What happens if you fall in love with your Teaching Assistant?

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What happens when you fall for your teaching assistant? Or worse, your teaching assistant falls for you?

374169995 fade391f7e d What happens if you fall in love with your Teaching Assistant?

Finding a reason to attend class discussion sections may be difficult, if not impossible. So when you find a reason, it seems smart to hold on to it for dear life — unless that reason happens to be the 5-foot-11-inch, sparkly-eyed pillar of perfection standing at the chalkboard and calling roll. If affection for your TA is what lures you to class each week, you might have a problem.

At a large university like the University of California at Los Angeles, the age gap between student and educator in discussion groups is significantly smaller than it is at other levels of education, since most teaching assistants are graduate students.

While sometimes this lack of age-gap can be an advantage, it may also prove problematic. Especially when it comes to a crazy little thing called love.

Because the age difference between TAs and their students is often negligible, there are natural attractions and temptations that surface. Rumors of students dating their TAs are ever-circulating in campus halls.

Mike Cantor was a teaching assistant for a drama class at the University of California at San Diego. In an essay he wrote, he discussed his struggle deciding whether he should date one of his students.

“I started dialing Melissa’s number about 10 times. Something stopped me from following through, and it wasn’t because I was nervous. I guess I knew there was something wrong with a teacher dating a student,” Cantor said.

In UCLA’s student handbook, there’s no specific statement regulating relationships between students and their TAs. All that is specifically addressed is sexual harassment and sexist behavior.

“The university respects the right of all employees to conduct their private lives as they see fit, yet at the same time, dating relationships between faculty/TAs and students, during the time of the pedagogic relationship, are strongly discouraged,” said Rhoda Janzen, a teaching assistant consultant at UCLA.

The gray area of students dating TAs is silently governed. Representatives from student affairs in the department of biology say TA’s going out with students is not allowed and that this is a “professionally understood rule.”

However, the Teacher’s Guide, according to university ombudsperson, applies to TAs as well — and it does address the dating issue.

Rather than actually prohibiting TA-student dating, the guide says “faculty members must understand that ‘romantic’ or any kind of socio-sexual liaison with current students” can place the student’s education and relationship with the educator in jeopardy.

“TAs are in the process of learning how to be professionals, and that means learning how to maintain a professional distance. They need to learn that. It’s OK to make friends; you just need to keep that distance,” said Dan Rosenfield, a sociology TA.

The guide describes in detail what could be compromised should star-crossed lovers start a relationship. Mainly, the guide serves as a warning to TAs, instead of as a prohibition.

One TA said she feels that a clear rule regarding romantic relations between students and their teaching assistants should exist.

As opposed to student-student dating, it’s a risky case because there’s a question of motive. There are several possibilities. On one side, a student could fabricate emotions in attempts to receive a better grade, and on the other a TA may use his or her administrative power to engage the student in a relationship.

“TAs have a certain power over a student,” said Susan West, a TA in the biology department. “There’s an imbalance of power.”

When both parties are willing, other problems relating to bias and favoritism may surface.

“You can’t help but be biased towards someone you care about. It would be highly unethical [to date a current student],” said Cathy Semple, another biology TA.

“The TA has to answer to why a student got a certain grade. It’s a much stickier situation,” West said.

Another reason for a TA to think twice about dating a student would be the possibility of loss of respect from other students in the class.

“The idea of my students seeing me as a sleazebag turned my stomach. Their regard for me as a teacher was more important than my desire to go out with Melissa,” Cantor wrote in his account.

There are success stories of TAs and students daring to date. One UCLA graduate dated a TA who associated with her instructors.

“His friends were my TAs. It was a weird little circle. I don’t think it made a difference,” said Steph Gomez, as she glanced at her engagement ring. “It wouldn’t have made a difference had he been my TA; it wasn’t like I was using him to get a better grade.”

One of the more serious hazards of TA-student dating is the thin line of separation between consentual courtship and sexual harassment.

“Even if the TA doesn’t do it, the student is in a position to accuse,” Rosenfield said.

