Stalking behaviors on college campuses have been studied and
recognized for some time. However, student stalking of college faculty
has remained relatively unrecognized. In the present study, college
faculty across the United States completed online surveys about their
experiences with student stalking in order to obtain lifetime and twelve
month prevalence rates. Faculty reported demographic information about
their campuses, the types of stalking behaviors experienced,
characteristics of the student stalkers, emotional reactions to the
stalking incidents, and the impact that student stalking had on the
faculty member's behavior in and out of the classroom. Current
results replicated previous research on university stalking (Morgan,
2009), both in terms of reported stalking rates and types of stalking
Keywords: stalking, student-professor relationships, harassment
In June of 2009, a former student at Harold Washington College in
Chicago, Illinois was arrested for stalking a professor
(myfoxchicago.com, 2009). The student threatened the professor with a
crowbar but was disarmed before the professor was physically injured.
The student was arrested at the scene shortly after the altercation.
Situations like these can end very differently. In 2002, a student
murdered three professors at the University of Arizona after receiving a
failing grade in one class (cbsnews.com, 2002).
Stalking is defined as any behavior that involves a pattern of
persistent, unwanted interactions and communications that would create
fear in the victim or a reasonable person (Purcell, Pathe, & Mullen,
2002). Stalking is different from harassment in that stalking creates
fear while harassment is annoying (Purcell, Pathe, & Mullen, 2004).
Although the term stalking was originally used in the context of fans
who obsessively pursued celebrities, the term is now used more generally
to describe persistent threatening behavior in an interpersonal
relationship (Purcell, Pathe, & Mullen, 2002).
Lifetime prevalence rates for stalking in the general population
range from an estimated 4.5% (Basile, Swahn, Chen, & Saltzman, 2006)
to 6% (Spitzberg & Cupach, 2003) to 24% (Purcell, Pathe, &
Mullen, 2004). Stalking can occur during romantic relationships, at the
end of romantic relationships, in therapeutic relationships such as
those with psychologists, psychiatrists and medical doctors, and, in the
case of celebrities, where no prior relationship may have existed
(Spitzberg & Cupach, 2003). Approximately 84% of stalking cases
involve a male perpetrator; 75% of victims are female with the majority
between the ages of 16 and 30 (Purcell, Pathe & Mullen, 2002).
Research on stalking in the general population has identified
several typologies (Mullen, Pathe, Purcell, & Stuart, 1999; Roberts
& Dziegielewski, 2006). Roberts and Dziegielewski (2006), for
example, described three categories of stalking behavior: domestic
violence stalkers who are the most common, the delusional stalker or one
suffering from erotomania, and the nuisance stalker. The domestic
violence stalker represents situations where the victim and the stalker
were previously involved in an intimate relationship. According to
Purcell, Pathe and Mullen (2002), this occurs in approximately 13% of
stalking cases. The delusional or erotomanic stalker, according to
Roberts and Dziegielewski (2006), is an individual who becomes fixated
on someone of a higher social status or in a higher position of power.
The stalker may believe the victim is actually in love with them even
though the two may have never met. The third category, the nuisance
stalker, harasses the victim through indirect means such as telephone
calls, letters, faxes, and countless e-mails (Roberts &
A second system for describing stalkers may be seen when looking at
those who stalk mental health therapists. Hudson-Allez (2006) described
three categories in which the stalking victims were therapists and the
stalker was a current or prior client: stalkers who were unable to deal
with the ending of the therapeutic relationship, stalkers suffering from
erotic transference within the therapy sessions (similar to the
erotomanic or delusional stalker described above), or stalkers suffering
from a personality disorder. Among mental health therapists, the
lifetime prevalence rate is approximately 24%; much higher than the
average lifetime prevalence rates of 6% for the general population.
Unlike the general population, females are more likely to be the stalker
than the victim (Hudson-Allez, 2006).
