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Dealing with creepy students as a TA

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Sorry guys, I know I keep posting here about issues I'm having as a TA even though I'm not a full-on teacher like most of you guys are, but on my last thread you guys were very helpful.

So, here's the situation that I'm having issues with. Last semester there was this guy in the class I was a TA for. He seemed to be a little... overly personal. He'd come up to ask me a question and he'd put his arm around me. I'd move away and tell him to stop, and that would be the end of that. I never thought too much about it, until this semester when I became his TA again (I TA both Physics I and Physics II). It started out with a very inappropriate text message, asking for a "booty call", and telling me I was sexy. How he got my number, I'll never know. I didn't know it was him until the following lab, when he asked me if I would ever consider dating a nerd. I told him I was (I'm in a relationship), and he told me to let him know if I ever break up with him. He keeps asking me week after week if we've broken up yet. After lab, he waits until everyone else has left, and then walks me down the hall back to the TA room. He's the first to volunteer every time I want to do a demonstration or anything.

I put up with it for about 2 weeks, and then I asked the secretary if I could request that he moves sections (there are two, I only TA one). I was told that in order to officially request that, I'd have to file sexual harassment charges. Now, I don't really feel like I'm being harassed (he's not physically threatening me or anything), and it just doesn't feel worth it. I'm not about to ruin the kid's future just because I'm uncomfortable around him in lab.

Thoughts? Remarks?
 

vela

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Sounds like sexual harassment to me. I'd report him if I were you.

You shouldn't have to feel uncomfortable around this kid just because you're worried about ruining his life. It may be he's simply young and clueless and doesn't realize how he's coming off, or perhaps he has a history of doing this to others. You don't know, but there should be someone on campus whose job it is to deal with issues like this who's in a better position to see the full situation. You just have to trust that this person know how to deal with the student appropriately.
 
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e.bar.goum

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Yeah, that's sexual harassment, and you don't have to put up with it.

Report him, it's not your job to worry about ruining his life.

ETA: You are absolutely not required to do this, but have you tried being extremely clear and extremely assertive with him? Do not allow him to walk back to the TA office with you. I'm sorry, this really sucks. I've had a couple of creepy students, but nothing like this.
 
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256bits

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Sorry for your predicament.
You are correct to be worried about inappropriate behavior.
Since he got your number, sent you a message, without identifying himself, that is cause for concern.

Your own credibility is on the line here, as appearances matter - a perception of favouritism is just one small aspect and grading.

I hope you do not reply to text messages.
Keep a record and agenda as proof.
If he ever calls, you are busy, and hang up.
Do not walk with him to the TA office. You could ask another student every day that you wish to discuss his/her "whatever" as an excuse at the end of the class.

What he is doing is stalking you. He is ruining his own future.

Sometimes being nice can backfire, and I do agree with e.bar.goumand vela.
 
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ZapperZ

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Sorry guys, I know I keep posting here about issues I'm having as a TA even though I'm not a full-on teacher like most of you guys are, but on my last thread you guys were very helpful.

So, here's the situation that I'm having issues with. Last semester there was this guy in the class I was a TA for. He seemed to be a little... overly personal. He'd come up to ask me a question and he'd put his arm around me. I'd move away and tell him to stop, and that would be the end of that. I never thought too much about it, until this semester when I became his TA again (I TA both Physics I and Physics II). It started out with a very inappropriate text message, asking for a "booty call", and telling me I was sexy. How he got my number, I'll never know. I didn't know it was him until the following lab, when he asked me if I would ever consider dating a nerd. I told him I was (I'm in a relationship), and he told me to let him know if I ever break up with him. He keeps asking me week after week if we've broken up yet. After lab, he waits until everyone else has left, and then walks me down the hall back to the TA room. He's the first to volunteer every time I want to do a demonstration or anything.

I put up with it for about 2 weeks, and then I asked the secretary if I could request that he moves sections (there are two, I only TA one). I was told that in order to officially request that, I'd have to file sexual harassment charges. Now, I don't really feel like I'm being harassed (he's not physically threatening me or anything), and it just doesn't feel worth it. I'm not about to ruin the kid's future just because I'm uncomfortable around him in lab.

Thoughts? Remarks?
Against my better judgement, I'm going to respond to this, and I won't be surprised if I get hate mail for this.

