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Dealing with creepy students as a TA

  • Thread starter Dishsoap
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I've certainly taken a lot of this advice to heart.
No offense, but I don't feel that you have. Threatening him with changing sections might have been appropriate the first or second time. At this point, having him moved to another section isn't good enough. If you feel harassed (and from what you've said it certainly seems you have been) then that student needs to be reported. End of story. You have no reason to feel guilty for reporting sexual harassment. Whatever consequences he faces, he's earned.
 
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I went to my advisor today (a very trusted friend and professor) and explained the situation. We then went up to the department chair and explained that. The whole meeting was very informal. The chair said that the meeting was only advisory and therefore wasn't required to report anything, but that he would not hesitate to do so if that's what I wanted. He then explained what that would entail (going in front of a committee, filling out a detailed report, possibly getting the police involved), and all 3 of us decided against that. He suggested that I send him an e-mail (something that can be documented), and simply say that "if you don't stop, you will be reported."

Honestly, that is good enough for me.
 

ZapperZ

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I went to my advisor today (a very trusted friend and professor) and explained the situation. We then went up to the department chair and explained that. The whole meeting was very informal. The chair said that the meeting was only advisory and therefore wasn't required to report anything, but that he would not hesitate to do so if that's what I wanted. He then explained what that would entail (going in front of a committee, filling out a detailed report, possibly getting the police involved), and all 3 of us decided against that. He suggested that I send him an e-mail (something that can be documented), and simply say that "if you don't stop, you will be reported."

Honestly, that is good enough for me.
And that is fine if you are OK with that. The most important thing here is that you have reported this to a person of authority, and that someone else is made aware of this. You at least received an advice on what you need to do, and you should know by now that there is a system in place that you can go to if this escalates further.

I apologize if I was exceptionally hard on you earlier. I just think you needed someone to just shake you up a bit and "fight back" at someone who dared to exert such control over you. You should never let anyone treat you like that, especially when you haven't done anything wrong to deserve such harassment.

Zz.

P.S. Did your advisor suggested that you should BCC him on the e-mail you intend to send off to this jerk?
 
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I probably should've done that. Oh well. The student already e-mailed me back and apologized profusely, so it seems like it won't be an issue anymore. I'm just really fortunate that even though the chair is technically required to create an incident report, he was more willing to settle the issue without all the paperwork and whatnot.
 
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Glad to hear you were able to resolve this.
 
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That was probably the best course of action in my opinion. I received many attacks due to my post on this thread. Everyone failed to realize, except Greg and a few others, that by reasoning in a language the student understands, would stop the problem. If anything I lost a lot of respect for fellow physicsforum members. Physics forum is a place where the members use logic and reasoning to help others. The hang him now attitude is this thread is despicable.

Posters forgot to understand that individuals rationalize situations differently. The student was an idiot I admit that. However, he and the OP have learned a valuable lesson.

His Casanova attitude if not changed will ruin his future. The OP on the other hand, has learned to a a address the situation instantaneous and not wait till more complications arise.


I will mention one thing tho. The department chair also had a hidden agenda in this fiasco. By law he is required to submit all records of criminal behavior (including harrasement) yearly. This information becomes public record. If this incident were to go on the record it may make others think twice of attending said college. Which in turn, leads to lost revenue for the school.
 

ZapperZ

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That was probably the best course of action in my opinion. I received many attacks due to my post on this thread. Everyone failed to realize, except Greg and a few others, that by reasoning in a language the student understands, would stop the problem. If anything I lost a lot of respect for fellow physicsforum members. Physics forum is a place where the members use logic and reasoning to help others. The hang him now attitude is this thread is despicable.
No, I think you have misunderstood many of the responses. In my case, it was the urge to stop contacting the student and contact a figure of authority! It is only upon discussion with such authority that the NEXT agreed-upon step should be taken, and in this case, to contact the student directly and informed him of the possible consequences! If it happens that everyone agreed that it should be reported to the next level, then THAT should have been done instead.