Significant research has been conducted on college campuses
assessing the prevalence and characteristics of students who are stalked
by fellow students (Fisher, Cullen, & Turner 2002). Such research
has found a pattern of stalking similar to that found in the general
population. Fisher, Cullen, and Turner (2002), for example, found that
13.1% of female students had been stalked with 12.7% of those reporting
more than one stalking incident. Almost 80% of these stalking incidents
fit within the domestic violence category proposed by Roberts and
Morgan (2009) expanded stalking research on campuses by assessing
the prevalence of student stalking of faculty. E-mail addresses were
obtained for all professors on the eight campuses of a large Midwestern
university. The participants were asked to complete a survey via the
Internet. The survey assessed twenty-eight potential stalking behaviors.
Results revealed that 32.9% of faculty had experienced at least 2
separate incidences of stalking behaviors that led them to feel
intimidated, anxious, or fearful.
This prevalence rate is most similar to that of mental health
professionals. According to Hudson-Allez (2006), the prevalence rate for
mental health professionals was 24%. The reasons that mental health
therapists are stalked may be relevant in understanding the underlying
causes of student stalking of college professors. That is, the ending of
a semester may mimic the ending of the therapeutic relationship, the
erotic transference in the classroom may be similar to the erotic
transference that may occur during therapy, and there may be a
significant incidence of students exhibiting characteristics of
personality disorder. However, the results of the Morgan (2009) study
also suggest that the nuisance stalker, as proposed by Roberts and
Dziegielewski (2006) may also account for a significant proportion of
students who stalk their professors.
The current study assesses the prevalence rates of student stalking
of college professors across the United States. Lifetime and twelve
month prevalence rates were assessed along with an attempt to identify
the perceived reason for such behaviors as well as identify the feelings
and/or the impact that stalking has on the professors' future
behavior within the classroom setting. Based on prior research, the
following research questions were addressed:
* Lifetime prevalence of student stalking of faculty will be
greater than that found in the general population and be closer to the
rates found by Morgan (2009).
* Twelve-month prevalence rate of student stalking of faculty will
be greater than the prevalence of stalking in the general population.
* Female faculty will report more stalking than male faculty;
similarly, male students will be reported as stalking more than female
* Faculty who have experienced stalking will report a range of
negative emotional reactions such as fear, anxiety, depression, and
* Faculty who have experienced stalking will report the incident to
colleagues, including fellow faculty members and administrative
* Stalking behaviors will be described as falling into one of three
categories: nuisance stalking, delusional or erotomanic stalking, and
stalking by students with identified psychological problems.
* Faculty who have experienced stalking and report changes in their
teaching will increase structure in the classroom and decrease
opportunities for student-faculty interactions.
Participants included 4811 college faculty who had responded to an
email solicitation. Email addresses were obtained from each
university's publicly available website; two universities from each
state and from the District of Columbia were randomly chosen for
inclusion in this study. The mean age of the participants was 48.14 (SD
= 13.04) years. Of the participants, 51.5% were women. Participants had
been teaching for an average of 15.39 (SD = 10.8) years. Based on
self-report, 91.1% were Caucasian, 3.2% were Asian, 1.9% were black,
1.9% were multiracial, 1.4% were Hispanic, and .5% identified other.
Faculty rank of participants included professors (27.3%), associate
professors (26.7%), assistant professors (28.3%), adjuncts or graduate
students (9.9%), clinical professors (1.4%), and other (6.4%). Almost
all (85.6%) of those responding were employed full-time.
The majority of faculty participating (48.5%) were responsible for
teaching both undergraduate and graduate students; 40.9% taught only
undergraduate students, 9.4% taught only graduate students, and 1.2%
reported teaching some other combination of students. Participants
represented a wide spectrum of disciplines with 11.1% of the
participants teaching business, 10.9% teaching in nursing/medical, and
8.2% teaching psychology.