Such surrounding dangers prompt many to suggest that TAs and students wait to hook up until after their class together has finished.

“At the very least the TA should wait until the student is not in the class or even until the student has graduated,” West said.

“The quarter is not that long,” Rosenfeld said. “Let them wait.”

In Cantor’s case, that’s exactly what he decided to do. He discovered that he wasn’t as appealing to Melissa without his TA power.

“Nothing clicked,” Cantor said.

“The desire was gone. Actually, my desire was there, but hers had vanished along with my grade book.”

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  • Nina

    I saw my TA for the first time two weeks ago and I’m hopelessly in love although I’m 99.9999% sure that he is not into me at all.  It sucks being in his class while his adorable self teaches me organic chemistry because all I can do is stare at his assets. -_- I’m 20 and he’s 26-27 so if he was into me I doubt it would be a big deal as long as we kept it under wraps.

    TA fantasies are so intense though!  

  • Ucla loveduck

    So I have a crush on my TA for my research methods class. He’s a little older I think, but I’m a transfer student in my mid twenties, so the difference is totally negligible. I know I should wait at least until the quarter is over to do anything, which I certainly will do, but is it ok for a student to go out with a TA even after the quarter ends? I was thinking about casually asking if he ever teaches other classes in order to make sure there is no chance I would be his student again, but I am concerned this is transparent, and therefore inappropriate. I’m very concerned about having full legitimacy if I were to make a move. My situation is kinda unique because I’m really too old to date 19-22 year old undergrads, but I don’t want to behave inappropriately towards my TA’s who are more generally in my age range. Would it be weird if I asked him for a game of chess over coffee after the quarter ends?

  • sexually frustrated

    So. what if you have a huge crush on a t.a. and all you want to do is get sloppy drunk with him, go to bed with him, then fall in love with him in the morning. I think, if anything, having this crush on my t.a. and knowing it will never be realized hurts my grades. It doesn’t drive me to go to his office hours and gobble up the information he’s giving mee. NO. Big contrast. I hate having to force myself to go to his office hours and thinking about the most recent dream I had of him and me at a book store and undressing him in my mind. I haven’t had crushes since middle school because I simply ask the person out. If they say no. TO HELL WITH THEM! But my problem is is that I can’t write this one off simply because I can’t ask him out. I have no desire to be with him because of his position or what it entails other than I know he is very intelligent. In a general sense, well and that he enjoys the subject. But to be honest I’d rather talk to him about anything else then boring arguments! Like music or foreign films or the woes of traffic. SO BOTTOMLINE: his power doesn’t matter to mee. It’s his hot skinny body. oh and the age. I do prefer older. He’s seven years my senior, but I’m 22 so it’s not a big difference at all.

    • YWF

      I’m in the exact same position.. I don’t need to sleep with him to get good grades. I get A’s from him every time because I study the shit. I’m simply infatuated with the guy and his body and his intelligence but it sucks only because he happens to be my teacher.

  • Qq

    I can understand how a TA would be less attractive without his “TA powers” because girls are just naturally more inclined to find a guy in a “position of power” (however little that power may be) to be attractive. However that’s entirely not my case. I had a huge crush on a TA for one of my labs but I never made a move because 1.I’m the girl and 2. He’s the TA, Nuff said. I got the sense that he may have found me attractive but he never really said anything so obviously I don’t know for sure. The semester is already over and I find myself still crushing on him even though I won’t see him AT ALL, which is quite disturbing. It really sucks actually. Like many TA-student, Student-Prof, or TA-Prof crushes, the guy is not exactly good looking by normal standards but he’s hot to me.

    • jay

      Well i am a TA myself, and i got into kind of relationship with my student, she’s elder than me by 1 years, mature enough, and we kept the relation outside the labs and school, maybe knowing that it might affect somewhat my POWER as a TA toward the Whole class.

  • Josh

    You only live once. Wait until the end of the semester to date the teaching assistant. That’s what I am going to do. She is really good looking and intelligent and I know there is a connection between us. So once my final exam has been graded I am going to ask her out on a date, ergo, no conflict of interest.