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Mannequin1

Budding romance with student - FML

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Alright friends, break out your pitchforks and your scarlet letters. I've become something of a cliché.

I am a TA for an intro level class. I (M) and a senior (F) have found our friendship developing into something more than just a friendship. She is also in her 20s. She is not a major and is taking the class pass/fail for GE credit. Her work is sound and as long as it stays that way, no one would find reason to give her less than an A-. If this student deserved to fail, so would almost every student I've ever had!

So here's the situation. We have exchanged phone numbers and have been texting some. That is the extent of our interaction. We have had no physical contact, though we have both alluded to starting something up once the class has ended and grades are submitted (in less than a month). Have I seriously screwed up here? This student and I have communicated romantically. Can I let things stay as they are through the quarter's end or have I already violated my ethical responsibilities? I'm wondering if I should chat with the professor and have her grade this student's work?

Thanks for your advice.

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Short answer: you have violated your ethical responsibilities.

 

Long answer: you have violated your ethical responsibilities--but you can put the brakes on it now and salvage whatever professionalism you can until after the class is done and you two no longer have any professional relationship besides being students at the same school. 

 

If I were you, I would not bring this to your professor. I would simply follow up in a text (read: in writing somewhere; start creating a paper trail in your favor) that considering the professional relationship you two are in as TA--Student, you think it would be best to put a stop to any and all romantic interactions. This, hopefully, should put you in the clear to assess her work again.

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Waiting 1 month won't kill you. 

 

Ease off on the "romantic texting" - it isn't professional, and yeah it's kinda an ethical violation. Just explain to the girl about TA regulations & professional responsibility: even if you remain completely impartial in grading her work, somebody else in the class could make a complaint about perceived special treatment (and things like the text messages would be used against you). I'm sure that she will understand. Make sure that all grading is out of the way before asking her out.

 

That said. You're human. Stuff like this happens. No need to beat yourself up about it. 

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You have definitely violated your ethical responsibilities. At my current institution, anything romantic with a student is grounds for dismissal. At a previous one, TAs and professors could date students if they wanted but they could not grade the work of a student with whom they were involved. So, it seems like you have two options here to me. Option 1 would be to dial things back completely with the student saying that there can be no further contact until the course is over (you should still notify a supervisor in case things go sour and the student decides to file a harassment complaint against you). Option 2 would be to let things flow as they will with the student but notify your superiors (DGS, supervising professor, etc.) and ask for the student's work to be graded by someone else. 

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@Mannequin1 I recommend that you immediately research the policies of your department, school, and college on fraternization and sexual harassment.

 

In the very likely event that you have violated policy, I recommend that you disclose the relationship to your boss or your advisor or your department's DGS because the relationship with the student may have exposed your department to additional risk. IMO, you should not embark on any course of action on your own that can be construed as sweeping things under the rug. In the event your department decides to put this skeleton in its closet, you will have another decision to make.

 

Document everything. That includes the textual messages you have had with the student, and your recollection of any and all conversations that you have had with her.

 

Additionally, I recommend that you start figuring out what type of historian you want to be. To assist this process, I recommend the American Historical Association's Statement on Standards of Professional Conduct, available here.

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Well, my mom was once my dads student, but they didn't start anything until way after the class. Don't freak out too much. Check policy. This isn't the first time it has happened to someone. But remain professional with her until the semester is over, and maybe a little longer. Give it a couple of months to cool off. If at that point you are still interested in each other, then I don't see a problem with it.

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First off, thank you all for your generous advice. This forum has really exceeded my expectations. You have shown care and concern for me, the students, and the discipline with these thoughtful suggestions.

I have done some research into the institutional guidelines here at my institution. I certainly have veered into murky territory. I should clarify that by "romantic" I didn't mean professions of desire or anything related to love. Our conversations were of the kind of intimate conversation that could occur between good friends. What worried me was that the subject of our post-class future did come up once. I should have said I could not comment. Instead, I advised we "play it by ear" once that time had come.