The point here is that it had to be reported to someone, since she hadn't reacted to this incident that well in the first place! There needed to be another party involved here to help her evaluate the NEXT step. Furthermore, at the very least, someone else is aware of what she is going through. I can bet you that both her Advisor and the Chair will keep an eye out on her and this individual from now on. If anything happens to her, they both have a LOT of explaining to do. She also now knows that she has someone to seek help from and that she is not alone in dealing with this. For someone who had been harassed, this is an extremely valuable and possibly comforting knowledge.

The intention was NOT on the harasser. The intention was for the harassed to seek help. She did, and she got an advice on what to do next. That was it.

Zz.
 

atyy

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I probably should've done that. Oh well. The student already e-mailed me back and apologized profusely, so it seems like it won't be an issue anymore. I'm just really fortunate that even though the chair is technically required to create an incident report, he was more willing to settle the issue without all the paperwork and whatnot.
You should also keep the chair informed, not just Physics Forums.
 
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Yes, I am going to keep the chair and my professor informed.

The weirdest thing about the whole circumstance is the difference between how you guys responded and how my professor responded initially. You guys had a "hang him now" attitude as referenced earlier, but my professor was on the opposite side of the fence. When I first told him, he said "Well, you only have 2 more months of this semester right, and then you never have to see him again? Just deal with it, right?" Though I expected him to be chill about the whole thing (this professor is the king of sexual/offensive jokes), I certainly expected more than that, so I pushed him a little bit more, and then we got the chair involved.

Overall, I just feel stupid about the whole thing. If all it took was an e-mail to the guy threatening administrative option, I could've done that on my own. If I would've known that the chair of the department wasn't going to rain down fire and brimstone, I would've left my professor out of it.

So yes, I did learn a lot of valuable lessons. Mostly that I have no reason to be afraid of reporting an incident like that.
 
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When I first told him, he said "Well, you only have 2 more months of this semester right, and then you never have to see him again? Just deal with it, right?"
That seems very unprofessional. He has no way of knowing you'll never see him again, certainly if he sent you text messages.
 
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That seems very unprofessional. He has no way of knowing you'll never see him again, certainly if he sent you text messages.
Yes... yes it was. I also know never to get that professor involved in anything serious ever again.
 
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Yes... yes it was. I also know never to get that professor involved in anything serious ever again.
Please do my a favor. If the student in questions tries anything again, report him immediately to the correct authorities and not to your professor.
 
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That said, I also found it quite weird that you had to send your student an email. If I were the professor, I wouldn't ask this of you. I would send the email myself.
 
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That said, I also found it quite weird that you had to send your student an email. If I were the professor, I wouldn't ask this of you. I would send the email myself.
This was the idea of the chair. He said that if he were to contact the student himself, it would no longer be an "advisory" meeting, and he would be required to report the incident.
 

vela

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The problem with claiming we have a "hang him now" attitude is that you're assuming that reporting an incident will result in completely ruining the student's life. Reporting him is merely getting the process started. The people who deal with this sort of issue know how to respond appropriately. If it was the guy's first offense, someone probably would have just sat down with him and educated him about boundaries and what constitutes sexual harassment; they wouldn't expel the guy.

Frankly, I'm surprised by your professor's response and somewhat with the department chair's (depending on the level of detail you provided). At one of the schools I work at, it was made very clear that we're under a legal obligation to report any incident, regardless of whether the student wants us to or not, if the student divulges enough information. Indeed, if we suspect a student is about to tell us about an incident, we're supposed to interrupt and inform him or her about our obligation to report. Not reporting an incident could get an employee in legal trouble.
 
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I did some research on the whole reporting mechanism at my university before I talked to my professor. The people who are required to report any incidents are the department chair, RSO advisers, and faculty advisers, along with a bunch of other people. That includes a lot of people in the department, but not the professor I talked to.

But yes, any further harassment from the guy, and he will definitely be reported. That's all there is to it.
 
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Right, and you told the department chair, so he should report it.

I'm very disappointed in the unprofessional way that your professor and the chair handled things. The chair had a duty to report and neglected it. Furthermore, they let you send the email, because otherwise the chair could get in trouble for not reporting. This is absolutely horrible.
 