As with your other question, I am not sure if you are just slow, or if you are just completely oblivious to what's around you. I also don't know if you actually are waiting for someone to come up and smack you on the back of your head for you to wake up and figure out what you actually need to do.

1. To put his arms around you that very FIRST time was already an inappropriate action! You should have told him, IN NO UNCERTAIN TERMS, that that was an inappropriate behavior, that he should cease from doing that, and any other type of inappropriate action will be reported.

2. That very next time, when you first received the text message, you should have immediately approach the instructor of that class and reported this immediately to him/her. If that instructor has any level of sensibility, he/she should take appropriate actions by reporting this either to the campus police, or the Dean of Students office, where such issues are handled.

3. The fact that you let this went on "....week after week...." is mind-boggling, and it only ENCOURAGED this person to continue his actions. After all, he's getting away with it so far, isn't he? That was why I said that you need someone to come up and smack you on the back of your head. By your continued inaction, he thinks he has a chance with you, and so, why not continue to keep doing what he's doing?

4. I hope to heck that we, the people of this forum, are NOT the only people you have mentioned this to, for your own safety. And I hope to heck that you have not deleted those text messages.

5. This situation is NOT something you can handle anymore, especially when you've been handling it all wrong. It is WAY past time for you to have the appropriate authority to handle it.

Zz.
 

ZapperZ

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ETA: You are absolutely not required to do this, but have you tried being extremely clear and extremely assertive with him?
I strongly discourage you from doing this. DO NOT ENGAGE in this student in any way from now beyond the classroom/lab. The time for being assertive is OVER, and this person has stepped way beyond the boundary of any normal behavior. Do not be near this person at any time other than in class/lab with other students around. I will also strongly advise you to be aware of your surroundings and make sure you are seldom alone, especially on campus.

Zz.
 
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I don't really feel like I'm being harassed
You seem like a nice and decent person and I understand not wanting to get someone in trouble, but you need to first be honest to yourself. You wouldn't have made this post if you didn't feel harassed. What you described was absolutely harassment. At the very least you need to tell this person that the next time he addresses you inappropriately you will report him. After that, no holding back. Someone higher than a secretary needs to know as well. Remember in these cases that it's not always just about you. This person may be harassing others too and the more you remain silent the more this person can harass others. And remember, it's not your fault.
 

atyy

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I agree with ZapperZ's posts #5 and #6.
 

e.bar.goum

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ZapperZ is totally correct, on all counts. I was wrong to suggest being firm, in retrospect, I think that's long past being an option.
 

ZapperZ

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A bit more of a followup. This is an excellent opportunity for some education here regarding sexual harassment, especially in light that the OP didn't think that there is a "harassment" happening (you should hear how loud of a slap on my forehead when I read that).

First of all, all colleges and universities receiving any form of federal funding in the US MUST comply with the Title XI of the Education Amendment on sexual violence. This governs many different aspects, including sexual harassment. In fact, in 2014, several campuses had been under investigation for failure in handling sexual violence and harassment complaints. Due to that, practically all universities in the US have strengthen their enforcement and clarify their policy on such an issue. Faculty members, staff, and students are often given either a briefing, information, and even orientation on sexual harassment on campus and what to do in such cases.

Secondly, I will take an example from Northwestern University definition of "sexual harassment". This includes:

Engaging in unwelcome sexual propositions, invitations, solicitations, and flirtation;

Using unwelcome sexually degrading language, sexual jokes, innuendos, or gestures;

Displaying or transmitting sexually suggestive electronic content, including inappropriate e-mails;

Repeatedly asking someone for a date after the person has expressed disinterest.
How many times did we say "Bingo"?

If you are studying in the US, you must educate yourself in your university's policy on these things. Go do a search. It will protect you, and it may also educate you how NOT to behave and put yourself unintentionally in jeopardy.

Zz.
 
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I would also like to chime in. I am a male student. I would talk to the student one more time. Tell him clearly that he is making you extremely uncomfortable and his behavior constitutes as harassment. If he continues report him. Let me make one thing clear. I believe Zapper as semen is the correct way of doing things, however, it seems you are leaving key details out. Is the student good looking? Do you stare at him, ie check him out, smile, or do anything that may suggest you are flirting even tho that is not your intention? It would be morally wrong and unprofessional if you report the student without a final warning. You allowed him to continue to interact with you outside of a class setting. Your actions made the student believe you are playing hard to get. Do not blame the student if you did not assist the situation and dealt with it accordingly.

