Photo C/O Madeline Neumann
By: Anonymous contributor
I never imagined that I would date my teaching assistant. I also never imagined that I would have a “W” on my transcript from dropping their class. Dating my TA was probably one of the worst decisions of my undergraduate degree.
When I got into a relationship with my TA last semester, I didn’t think it was too big of a deal. Dating your TA is much more socially-accepted than dating your professor or course instructor.
For one, the age differences between you and your TA aren’t always that big. My TA was two years older than me, but I’ve had TAs who were my age or younger. In that case, it’s hard to impose a ban against two consenting 20-somethings dating.
But what a lot of people don’t recognize is that there’s a power imbalance when dating your TA. Even when they’re the same age, or a bit older, there’s the fact that the TA is in a position that can strongly influence your academics and career.
When I had talked with my TA about our relationship, he told me that the department frowned upon student-TA relationships but there was no strict rule against them. While he was “required” to fill out a conflict-of-interest form, nobody forced him too. As long as he gave my assignments to another TA to grade, nobody batted an eye at our relationship.
I don’t think that’s enough. Especially in classes where TAs are asked to deliver lectures or hold review sessions, it’s not enough to require TAs in relationships with their students to not directly grade their work. Their presence alone influences their students’ marks.
Even when I got out of the relationship, I still felt ashamed and embarrassed every time I had to see him in tutorial or lecture. When I found out that he had marked my midterm, I was angry but didn’t know what to do. It’s difficult to tell your professor the reason you want to switch tutorials or have your test remarked is because you slept with your TA.
In the end, I ended up dropping the class and dodging questions from people asking me why. I still see my TA around campus, however, and I’m scared that I’ll be assigned to his class again. I’ve been so anxious that I’m even considering switching programs to avoid him.
A conflict of interest policy is not sufficient. I reviewed Mac’s conflict of interest policy for employees and there is a section that states that a conflict of interest is present when an employee of the university engages in an “intimate relationship with a person who relies upon them for opportunities to further their academic or employment career”.
However, the only actions an individual must take when this conflict arises is to report to their direct supervisor, who can then decide if the “conflict is confirmed”. If it is, then the case is moved to higher-ups who decide what sort of actions need to be taken to remove the conflict.
But by the time that decision is made, it’s probably too far into the semester to make any changes. In my case, my TA didn’t bother disclosing our relationship since he knew the only action that was required was that he didn’t grade my work.
Even though it states in the policy that failure to report will result in “appropriate disciplinary procedures”, I’m not confident that the university enforces this.
McMaster University should protect their students by banning student-TA, or any student-faculty, relationships altogether. These relationships have harmful power dynamics that blur the lines of consent, and can sometimes be considered sexual harassment or assault.
I’m not saying that all student-TA relationships end poorly. Sometimes it really is just bad timing when two people happen to meet. But if a relationship is meant to be, it can wait till the end of the semester to begin.
Dating your TA seems like a fun and sexy experience. In reality, this kind of relationship can be complicated, embarrassing and act as a huge stress on your academics and your mental health. Honestly, that cute TA isn’t worth it.