deal than it is in a weird way. And I know that OP is the one who wrote in (obviously) but let’s not forget that any “solution” like this means his sister has to want to do it as well. If I were her, that would sound really embarrassing and contrived/forced to me. And if I were one of the professors, I would wonder why he was pushing it.

  14. Rana*

    Ugh, what a terrible situation. Everyone’s pretty much said what I was thinking, with one small exception. I actually wouldn’t try to avoid her on campus, because, sadly, what really gets the gossip mill going is when there’s the possibility of an illicit relationship that the parties are trying to hide. If you’re meeting with her in public places, going about your business openly, it’s harder for naysayers to spin it as you doing something naughty on the sly. So meeting her for lunch in public – fine. Introducing her to your colleagues? Excellent. Meeting her in your office and closing the door? Not so much. Carpooling to campus then skittering away from each other upon arrival? Probably not a good idea. etc.

    Good luck with this.

    1. LJL*

      Agreed, Rana. I’d keep it as it has been, but add things like “hey, what are big brothers for?” when he can be overheard. As OP’s having a sister as a student is a less juicy story than dating a student, the truth will need to be told loudly, over and over, for it to catch on. It would help if the sister would join in as well, “I may be your sister, but ….. ” Good luck. While it’s very awkward and icky now, I have a feeling that in several years it will be a great story for holidays and reunions.

  15. AB*

    Also agreeing with the suggestions made, I’d point out that the most likely source of gossip will be new students curious about their teacher, so I’d definitely mention the fact while introducing myself to new classes, emphasizing it so people will definitely remember when they saw you two together:

    “By the way, I also have a sister studying here, who of course will never enroll in one of my classes. So if you ever see me spending time with or giving a ride to a young student, please know that’s the nature of our relationship!”

    Even if not the entire campus hear the explanation, with time there will be enough students in-the-know to help dispel any rumors.

  16. DA*

    I don’t see why a big production needs to be made of this. Any time it comes up, just explain that it is your sister. No big deal, and certainly nothing to get all worked up over or lose sleep or anything of that sort.

    The people who you report to are aware that your sister is a student, so there is no need to worry. Plus, I presume that she plans on graduating at some point in the (hopefully) near future.

    1. Elizabeth*

      The reason it’s cause for concern is that it sounds like people are not always approaching the OP, but just gossiping behind his back. Even if his direct supervisors are aware that she’s his sister, there are other people at the university who might be good business contacts but who may currently have a negative impression of him because of these rumors.

      1. DA*

        Gossip happens in every single workplace and there is no stopping it. To think otherwise is pretty naive ;)

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yes, but this is extremely damaging gossip. Professor/student affairs are taboo in academia, more so even than manager/subordinate affairs in other sectors.

          1. Rana*

            Yep. They’re almost always automatic firing offenses, especially for adjuncts, and can screw up your career in major ways.

            1. LJL*

              Yup. And they’re the type of situation that can poison getting another job, especially as an adjunct. He needs to pound home the message.

  17. Beth*

    I don’t think it’s a good idea to limit the contact with your sister to control the gossip. Avoiding or limiting contact might actually fuel that gossip the few the times when you are inevitably seen together or encounter each other (“Do you remember that blond that Professor X was seen with all last fall having lunch with and giving money to? I saw them off campus going into a restaurant the other day! I was driving by so I couldn’t stop but I wonder….”). I really think that having to hide the fact that your sister is a student on campus will make for worse gossip.

    I like the suggestion of introducing your sister when you’re out on campus and chatting ,working it into an introduction before your classes and getting it on file with HR.

  18. Ali_R*

    I am in the camp that an aggressive PR campaign is warranted. Even though the sister will (hopefully) be graduating/moving on soon, the memory of an illicit prof/student relationship will not. Its potential for lasting damage is great. Unfortunately the opportunity to win over hearts and minds will have been lost.

    I like Alison’s idea of an introduction to each incoming class. The school paper article is a great idea or a mention by a prolific school blogger perhaps? Go forward and sing it from the hills. It will work now, but in 5 years, not so much!

    It is unfair you have to embark on a campaign of spin. Very unfair. As I was told over and over growing up, “Nothing’s fair in this life. Get used to it now.”

    1. Verde*

      Or a t-shirt that you wear once a week…or a coffee mug…so many personalized products you can use the PR storm.