Sixty-one percent of participants reported teaching in public, four
year universities; 37.5% reported teaching in private, four year
universities, and 1.5% reporting teaching in public, two year
universities. The size of the campus also varied with 35.4% reporting
over 12,000 students, 18.8% reporting between 8,000 and l2,000 students,
15.5% reporting between 2,000 and 5,000 students, 15.4% reporting
between 5,000 and 8,000 students, and 14.9% reporting less than 2,000
Participants represented forty-nine states as well as the
Washington, D.C. area, with the highest levels of participation from
North Carolina (8.3%), Ohio (6.1%), Missouri (6.1%), Arkansas (5.7%),
and Alaska (5.4%). Rhode Island was the only state to have no
The participants were provided a description of the study and a
link to a survey. The participants reported demographic information such
as age, gender, ethnicity, and state of residence, as well as
information concerning the school in which they taught. This included
questions about the student population and the size of the classes they
taught, as well as the percentages of students that resided on campus or
The survey provided a list of stalking behaviors. Participants
indicated which behaviors they had experienced on a Likert-type scale
from 0 to 5; 0 being never and 5 being all the time. In a separate 1 to
5 Likert-type scale, participants indicated how disturbed the
participant was by the behavior; 1 being not at all and 5 being
extremely disturbed. For example "how often do you receive hang up
calls" and then "how disturbed were you by the hang up
calls." The survey included several different types of behaviors
such as "how often did you receive gifts" "how often was
your phone tapped", and "how often were you followed by a
car". Questions on the survey were modeled from the Stalking and
Harassment Behavior Scale (SHBS) published by Turmanis and Brown (2006).
The SHBS had split-half reliability coefficients of .84 and .81. The
Cronbach's alpha was above .90, indicating that the SHBS has high
internal consistency. When the two subscales of the SHBS were compared,
the highest correlation was r=.69, indicating that the SHBS has good
construct validity. Modifications for the present study involved
rewording of the behaviors to more closely reflect the academic
environment rather than a stalking situation involving a couple with a
prior intimate relationship.
Participants were asked to read an informed consent; if they chose
to participate, a link connected them with the beginning of the survey.
No identifying information was provided to the researchers. Completion
of the survey required approximately ten to fifteen minutes.
Research question 1: Lifetime prevalence of student stalking of
faculty will be greater than that found in the general population and be
closer to the rates found by Morgan (2009).
In the present study, stalking behavior was reported by 25.4% of
the participants (n = 1222). Specific stalking behaviors ranged from
receiving unwanted and disturbing emails to being followed by a student
off-campus. Table 1 provides a list and frequency of stalking behaviors
experienced by those participants (n = 1222) who had experienced more
than one stalking behavior.
Demographic variables such as age, race, and type of campus where
they taught did not differentiate between those faculty who had
experienced stalking and those who had not experienced stalking. With
respect to teaching experience (n=4705), the group who reported stalking
behaviors (M=17.16, SD=10.13) had significantly (t (4703) = 6.605,
p<.O1) more years of teaching than the group who did not report
stalking behavior (M = 14. 78, SD = 10.96, respectively). Student
stalking of faculty was reported most frequently by faculty who taught
English (10.4%), Psychology (10.1%), Nursing (10%) and Business (8.6%).
Research Question 2: Twelve-month prevalence rate of student
stalking of faculty will be greater than the prevalence of stalking in
the general population.
The participants in the present study are faculty members who may
interact with students for decades. As such, the potential for any one
faculty member to come into contact with a student who might engage in
stalking will increase the longer they remain working in academia. As a
result, it seemed important to identify the prevalence of student
stalking within the last 12 months as well as the lifetime prevalence.
Out of the 1222 participants reporting multiple stalking behaviors,
32.7% or 399 participants reported stalking in the past 12 months. The
subgroup of those reporting stalking in the last 12 months did not
significantly differ from the larger group of those reporting stalking
on gender, age, race, number of years they had taught, or the type of
campus where they taught.
Research Question 3: Female faculty will report more stalking than
male faculty; similarly, male students will be reported as stalking more
than female students.
Of those reporting stalking, 56.8% were female. Female faculty who
reported stalking did not differ from male faculty reporting stalking on
age, race, type of campus where they taught, or the number of years they
Participants were asked to describe demographic characteristics of
the student stalkers. Based on these data, 48.0% of the student stalkers
were male, 49.8% were
female, and 2.2% were unknown. Participants also estimated the age
of their student stalkers: 38.5% were aged 17-22, 29.4% were aged 23-29
years, 21.8% were 30-40, and 10.3% were over 40. Eighty--one percent of
stalkers were reported to be undergraduates, 16.7% were graduate
students, and 2.3% were unknown.