I am following Rising Star and other's advice to cease communication. I am sending a final message informing the student of my intentions and asking her if she will still be comfortable studying with me. In no way do I give the impression anything should be swept aside. Sigaba, I've learned much from this experience. You were right to shame me for this behavior. I wish every institution was as committed to creating a culture where everyone was aware of these necessary boundaries. I don't mean to excuse myself, but in this part of the country, many of us don't always know how to proceed when situations like this arise, especially those of us not wholly familiar with academic norms and expectations.

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Don't tell your Adviser. BURY IT. BURY IT WITH A SHOVEL, THEN BURY THE SHOVEL. Stay on good but professional terms and hope the end of the semester finds you well.

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^ Hah. Lots of people taking this comment way too seriously. 
 

No matter how objective you try to be in situations like this, people will try to play it off like you're favoriting the student if it becomes apparent you two are involved. Depending on your school's policies, this could very plausibly lead to a huge mess and set you back in some way. But that's already been said. I'd tell her that you need to stop things (whatever those 'things' may be, no matter how minimally intimate or flirty they are) immediately until the semester is over. 

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^ Hah. Lots of people taking this comment way too seriously. 

 

No matter how objective you try to be in situations like this, people will try to play it off like you're favoriting the student if it becomes apparent you two are involved. Depending on your school's policies, this could very plausibly lead to a huge mess and set you back in some way. But that's already been said. I'd tell her that you need to stop things (whatever those 'things' may be, no matter how minimally intimate or flirty they are) immediately until the semester is over. 

Uh, no. The comment was inappropriate and misogynistic. Joke or not, this is not a place for these kind of comments. And this is coming from a guy...

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I'm quite surprised you were not made aware of these boundaries when you were appointed as a TA. They mentioned it to me when I became a TA. In 1 course they said don't date students until after they finished the course. The other course said don't date at all. You're not supposed to give personal info either, your school has some pretty bad TA training. You have to be careful, there are websites telling students on "How to date a TA."

 

I would definitely wait until after the class is done before you continue pursuing this student further. As mentioned above, just say according to university policy, you cannot continue this type of relationship while she is a student. Your job and funding I think should come first.

 

Though not the same vein, I always have some students who try to sweet talk or start conversation and get on your good side. But I'm a very impartial, fair grader and the students are aware of this. Even the ones who try to sweet talk get bad grades if their work is not to par with students I rarely interact with but do well. This helps to set the tone in the whole class that while I will try to be friendly and engaging I won't hesitate to apply fair grading and make it clear that their learning comes first.

 

Teaching isn't as easy as I thought and you really have to be focused if you know what I mean! We're all human but we all know what is probably the right course of action. You OP seem to have taken a step back and look at this before it got worse and you seem to know what's right and what you have to do. Good luck.

Edited by yoyo17

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I would definitely wait until after the class is done before you continue pursuing this student further. As mentioned above, just say according to university policy, you cannot continue this type of relationship while she is a student. Your job and funding I think should come first.

 

I just want to clarify and point out that in many schools, the policy is that you cannot date someone when they are your student, not just any student at the school! At my school, the policy is that you are discouraged from starting new relationships with current students in the class that you TA and that you should disclose all the existence of preexisting relationships to the professor if you are assigned a course in which your partner is taking (I don't think you have to disclose the identity -- you can just say a relationship exist and would be assigned to a different course if the prof/department deems necessary).

 

Although I also think it is unethical (in most cases) to start a new relationship with a student in the course that you are TAing, simply dating a student is not explicitly against the policy (only discouraged). However, if unfairness occurs because of the relationship, then you'd definitely be violating policies.