  19. Original Poster*

    Thank you for your thorough answer and suggestions. To be honest, part of what you said actually makes me slightly more worried about it than I initially was, but at least now I have a lot of great ideas for dealing with it.
    And don’t feel too gross about suggesting that I have limited contact with my sister, as I had considered it myself, but then dismissed it. She’s only 18 and doesn’t have a job, so part of us meeting for lunch and my slipping her money now and then is so I can help her out without her always having to go to our parents. We’ve always been really close, and ignoring her like that just wouldn’t be right. And as some of the other posters have noted, given the level of exposure we already seem to have on campus, that might make things even weirder.
    But I will be even louder than I thought I already was. I feel silly for having neglected to mention her to one of my classes this semester and I won’t make that mistake again. I’ve been pretty good about mentioning her with other faculty who congregate in the same adjunct room, but I am worried about when I apply to other departments that they may or may not have heard the rumors and/or the truth. I’m about ready to submit an application to the testing center for a recent position they advertised. Should I include the info about my sister in the cover letter just in case? That seems counterintuitive because it has nothing to do with my qualifications for the job… so I’m not really sure how exactly I would fit that in, but should I try somehow?
    Oh, and for the record, it looks like my sister will be a student here for another three semesters before she transfers to another school. That’s not an eternity, but I’m also right in the middle of trying to advance myself at this college, so I don’t know if it’s safe to just wait it out.

    1. Anonymous*

      The job application – would there be a reason for the hiring committee to browse your faculty webpage? If so, I’d go with the suggestion above and include a nice, clear family photo on your webpage, where it wouldn’t be out of place.

        1. Anonymous*

          You could always look into setting up your own site to house an online portfolio, particularly as you are job-hunting. The Profhacker blog has a number of articles on the use of WordPress, among other platforms, in various aspects of teaching and career promotion.

          1. CJ Record*

            Seconding the idea of a professional blog. Alternatively, if you’re brave, this may be one of the _very few_ times where revealing more than the bare minimum on Facebook is a less than horrible idea (though that’s kinda last resort, in my head).

    2. Rana*

      If you do include the info, I’d do it in the form of a passing mention – “My sister is a student here, and she’s always appreciated the help the writing center has given her, blah blah” – rather than mentioning it straight on – “By the way, if you hear any rumors, it’s my sister they’re talking about.”

      But I suspect you know that. ;)

    3. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think putting in the cover letter would be odd. Instead, can you talk to your boss or any other advocate for you in your current department, explain your concerns, and ask them to reach out to the person you’re applying with to explain the situation? (Not making a big deal out of it, of course, but more like recommending you along with “oh, and hey, his sister goes here and a couple people were confused about the relationship, so I want to head that off now.”)

      1. AB*

        That’s a great idea, and much more effective than trying to include it in the cover letter.

        Another problem with mentioning the sister in a cover letter, besides it being odd, is that it might not register with the hiring manager, or entirely remove any suspicion of wrong doing. People might not even connect the dots, and still not consider the OP a good candidate for the opening due to the rumors of him having an improper relationship with a student (after all, it would be possible to have a sister on campus and still be dating another student).

        Asking an advocate to clarify the situation with the hiring manager would be a much more effective solution in this case.

        1. Original Poster*

          Oh great, I hadn’t thought of that, either. I guess I just assumed that my making it known that I have a sister would fill in that gap of information if people became suspicious, but that might explain why folks are still talking about it even though I thought I had been pretty open about that fact. Maybe they do think I have a student sister *and* that I’m dating a student.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            OP, because this rumor seems so persistent, I would be tempted to say something like this to your classes:

            “The young woman you see me with on campus is my kid sister. There. Now you know. So if you hear rumors of me seeing a student on campus you can say you heard it from the horse’s mouth, the woman is my sister.”

            Maybe you can turn the phrasing to make it funny somehow. But what I like about this is you point blank address the rumor in a public manner. I tend to think the way out of some situations is through the thick of the situation. This might be the case here.

            How about a lovely picture of your girlfriend for your office?

            1. Original Poster*

              I really like my students, but there are always a few who are a bit behind the curve, and they often badly misinterpret what I tell them in class. Sometimes I will say to them, “Don’t use outside sources on this paper,” and then when the grades come in I will hear from a student, “But you said in class to use outside sources for this paper.”
              So you see, I’m worried if I use the phrase “Just so you know, I’m not dating that student. She’s my sister,” it will some how come out as “I think he said something about dating a student.”
              I will, however, attempt to be that direct with faculty and staff when I get the chance.

              1. Rana*

                Oh, I know that dynamic well. There’s nothing like dealing with the aftermath to teach you to choose your words carefully, is there?