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How is that horrible? Stopping the harassment was the end goal, nothing else. That goal is achieved. Yes, the way that they handled it was unprofessional, and yes I feel absolutely stupid because the conversation with the chair and the professor wasn't at all how I wanted the conversation to go. I started the issue on the "please don't kill the poor guy" side of the fence, and ended up trying to convince the chair that it was, in fact, a serious issue. So after the whole conversation, I do feel like I took it too far (though I didn't), but again, the end goal was achieved.
 

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Well, it does depend on what Sam told the chair. If she simply said, "There's a guy in one of my classes who creeps me out because blah blah blah," but never identified the student, I don't think the chair has the obligation to report the incident. I kinda figure that's what happened and why he said that if he were to send the e-mail, he'd have to report it because then he'd know who the student was.
 
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I sincerely hope the harassment stops now, and if it does, then yes the end goal is reached. But the way they handled it was horrible and amateurish. You having to convince them that the issue is serious. Really? I can't think of a more horrible way to handle things, even though you did get what you want.
 
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Well, it does depend on what Sam told the chair. If she simply said, "There's a guy in one of my classes who creeps me out because blah blah blah," but never identified the student, I don't think the chair has the obligation to report the incident. I kinda figure that's what happened and why he said that if he were to send the e-mail, he'd have to report it because then he'd know who the student was.
They did ask me the name of the student, and I did tell them. I think the reason he couldn't officially get involved was because then it would cross the line between me going to him for advice and me going to him to do something about it.
 
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For the record, I don't want them to "hang" the guy. It might indeed be that he's a bit naive or a bit awkward. But you don't know the full truth. Maybe he does this to a lot of people? If nobody reports him, then he can just continue harassing more women.

It's a very sad how many males take these kind of complaints not seriously. This is really a huge problem. Imagine if your professor (or the chair) were a woman. You would very likely get a much better treatment. Of course, many males would also take it very seriously, but there are some people (like the two you talked to) who completely botched the job.

But yes, you did get the end result, which is good for you. I just can't help thinking of all the other women who don't get their end result because of things like this.
 
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I sincerely hope the harassment stops now, and if it does, then yes the end goal is reached. But the way they handled it was horrible and amateurish. You having to convince them that the issue is serious. Really? I can't think of a more horrible way to handle things, even though you did get what you want.
Well, in theory, I should've laid out everything that he did at the beginning of the meeting. In practice, they kept asking me questions, and after I answered them, they would discuss among themselves about how serious it was. For instance, they asked me how he was embarrassing me in front of the class, and I said that he would ask me personal questions. For instance, I said, last week he asked me when my boyfriend and I were breaking up (I'm single, but that's irrelevant). My professor responded that that wasn't really a personal question, and the chair said that it depended on the context and confirmed that it was definitely creepy after I said he asked me some form of that question week after week.

When I mentioned that he would complete his lab, and then return near the end of class so that he could walk out with me, they again said that that's creepy, and asked what time my lab finished. I said 6:00, which wasn't nearly as creepy as if it were 9:00 (since the other section goes from 6-9), they said.

I also mentioned that his RA (a friend of mine) had a similar issue with him, so it clearly wasn't just a "me" thing, but that he's just a creepy guy. The chair responded that if he reported him, he could possibly prevent him from harassing another authority figure. The professor also offered to talk to the guy.

The more I read the synopsis of the conversation... the more I realized that they really did screw up. Lol.
 
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Hmm yea, they screwed up. I don't think it is really their job to decide how serious it is. And sadly, males have a very different perspective on the situation than women.

And really, how is "Are you and your boyfriend breaking up" in any way not a personal question? And what does it matter what the time was that the lab was finished? Sure, I would find it more creepy if a creepy guy was following me at 9:00 than if he was following me at 6:00. But it objectively doesn't matter.

I think they should have been very firm from the moment you mentioned that somebody else had a problem with him. If it was questionable what to do before you mentioned it, it should have been very clear after.

Well, I guess you really learned something: don't go to those two guys with problems...
 
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Well, to be fair, there is only one female faculty member in the department, and I have no doubt that her reaction to the situation would've been far worse than the two guys. So I really didn't have an option but to talk to a guy.
 

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