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I obviously don't know what your conversations with this student have been like, but is it possible she isn't flirting with you?  I only ask because I've often struggled to make friends with men who didn't catch my drift of "let's be friends."  If I want to spend my personal time with someone, man or woman, I'll start with the obvious suggestion of inviting them to dinner or drinks.  "Have you seen this movie yet?"  "We should hang out when finals are done with."  It can get pretty frustrating.  One guy even told me he thought it was a date just because I wore a skirt.

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  One guy even told me he thought it was a date just because I wore a skirt.

 

hahaha... That's hilarious.

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I can see where someone might get confused if you're a single person inviting a single person of the opposite sex out for dinner or drinks one-on-one...

Agreed. Edited by Sigaba

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I can see where someone might get confused if you're a single person inviting a single person of the opposite sex out for dinner or drinks one-on-one...

 

 

Agreed.

 

Seriously. Let's not confuse the issue here: this is a graduate TA seeking one-on-one social time with a student, not two freshman going out to grab a bite to eat.

 

It's plausible that a TA might take a general social interest in one of their students and that the student might interpret it as such--yet, I don't think a majority of undergraduates are so naive that that would be the first thought that comes to mind when the older man in the position of power exchanges numbers with you and then starts texting you about "starting something up" after the semester is over...

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I am really intrigued by the different responses to this topic. This is how I interpret the OP's interactions with the student: the student is in his class, has probably chatted with him during office hours, and they exchanged phone numbers. Friendly texting ensued, and at some point the student suggested the possibility of relationship after the class was over, to which the OP said, "we'll play it by ear."

The only thing I think the OP did incorrectly was say that they'd play it by ear. It isn't a horrible response and certainly doesn't commit to anything, but it does send the message to the student that you are interested in her romantically. A better response would have been that you couldn't discuss that at all until the semester is over.

It's not clear if the OP and the student ever got together outside of school for any kind of social activity. I think that would make things murky. However, having conversations at lunch, in the office, etc. is certainly acceptable. I've spent many hours in the offices of my professors (of both sexes) talking about a wide range of things, from coursework to current events to movies, and so have many other students. I've also had professors who invited groups of students to their homes for dinner. So socializing in itself is not a bad thing.

As for trading phone numbers, that's also something that I don't think is wrong. I have the phone numbers of several professors for a variety of reasons. Some gave out their numbers to everyone in class so they could easily be reached. Others gave them out only to advisees or students on field trips or research trips. Some who do tutoring give them to students so they can call if they really need help with something outside of regular hours (I did this as a peer tutor during undergrad). I think professors occasionally regret this... on one weekend field trip for a course, a bunch of us went to dinner and then to a bar, and several of the guys decided it would be fun to text weird pictures and memes to our professor.

So yeah, having friendly text conversations isn't bad, but only texting this one particular student would certainly look a bit fishy if someone decided to investigate. However, having the same conversations with a male student probably wouldn't set off any alarms (excluding the bit about a future relationship, of course).

So I really don't think the OP has seriously crossed any lines. Again, the play it by ear comment puts you in some murky territory, but the mere fact that you are interested in this student doesn't violate any ethics (as long as you aren't letting that interest dictate how you treat her in class), nor does having deep conversations with her. However, backing off may indeed be a good idea to help keep you objective as well as help keep her focused on the class.

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Seriously. Let's not confuse the issue here.

The "confusion" is yours. The comments you quoted were in reply to post #14, not the OP.

Moreover, had you read the entire thread carefully, you would have seen that your interpretation of the OP's situation disregard information provided by the thread's title, the OP itself, and the additional information provided in post #7.

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The "confusion" is yours. The comments you quoted were in reply to post #14, not the OP.

Moreover, had you read the entire thread carefully, you would have seen that your interpretation of the OP's situation disregard information provided by the thread's title, the OP itself, and the additional information provided in post #7.

Uhh. I was agreeing with both of you and also responding to post #14, implying that it seems pretty clear that #14's question does not relate to OP's situation. Not sure what the insane snark is for, but sure, I'll take it.

Edited by 1Q84

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