Research Question 4: Faculty who have experienced stalking will
report a range of negative emotional reactions such as fear, anxiety,
depression, and anger.
Faculty reporting stalking behaviors were asked to indicate to what
extent stalking behavior was disturbing, as indicated on a 1 to 5
Likert-type Scale; 1 being not at all and 5 being extremely disturbing.
For each behavior, a mean score was calculated. As can be seen in Table
1, faculty who experienced stalking consistently reported these
behaviors as disturbing.
Participants were also asked to indicate other emotional responses
to the stalking. The most common emotional response was being bothered
or annoyed (54.3%) with 43.3% reporting irritation, 40.8% reporting
anger, 34.3 % reporting being guarded, 29.6% reporting being nervous or
tense, and 27.9% reporting embarrassment. Less frequent emotional
responses included being offended (19.8%), intimidated (18.3%), worried
that they were doing something wrong (17.6%), confusion (17.1%), feeling
jittery (14.3%), repulsed (14.1%), scared or panicky (13.9%), amused
(12.8%), nauseated (6.6%), miserable (4.3%), ashamed (4.2%), hopeless
(2.8%), voiceless (2.5%), and lonely (1.4%).
Research Question 5: Faculty who have experienced stalking will
report the incident to colleagues, including fellow faculty members and
Almost eighty percent (79.7%) of participants told a colleague,
friend, or superior about the stalking incident. Of the participants who
told someone, the most common reaction by the person being told was
supportive; common reactions included understanding (24.2%), helpfulness
(19.9%), consideration (12.2%), and compassion (10.2%). Less common were
negative reactions such as the person conveying an unsympathetic
attitude (9.1%), disbelief (3.8%), and blaming the faculty member for
the student stalking (2.8%).
Research Question 6: Stalking behaviors will be described as
falling into one of three categories: nuisance stalking, delusional or
erotomanic stalking, and stalking by students with identified
Participants reported a variety of reasons that they believed the
student stalking occurred. Most commonly, participants attributed the
stalking to a psychological problem of the student (45.8%). Other
reported causes of the stalking included: student having a physical
attraction to the professor (36.1%), student wanting a higher grade
(20%), student receiving a failing grade (14.7%), student feeling
ignored because the faculty member did not reciprocate the
student's romantic feelings (14.3%), student feeling upset about
something the faculty member had said in class (5.1%), and the failure
of a past intimate relationship between the student and the faculty
Research Question 7: Faculty who have experienced stalking and
report changes in their teaching will increase structure in the
classroom and decrease opportunities for student-faculty interactions.
Participants reported a variety of responses to student stalking.
General responses varied from attempting to talk to the student stalker
(24.5 %), refusing to talk to the student stalker (16%), withdrawing
from social events with all students (9.8%), trying to be nicer to the
student stalker (9.6%), and withdrawing from interactions with both
students and faculty (4.4%). Approximately half (47.4%) of the
participants reported keeping a log of the stalking incidents.
Prior to being stalked, 15.2% of the participants reported
primarily lecturing with little interaction in class, 33.4% met with
students during office hours, 23.1% utilized many activities during
class, 11.3% primarily used the Socratic teaching method, 6.9%
allowed/encouraged students to call the professor at home, 2.5% invited
students to professors' home, 5% met with students at local
restaurants, and 2.6% had other interactions with students. As a result
of the stalking incident(s), 58.7% said the stalking had no impact on
their teaching, 14.5% said they were less interactive with students,
17.6 % implemented more rules and more structure, 2.2% had easier
grading scales, and 7% said there were other impacts to their teaching.