      2. Original Poster*

        Oh, that’s a really good point. I would have never thought about going that route. I was going to list my coordinator as a reference, but it never occurred to me to ask him to proactively vouch for me. Thanks!

    4. Anonymous*

      Also, please OK these mentions with your sister. There was a time in my life when my own quite a bit younger sister would have been appalled at being labeled “Jane’s sister” (though I suspect the identity thing is more acute with sister-sister relationships). And be conscious of your sister’s safety as well; don’t disclose any more than she would about where she’ll be and what she’s doing.

      Plus, she’ll be able to do her bit to squish the gossips on your behalf, and also on hers. She doesn’t need that particular rumor attaching itself to her and undermining her achievement.

      1. Your Mileage May Vary*

        Not only that. If people think she’s dating a professor, what’s going to happen to her own romantic life.

        I hope your sister can squash the gossips for her own sake, as well as yours.

    5. Another Anonymous*

      Could you ask your sister to help clarify her relationship with you to other students and faculty?

      Oh, my brother also teaches a section of Whatever 101. Do you know him?

      I know it is not her responsibility at all, but she probably wouldn’t mind helping. You think?

    6. Anon*

      I don’t know if your college does it and sense it sounds like she’ll transfer before graduation it might not apply. But some smaller colleges allow family members to give the diploma to the student at graduation. My mom (she is the registrar) got to hand me my diploma instead of the prez and there were pictures. We’ve had siblings, aunts and uncles, parents etc. It’s actually a pretty cool thing. At least that would answer all the questions because usually you say “Susie Ann Loohoo, Bachelor of Science. Her degree is awarded by her brother Bobby Loohoo, professor of X”.

    7. Brant*

      When I was in college, there were a lot of family relationships– married/dating professors, professors who had kids attending, even a professor whose sibling was a student. Just mention it up front in class, and to any other faculty/staff you meet. Folks have given great ideas above on how to bring it up without making it a huge deal.

  20. MW*

    Academia has such weird politics, and each campus is different. Each school or department can be different, even! I agree with all the great suggestions. I’d also suggest that if the OP has a good relationship with a past advisor or another professor in the department that he ask that contact for advice as well. There can be…quirks… that someone else familiar with the particular context can help with.

    I’d also make sure to show a picture and talk about my sister a lot with the department admin assistant (or equivalent). They know and hear EVERYTHING from students, faculty and staff. Get that person on your side, and they can be a great ally in setting the record straight.

    Good luck. I know how hard it is out there in this market. You are correct to be proactive.

  21. Gayle*

    A lot of professors have a “personal” section of their faculty webpage. What about putting up a picture of you and your sister (and, obviously, labeling it as such)?

  22. Cassie*

    Many adjuncts in our dept have minimal visibility – they generally share offices (or don’t have one at all) and they rarely have websites linked to the institution. It’s not like a full-time career/tenure faculty member.

    I would suggest limiting contact or at least, limit the kind of contact that could be misconstrued as a romantic relationship. Getting coffee together is one thing. Sharing a milkshake is another (do people still do that?). Giving her money does look kind of weird.

    Being from a large institution, I wouldn’t be surprised if we had at least a few parent/child pairings; the sibling pairings may be less common. But I could definitely see where a parent/child pairing could illicit the same response. I guess it never really occurred to me because we have such a large campus (and many students). I don’t think I even knew where the instructors parked back when I was still in school. Also, I think if the instructor is teaching a course that the student must take (like a required course), the way to get around it would be for a TA or another faculty member to grade that student’s work. It’s not always possible to just avoid each other…

    1. Anonymous*

      Especially the faculty/child thing – with dependent tuition waivers, schools want people’s children to attend (greater commitment and whatnot), so you’d think this wouldn’t be something that people would freak out over.

    2. LJL*

      That reminds me of the time that my dad (who worked across the street from me at the time) had to stop by my office quickly at lunch. The receptionist was sure to mention how handsome my boyfriend was. *shiver* Believe me, I corrected her quickly!

  23. another jamie*

    This happened at my HIGH SCHOOL. So awkward. The cute, young teacher that everyone liked was always giving rides to one of my classmates and they were always together… He was married to her sister! It caused a lot of stir at first but then I think people caught on.

  24. Marie*

    No advice, but some empathy from a lecturer’s daughter who constantly got dirty looks from his students and colleagues.

    I have since married, graduated and long ago moved out of my parents’ house, so I thought I was past all of that until my dad came to fetch me for a family function. One of his colleagues lives in my building, and you would not believe the dirty looks my dad and I got from this colleague, for months until the same colleague saw my mom visiting and realized his mistake.