One final warning. Explain that you are uncomfortable, the consequences of his actions(including up to dismissal), possibility of having to register as a sex offender, etc.

If he does it, file grievance with the disciplinary dean, police, teacher etc.
 

e.bar.goum

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I would also like to chime in. I am a male student. I would talk to the student one more time. Tell him clearly that he is making you extremely uncomfortable and his behavior constitutes as harassment. If he continues report him. Let me make one thing clear. I believe Zapper as semen is the correct way of doing things, however, it seems you are leaving key details out. Is the student good looking? Do you stare at him, ie check him out, smile, or do anything that may suggest you are flirting even tho that is not your intention? It would be morally wrong and unprofessional if you report the student without a final warning. You allowed him to continue to interact with you outside of a class setting. Your actions made the student believe you are playing hard to get. Do not blame the student if you did not assist the situation and dealt with it accordingly.

One final warning. Explain that you are uncomfortable, the consequences of his actions(including up to dismissal), possibility of having to register as a sex offender, etc.

If he does it, file grievance with the disciplinary dean, police, teacher etc.
Responses like this are exactly why women are afraid of reporting sexual assault, or why, in the case of the OP, don't report it until it goes way past where it should. You should be ashamed of yourself.
 
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Responses like this are exactly why women are afraid of reporting sexual assault, or why, in the case of the OP, don't report it until it goes way past where it should. You should be ashamed of yourself.
No you should be ashamed of yourself, for being illogical and critiquing my character. You do not know anything about me.

I asked well sounded questions. I do not see by me asking the OP if she did anything that may have led the male the student believe she is flirting. If anything you should be ashamed of yourself for reaching.

The evidence the OP presented (her initial post):

Did not make it clear that it was unwanted behavior fro the student.

Her actions lead the reader to believe that she may have chosen to ignore the situation. By ignoring the situation, she taught the student would take a hint and cease.

Why did she not tell the student after him placing his arm around her, along these lines: Hey if you do that again I will have you arrested and expelled. Do not ever do that again. Anyone who is not neurological deficient would have understood clearly that no is no.

If this has been an ongoing problem since the previous semester, why has she waited until now?

Let's not take the feminist high ground here.

I believe Greg offered the best advice in this thread.

Be thankful I am not reporting you.
 
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I would also like to chime in. I am a male student. I would talk to the student one more time. Tell him clearly that he is making you extremely uncomfortable and his behavior constitutes as harassment. If he continues report him. Let me make one thing clear. I believe Zapper as semen is the correct way of doing things, however, it seems you are leaving key details out. Is the student good looking? Do you stare at him, ie check him out, smile, or do anything that may suggest you are flirting even tho that is not your intention? It would be morally wrong and unprofessional if you report the student without a final warning. You allowed him to continue to interact with you outside of a class setting. Your actions made the student believe you are playing hard to get. Do not blame the student if you did not assist the situation and dealt with it accordingly.

One final warning. Explain that you are uncomfortable, the consequences of his actions(including up to dismissal), possibility of having to register as a sex offender, etc.

If he does it, file grievance with the disciplinary dean, police, teacher etc.
OP: please ignore this person. Please follow Zz's advice and contact the authorities.
 

Ben Niehoff

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You are being harassed AND you have clear evidence in your text message history. You should report it. His behavior is totally inappropriate.
 

Choppy

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The behaviour as cited is consistent with even very conservative definitions of sexual harassment.

The moment a student puts his arm around a TA - he's done something that is completely inappropriate - and unless he suffers from some kind of social disorder, he's very much aware that he has. Similar with the inappropriate text messages. Similar with repeated questions about your social life. Someone legitimately interested in a relationship would wait until the term was over and bring up the possibility of going out once the academic relationship is over.

I don't think you have to be hard on yourself for not recognizing it. These situations are always difficult to identify when they happen to you personally. You have to balance uncomfortable feelings with social pressures to "not rock the boat" so to speak.

