Alex Morse was a rising Democrat star until last week when college Democrats began attacking him for consensual sexual relationships.
Morse became the first openly gay mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts, in 2011 when he was just 22. Last year, he announced he would run for congress against incumbent Democrat Rep. Richard Neal.
As Matt Taibbi reported, college Democrats last week wrote a letter to Morse saying he could no longer attend their events. They later released a letter accusing him of “having sexual contact with college students, including at UMass Amherst, where he teaches, and the greater Five College Consortium.” Morse taught political science at UMass-Amherst and has not been accused of sexual assault.
As Taibbi noted, UMass-Amherst forbids consensual sexual relationships between faculty and “any students or postdoctoral researchers they teach, advise or supervise.” Morse has also not been accused of sleeping with his own students, meaning he hasn’t violated school policy or abused his “power” as a professor.
The college Democrats, however, have created a new definition of “power,” which, according to Taibbi, “reads like a parody of post-millenial paranoia.” The college Democrats seem to be most opposed to the fact that Morse met students at their events.
“Mayor Morse came to College Democrats of Massachusetts events and got to know our membership, and then sought out students that he met at our events privately on social media, in a manner widely understood by our generation to indicate intimacy,” the student organization wrote.
Taibbi noted that the college Democrats essentially defined “communicating on social media as a kind of sexual act.” They went further, explaining that adult students lacked the agency to ignore his message because he was a professor.
“We have heard countless stories of Morse adding students to his ‘Close Friends Story’ and Direct Messaging members of College Democrats on Instagram in a way that makes these students feel pressured to respond due to his status,” they wrote.
“Mayor Morse is a widely-admired and well-connected gatekeeper to progressive politics in Massachusetts and nationally, which makes the task of refusing his advances fraught for college students who wish to enter progressive politics themselves… the Mayor’s various positions of power create a significant and undeniable power imbalance between himself and the college students he sought out… where such a lopsided power dynamic exists, consent becomes complicated,” the college Democrats added.
This is not a sexual harassment issue in the classic sense of someone who actually has power over someone else, for instance in the workplace or in a classroom. The concept here is that students who might “wish to enter progressive politics” will feel uncomfortable refusing, or even just not answering, so mighty a personage as the Mayor of Holyoke, Massachusetts, for fear of what that might do to their job prospects someday, in a field they have not even chosen yet.
Therefore, just as a child or, say, a St. Bernard cannot consent to sex, neither apparently can an adult college student with an uncertain job future. And given that consent is “complicated” when such a “lopsided power dynamic” comes into play, it’s no wonder that the actual encounters could be harrowing – even when, as the Boston Globe explained, the victims were not even aware of that “power imbalance” at the time.
One student who had a sexual encounter with Morse, the college Democrats wrote, didn’t even know he was a mayor or a lecturer at the university, and only felt uncomfortable after learning that information.
As Taibbi concluded, this should serve as a warning for anyone who works or teaches, that they should not engage in sexual relationships with students where they work no matter how disconnected from their position the students may be.