So, suppose you're a grad student in some academic program in the US; suppose furthermore you're employed by the university (as a teaching/research assistant, say), and you message total strangers on the internet, looking for a sexual encounter. Some of the messages may be sexually explicit/implicit.

Is it possible that, if some stranger could be offended by this, the university could act against you in some form were the stranger to contact them about it? Would the relationship of the stranger to the university matter, even if one did not know beforehand such relationship? For instance, would the situation change if the stranger is a student of the university?

Of course there is nothing illegal in the US about these actions, but universities sometimes have much stricter codes. In answering this question, please keep "large public university" in mind, not some christian college.


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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's not about Academia.
    – Shake Baby
    Jul 22, 2017 at 2:34
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    Sending an explicit message to a minor could be a felony in your jurisdiction. You could become a registered sex offender, making you essentially unemployable in any educational institution.
    – Jon Custer
    Jul 22, 2017 at 2:35
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    Shake Baby, how is it not about academia? It's potentially related to sexual misconduct and how universities treat their sexually liberal staff. Jon Custer, of course, as it should be. Jul 22, 2017 at 4:15
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    I think this is on topic. Someone is wondering how their extracurricular behavior could affect their academic career. Jul 23, 2017 at 17:35
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    I hope you're not sending sexual messages to people who are not on dating sites where such messages are on-topic. That would be creepy and could rightfully damage someone's careers. Jul 23, 2017 at 17:40

2 Answers 2


As long as you send and receive these emails from home, on your privately purchased computer, using your personal email account, during non-work hours, and meet the people you contact off-campus, there is probably little the university can or would want to do -- this would seem to be your personal business. (Though it is not necessarily legal: sending complete strangers explicit messages could be considered harassment.)

But from the long list of "ifs" above, you probably already see where the rub is. Let's say, one of the people you contact doesn't appreciate the contact, finds out that you are a student at the university in department X under professor Y, and writes a blog post including all of this information. The local newspaper then picks it up after finding 3 other people who are also complaining. Suddenly, the university, department X, and professor Y are in the picture, and they're going to be interested in dissociating themselves from you. Now, if it turns out that you sent or read some of the emails from a work laptop at home, or from a work desktop during work hours, or on a work trip paid for by the university, or met some of your contacts in your office, or used your work email (a university-provided resource), then you're in trouble because all of these things suddenly expose you to university rules and regulations, as well as state law governing the conduct of employees.

The point is that if you're a regular grad student, your life is probably structured in a way that you can not consistently avoid all of the conflicts mentioned above, and that exposes you to being sanctioned by your university.

  • Thanks for your answer! It does seem that one needs to be extremely careful, or at least tone down the explicitness of the messages. Of course, doing such activities during work hours is wrong, if anything because it's not work. Jul 22, 2017 at 7:29
  • And, if you hit on an undergraduate student for whom you are in any way responsible, such as being a TA, you will be gone so fast you won't even see the door go by.
    – Bob Brown
    Feb 27, 2019 at 21:54

Here's an excerpt from a randomly selected sexual misconduct policy (Indiana University):

Indiana University prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex or gender in its educational programs and activities. Discrimination on the basis of sex or gender is also prohibited by federal laws, including Title VII and Title IX. This policy governs the University’s response to discrimination based on sex or gender, and all forms of sexual misconduct (which includes sexual harassment, sexual assault, other forms of sexual violence, dating violence, domestic violence, sexual exploitation and stalking. [...]

The University will provide a fair and impartial investigation and resolution for complaints and, where appropriate, issue sanctions and remedial measures. The severity of the corrective action, up to and including termination or expulsion of the offender, will depend on the circumstances of the particular case.

It seems to me that contacting a stranger with a possibly unwelcome explicit message would probably be viewed as sexual harassment.

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    I'd say it depends on the circumstances of the contact? Like, if it happened on a dating site, for instance, it would seem to me that one would have to see these things in a different light than if it were, say, through Facebook or an instant message platform? Jul 22, 2017 at 4:21
  • Not to say that people on dating sites must necessarily welcome such explicit messages, but it does seem to me that to some extent, dating sites are places where such behavior, at least as an introduction, is generally tolerated and "normal". Jul 22, 2017 at 4:29
  • @GradStudent - Is there some reason why you can't create an anonymous persona with no connection to your real name and your university email address, with no conceivable way to trace this type of internet activity back to your university life? Jul 23, 2017 at 23:05
  • Well, I like having pictures of myself, so there's a lower bound on the amount of anonimity I'd have in such sites. Jul 24, 2017 at 4:17
  • @GradStudent - Perhaps this will help motivate you to be less public about this: think of your future job hunting. Jul 24, 2017 at 21:39

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