Morgan (2009) found that 32.9% of university faculty had
experienced stalking by a student at some point in their career. The
current study surveyed a sample of university faculty across the United
States and found 25.4% of the participants reported being stalked by a
student. Of those reporting stalking, 32.7% reported a stalking incident
within the last twelve months. The rate of student stalking of faculty
members is much higher in both Morgan (2009) and the present study than
the approximately 6% rate of stalking found in the general public
(Spitzberg & Cupach, 2003). Results of the current study indicate
that the rate of student stalking of faculty is closer to the rates
reported in studies assessing patient stalking of therapists
Demographic characteristics of both faculty who reported stalking
behaviors and their student stalkers in the current study also contrast
with such data gathered in studies investigating the more general
stalking that occurs as part of or at the end of an intimate
relationship. In such intimacy-based stalking, women represent
approximately 75% of those who are stalked with men representing
approximately 84% of those who engage in stalking behaviors (Purcell,
Pathe, & Mullen, 2002). In the current study, women faculty
represented only 56% of those being stalked. Although it is clear that
female faculty are more likely to be stalked than male faculty, the
percentages suggest that the gender discrepancy seen in the larger
stalking literature is not as robust when describing student stalking of
faculty. Similarly, in the present study female (49.8%) and male (48%)
students were almost equally likely to he reported as engaging in
stalking. It seems likely that these gender differences when compared
with the general literature on stalking may be due to the types of
stalking that are most likely to occur between students and faculty
where prior intimate relationships are rare.
In the present study, some of the most common stalking behaviors
were unwanted emails, phone calls, voicemails or faxes, inappropriate
class work or behavior, the stalker waiting at the faculty members'
office, and the stalker unexpectedly appearing either on or off campus.
These findings are consistent with other studies that have assessed
stalking in other contexts where the most common stalking behaviors
include telephone calls, sending letters, leaving notes, surveillance of
the victim and following the victim (Tjaden & Thoennes, 1998;
Mullen, Pathe, Purcell, & Stuart, 1999).
The most common faculty responses to the student stalking included
not speaking to the student stalker, trying to reason with the student
stalker, avoiding campus activities that included students, and trying
to be nicer to the student stalker. All of these can have an impact on
the professional and teaching behavior of the impacted faculty member.
While a majority of the participants in the current study indicated that
the stalking had no impact on their teaching behavior, almost 20%
indicated that they implemented more rules and structure within the
classroom, approximately 15% became less interactive with students, and
a little over 2% developed easier grading scales. These changes in
teaching-related behaviors are of special concern as they may compromise
the quality of the education provided to students. Easier grading
scales, for example, may decrease standardized student test scores
(Johnson & Beck, 1988). Likewise, decreasing interaction with
students and creating additional structure and rules regulating
faculty-student interactions may decrease the active learning that has
been demonstrated to enhance student learning (Koljatic & Kuh,
In the present study, faculty members' descriptions of the
motivations of the student stalkers can be grouped into three basic
categories. Approximately 45.8% of the participants believed they were
being stalked because the stalker had a psychological disorder; this
category is similar to therapists who report being stalked more often by
patients with personality disorders (Hudson-Allez, 2006). Although it is
reasonable that therapists would be dealing with individuals with
personality disorders, it may seem more surprising that college students
would experience such psychological difficulties. However, college
faculty members are now serving a broad range of students and,
increasingly, more students are attending college who are experiencing
psychological problems (Mier, Boone, & Shropshire, 2009). In the
academic environment, the faculty member may, for some students with
psychological disorders, play a similar, supportive role to that of a
therapist in the mental health environment.
A second category reported by Hudson-Allez (2006) and Dziegielewski
and Roberts (1995) seems to be relevant to the present study; that is,
the erotic transference category or delusional (or erotomanic) category
stalker seems to apply to student stalking of faculty. In the present
study, 36.1% reported being stalked because the student was physically
attracted to them, 14.3% reported that the student felt ignored because
the faculty member did not reciprocate the student's romantic
feelings, and .5% reported that the student began stalking the faculty
member after a failed intimate relationship. It is no surprise that
students may develop a 'crush' or emotional attachment to
their professor. With the decreased formality of the college
environment, students may not perceive a boundary in developing an
intimate relationship with a faculty member. Students may have
difficulty understanding that faculty are friendly without being their
friends; in such an environment, there may be an increased chance of
blurred boundaries and erotic feelings developing that are not
reciprocated by the professor.
The final category of student stalkers reported in the present
study may be most similar to the nuisance category proposed by Roberts
and Dziegielewski (2006). In essence, the students in this category
appear to use stalking behaviors to intimidate the faculty member into
providing him/her a grade or to intimidate the faculty member for a
grade or comment that was disliked by the student. According to faculty
reports, nearly 35% of stalkers were motivated by dissatisfaction with
grades, either having failed a class or having received a lesser grade
than they had expected. Also, about 14% were described as being upset
about something a faculty member said during a class.
