So You Want to Treat Your TA Like a Human Being?
(A Response to the Gazette’s Robert Nanni and its editorial staff.)
Re: Robert Nanni’s “So You Want to Date a TA?” from Aug. 20th, 2014
In Robert Nanni’s allegedly humourous advice to undergrads about how to date your Teaching Assistant (“So You Want to Date a TA?” from 20 Aug 2014), he has essentially penned a guide on how to sexually harass another human being, face potential expulsion from Western for violating its Student Code of Conduct or worse still, end up in court over a criminal matter. The article basically iterates every poor decision you could possibly make in the classroom. Moreover, as dating advice for anyone, never mind one’s instructors, it is simply disturbing. In other words, the only appropriate response to whether or not you should date a TA is simple and unambiguous: you don’t. And for TAs who have actually been “Facebook stalked,” had students who weren’t enrolled in their classes follow them around, and been cornered in their offices by students with ulterior motives, there is absolutely nothing funny or lighthearted about this. Harassment, sexual harassment and sexual assault are very real phenomena that can and frequently do leave enduring, exceedingly harmful effects. Universities across the country continue to struggle with these matters, so please, none of this kind of “humour.”
But let’s not simply leave it at that, since this is a perfect opportunity to explain who TAs are, what they do, and why this kind of thing—even if in jest—is wholly inappropriate.
It begins with the type of relationship that is the student-TA relationship: it’s a professional one. As Robert Nanni says, quite belatedly in his article, TAs are there to guide students through the course materials. It’s much more than that, though, since TAs are in fact in a supervisory position, responsible for marking, quizzing, lab safety and any number of other duties as determined by their contracts. Being distracted from these duties is not only disruptive to other students, but can become dangerous to self and others.
But let’s say, for instance, you do get to liking your TA. And instead of “stalking” them you simply said “hello” at the Spoke and had a pleasant conversation while waiting for your breakfast bagel. Even if you thought for a second there might be a mutual attraction there, it is in your and your TA’s best interests to assume there isn’t and there never will be. Even the hint of an inappropriate relationship between a TA and a student can ruin both of your respective careers. If you actually like your TA as another human being, you won’t ever go down that road.
We are not saying, however, that you aren’t allowed to like your TA. In fact, most TAs enjoy and appreciate a classroom full of students who sincerely and legitimately like to be there, with them. TAs are quite frequently the most personal interaction with the university’s educators that an undergrad will have in their first year, and we wear that honour proudly and with dignity. We merely ask for dignity in return. We are guides, mentors, instructors and for some, your TA may even become a future friend when the class is all said and done.
But if they’ve still got a job to do, bury all those amorous thoughts and treat them as they are: a person who is there to teach you and evaluate you. Anything beyond that is inviting trouble.
Oh, and let it be known that TAs do love a good joke. Just make sure it’s respectful, ok?
PSAC Local 610 Executive