For the record you're not ruining his future if you report him. First, it sounds like he made the decision to put his future at risk a long time ago. Second, there's a difference between sexual harassment and sexual assault. You may have to check into the specifics in your area, but sexual assault generally speaking is the criminal charge. Sexual harassment is a civil matter. Proceeding with a "charge" will come with academic consequences for him. Likely he would be put on probation for a term, but that's not necessarily going to happen.

I would urge you to do something though. These are the type of problems that do not go away on their own.
 

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SamNorris93: As others have already said: You are being harassed (Indeed, your story reads like the textbook examples from the many management training classes that I have taken at various employers over the years). You're also not alone - this happens a lot more often than it should but for obvious reasons of fairness and privacy the resolution is seldom made public so you don't hear about it.

Report it. If you are in any organization of any size at all, this will not be the first time that the administration has seen and dealt with this problem.

MidgetDwarf: You say that you are still a student, so you may not be fully aware of the legal and business issues here. In much of the STEM industry, if someone working underneath you were to bring this complaint to you, then giving them the answer you gave to SamNorris93 would get you fired.
 
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Choppy

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Midget Dwarf, I don't even know where to start with some of the statements you made. I'll assume that you're trying to help, but the statements are consistent with typical victim-blaming behaviour that's quite common in cases of sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Is the student good looking? Do you stare at him, ie check him out, smile, or do anything that may suggest you are flirting even tho that is not your intention?
Of course she looks at him and smiles at him. She's a TA. If you're an instructor you have to look at your students. You don't have to smile, but it's generally accepted that you should. This is quite different from flirting.

Even if she was attracted to this student (which she has given no indication of and quite frankly it seems a stretch to even suggest this), she can't flirt or do anything else to act on such an attraction because she's a TA. It's a given that both the TA and the student are very well aware of this.

It would be morally wrong and unprofessional if you report the student without a final warning.
Incorrect. The stated behavior constitutes blatant sexual harassment. She already told him not to put his arm around her. She can use a final, documented warning as a tool to deal with the sexual harassment, but there is no professional or moral obligation to do so at this point.

You allowed him to continue to interact with you outside of a class setting. Your actions made the student believe you are playing hard to get.
You're putting the OP into a position where she essentially would have had to either play the role of a callous, unapproachable instructor or one that has encouraged inappropriate behaviour. When I was a TA I often talked with students after class - for all sorts of reasons. At no point did I ever need to tell them, "Sorry, I can't talk to you now because I don't want to think I'm leading you on."


Why did she not tell the student after him placing his arm around her, along these lines: Hey if you do that again I will have you arrested and expelled. Do not ever do that again. Anyone who is not neurological deficient would have understood clearly that no is no.
He'd come up to ask me a question and he'd put his arm around me. I'd move away and tell him to stop, and that would be the end of that.
Again you're putting her in an unrealistic dichotomous scenario where the only way to indicate the advance was unwanted was to threaten arrest.

If this has been an ongoing problem since the previous semester, why has she waited until now?
As opposed to when exactly?
 

256bits

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I don't think you have to be hard on yourself for not recognizing it. These situations are always difficult to identify when they happen to you personally. You have to balance uncomfortable feelings with social pressures to "not rock the boat" so to speak.
I think that is a VERY important element, and you said it well.
.
 
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I've certainly taken a lot of this advice to heart. Here is my university's policy on sexual harrassment:

While not all-inclusive, the following behavior is generally considered "conduct of a sexual nature" that, if unwelcome, may be characterized as sexual harassment:

  • Sexual Comments, Questions, Discussions, or Statements: Comments regarding physical attributes, sexual or "dirty" jokes, discussions about sexual activity or sexual performance, distributing sexually explicit pictures, drawings, or written material, and sexual hand and facial gestures.
  • Actions to Gain Personal Attention: Sending unwanted emails, text messages, written notes, telephone calls, visits, pressure for sexual favors, numerous date requests or other acts of unnecessary personal interaction.

I'd say that everything that has happened so far has been in the latter category. Here's my plan of action. If I can prove that he is the one who sent those text messages (which is possible, since we have a few mutual friends who probably know his number), then I will tell the professor for whom I am a TA. He obviously knows his advances are unwelcome. The next time he asks me something of that nature, I'll respond with a "If you ask me that again, I'll make sure you are moved to another section of the class."
 

Ben Niehoff

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I've certainly taken a lot of this advice to heart. Here is my university's policy on sexual harrassment:


I'd say that everything that has happened so far has been in the latter category.
Asking you for a "booty call" is in the first category as well.