  25. KellyK*

    In addition to the other good suggestions about making it clear that she’s your sister, if you’re both on Facebook, identify her as family there, and throw some family pictures up labeled as such. Granted, this only helps with colleagues who use Facebook, but it’s one more way of subtly making it obvious that she’s your sister.

  26. Patty*

    This caught my attention because I am living with someone who is a student at the college where I teach. The thing is, that with the availability of tuition benefits for family, there are often spouses and children of professors in the student body.

    I think humor is the best way to deal with it… If the campus is small, then start every class with a joke where the punchline is something about dating your sister… and then tell them that your sister is a student there… and that you aren’t dating… the humor will stick in their memory. Also, you could submit a fake comment to rate my professor about how your sister is hot — make it look like another student posted it. That’s often the unofficial grapevine… but be sure to tell your sister what you’ve done.

  27. JPT*

    In a field where people are often given positions just because of who they married, there is nothing wrong with being related to a student as long as they aren’t getting special treatment. You shouldn’t have to “hide” this. I would suggest not making it a secret, behind the scenes “psst, my sister is a student.” If she’s around, introduce her to whoever is there. Say things like, “This is my sister; she’s a blahblahblah major.” “I’m heading over to blahblahblah to meet my sister for lunch.” The more you don’t talk about it, the more it looks awkward–and no job should stop you from using your breaks to visit with a family member, unless she’s a felon on the run or something.

  28. TheSnarkyB*

    Haven’t read all the comments, so hopefully someone else has said this, but DON’T tell your students “We’re not dating- she’s my sister”!! You doth protest too strongly!
    Just say “she’s my sister.” You’ll get the rumor going about it with the students who were out of the loop. You’ll have students giggling about how awkward you sounded, or how upset you were, or they’ll chat about what it must have been like for you to have those rumors, and your sister will likely be mortified that you were so explicit. Or if she’s not, she will be soon bc people might be joking and laughing about it

  29. Anon*

    What happened to higher education? In another time, Professor X should have laughed at all of this. However, it seems neither Professor X nor his colleagues have any notion that this–and their treatment of it–is completely ridiculous.

    1. Your Mileage May Vary*

      Well, Professor X is too busy trying not to notice that Wolverine is lusting after Jane Grey.

  30. M.A.*

    Universities and colleges are weird places, and the work place norms we experience in every day life don’t really apply. To be honest, this doesn’t actually seem to be as big of a problem as it sounds (depending on the institution). My dad is a professor and I (and the rest of my immediate family) have all worked in University administration for years (up to the level of the president’s office). If the OP is at a large institution, its very unlikely such gossip would spread across departments.

    Even if its a small school, its likely still not a problem. Its very common for family members to go to the same school that their spouse/sibling/parent teaches at. I even took two of my dad’s classes (not to worry, the TA graded the papers and it was blind grading). If the OP is seeing his sister frequently enough, why not just introduce her to the administrators/chair and say “this is my sister, she may be stopping by to use my office sometime” or even just “this is my sister, she is a student in X department.” Trust me, having spent my undergrad years working as a admin assistant at a university you get to know who the family members VERY quickly, particularly if this is a small school.

    All that being said. I will now get to the ugly truth of academia. If you bring in research dollars and/or publish frequently, you can probably get away with the most obscene, disgusting conduct and still be wildly successful. I’ve worked and/or gone to school at a variety of large institutions and to be very frank, publications and research dollars are what matters. I once worked with a faculty member who was forbidden from having closed door meetings with female students by the department chair. This same faculty member went on to secure a very prestigious appointment and win a university wide teaching appointment because of the enormous amount grant funding he brought in, very sad but very true.

    I realize the OP may be it a small school or community college, and in all honesty I don’t know anything about departmental politics in these environments. However, I stand by my advice to not shirk away from your sister, but instead bring her around more and introduce her to people as your sister. The administrative assistants will remember this quickly and probably correct any misperceptions they hear going forward. I can say this as someone who speaks from experience.

  31. Inkhat*

    Actually most schools won’t step in, because you’re consenting adults. They may say something, but usually that’s all. Profs can date students so long as there is no evidence their grade is affected. Both my parents are profs and they often came home with stories (told with frustration) about a prof who was dating a student or ex-student and I saw it a lot both in school and grad school.

    The advice about telling your classes is great, but also don’t worry about it. Even if you were dating a student you’re not doing anything illegal or even immoral (again…adults). Just be open about. In a few years she will graduate and then the rumors will no longer matter.

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