Although, the present study, along with Morgan (2009), provides
some information about the motivations and characteristics of students
who stalk faculty members, the present study does not allow for a more
thorough understanding of faculty behaviors that may be associated with
student stalking of faculty. For example, one response to student
stalking by faculty is to increase rules and structure in the classroom
while reducing interactions with students. Does this suggest that a
faculty member who creates a classroom environment where there are fewer
rules and greater interaction with students may be at a higher risk for
stalking by a student? Another possibility may be that faculty who
engage with students outside of the classroom, for example, eating lunch
with students off-campus or drinking a beer with a group of students at
a local pub, may be at higher risk of being stalked by a student. Do
such out-of-class interactions with students blur the boundaries between
In a similar vein, the perceptions of both students and professors
about what behaviors may constitute harassment or stalking need to be
explored in more detail. Phillips, Quirk, Rosenfeld, and O'Connor
(2004) demonstrated that both male and female students are capable of
identifying stalking scenarios when provided with impersonal vignettes.
However, when stalking behaviors occur in the context of a dating or
intimate relationship, successful identification decreases as the
behaviors (i.e., following, repeated calling or emailing, giving of
gifts) may be seen as common in such a context (Kinkade, Burns &
Fuentes, 2005). In addition, several researchers, such as Dunn (1999)
and Campbell and Longo (2010), have demonstrated that female students
may view the stalker's behavior as threatening when the stalker is
a fellow student, but at the same time romantic and flattering.
Unfortunately, it is relatively unclear on the basis of the available
research how successful students or faculty are at identifying
harassment or stalking behaviors--or behaviors that may increase the
probability of future harassment or stalking behaviors--in their
interactions with one another. In the present study, for example,
12% of faculty members reported that they found the stalking behaviors
of their students to be "amusing." A greater understanding of
both student and faculty perceptions of such behaviors would be useful.
The current study had several limitations. Survey studies are at
the mercy of those who willingly participate. Volunteer bias,
individuals who read that the study was about stalking might have been
more likely to volunteer and complete the survey, cannot be eliminated
in a study such as this. As a result of volunteer bias, the actual rate
of student stalking of faculty may be lower than obtained with the
present data. There is no reason to suspect, though, that such volunteer
bias would be more likely in the present study than in any similar
survey study of the prevalence of stalking. A second limitation is that
the study relied solely on retrospective reports of the participant. As
time passes, it is likely that memory for the incidents may not be as
clear leading to the participant forgetting details of the incident, the
student, or their reactions. In the present study, this may have been
mediated somewhat by obtaining the prior twelve-month prevalence rate.
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ROBIN K. MORGAN
KATHERINE D. KAVANAUGH
Indiana University Southeast
Percentage of faculty reporting stalking behaviors (n = 1222) and
mean rating of how disturbing the behavior was perceived by
Stalking Behavior % Faculty Mean Level
Reporting of Disturbed *
Unwanted phone calls, voicemail, 64.1 3.25
emails, or faxes
Inappropriate class work/behavior 48.3 4.5
Stalker waits for them at office 47.8 3.75
Unexpected appearance--watching/spying 44.3 4.23
Invasion of personal space 41.7 4.75
Unwanted/exaggerated expressions of 39.2 3.65
Stalker sends flowers or gifts 35 4.36
Boasts about private information gained 28 3.86
Attempts to touch/show physical 25.9 4.17
Stalker driving by or coming to home 24 4.64
Intruding uninvited into conversations 23.9 4.23
Physically harms, threatens, restrains 23.8 4.14
Stalker verbally abuses participant 23.6 4.53
Stalker asks for a date 22.2 3.98
Stalker sexually abuses participant .08 5
Stalker threatens to discredit
other students 16.7 4.5
faculty in discipline 26.3 4.67
faculty outside discipline 24.8 4.89
superiors 26.4 4.52
professionals off-campus 9.6 3.85
* Mean calculated on Likert-type scale where I = not at all disturbed
and 5 = extremely disturbing