The next time he asks me something of that nature, I'll respond with a "If you ask me that again, I'll make sure you are moved to another section of the class."
I wouldn't bother.

1. That doesn't sound remotely threatening. It will likely just make the situation worse. The stakes are actually higher than being moved to another section; you actually come across like you're trying to cover the incidents up to protect him.

2. He has already had plenty of second chances, third chances, etc. This is ongoing harassment which you made clear was unwelcome a long time ago. Don't threaten; act. Report the incidents.

3. It's not your job to engage him. That's the authorities' job, and that's why the reporting system exists. If you try to engage him yourself, you might have a worse problem if he tries to retaliate.
 

ZapperZ

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I'd say that everything that has happened so far has been in the latter category. Here's my plan of action. If I can prove that he is the one who sent those text messages (which is possible, since we have a few mutual friends who probably know his number), then I will tell the professor for whom I am a TA. He obviously knows his advances are unwelcome. The next time he asks me something of that nature, I'll respond with a "If you ask me that again, I'll make sure you are moved to another section of the class."
Unfortunately, it appears that you are still not getting it, and obviously, my smack-on-the-back-of-head wasn't strong enough to wake you up!

1. You've been doing this all wrong. Your can no longer trust your judgement call in all of this.

2. The urging for you to report him immediately to the relevant authority didn't sink in!

3. You do not have the authority, nor are you qualified, to "investigate" him. This is not your job. You should let the relevant authority do theirs.

4. You do not have the authority to get him assigned to another class (as if this will solve the problem. Get real!). What happens to him as a result of this is not within your control, nor should you be the one who decides.

5. There is NO NEXT TIME! He has crossed the line MANY TIMES ALREADY! I do not know how much clearer things need to be said to you for them to sink in!

It is time for you to grow some backbone and stop being a potential victim. Only YOU can help yourself and stop letting someone else takes advantage of you. I've said everything that needed to be said.

Zz.
 

vela

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Here's my plan of action. If I can prove that he is the one who sent those text messages (which is possible, since we have a few mutual friends who probably know his number), then I will tell the professor for whom I am a TA. He obviously knows his advances are unwelcome. The next time he asks me something of that nature, I'll respond with a "If you ask me that again, I'll make sure you are moved to another section of the class."
Just report him. I can imagine why you might feel reluctant. Maybe you feel like you should have handle it better, perhaps been clearer to him that you didn't appreciate his advances, or that you're making a big deal out of a minor situation, or that you just don't want to get him in trouble. But what it comes down to is that the student clearly crossed the line multiple times. Maybe he's totally clueless and doesn't get it, or maybe he knows exactly what he's doing. It doesn't really matter. He makes you feel uncomfortable. He creeps you out. He's responsible for that. You don't have to put up with that, and you shouldn't put up with that.

So just report him. The school has people who know how to best deal with situations like this. Let them do their job so you can do yours.
 
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If you don't report his behavior, then he'll have no reason not to do the same thing the next time he finds a girl attractive.

I'm going to join the crowd here and say that, based on your descriptions, and based upon the couple of sexual harassment lessons I've had to sit through in a couple of my jobs, that you should absolutely report him. If it is him that sent you a text message, then that is a gigantic red flag. His future really isn't something you should be concerned with (maybe you wouldn't even affect his future that much if you reported him, but it's about your safety).

Let me put it this way. I'm a male college student. I have not once asked someone who was in charge of me for a date, put my arm around them in an inappropriate situation, or texted them anything inappropriate in my years in college. I have not done any of these things because I am a respectful human being. So yes, it absolutely is his fault and as a college student, he should know better. And perhaps the sooner he learns how inappropriate his actions are, the better off he'll be (imagine you're one of his managers when he gets out into the real world!).

I should also add: I'm sure your university has some group that determines whether or not to consider something "sexual harassment" when there is a report. If he is guilty, then he gets what he deserves, and you were right to report him. If he's not guilty (which, based on your description, I would say he is guilty), then they will determine that, but you were still right to report him.

One last (very important) issue. At some universities, it is mandatory for employees to report any instance of sexual harassment, from what I know. I'm not sure how thoroughly you've covered your university's policies, but that's something you should check.
 

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