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Dealing with creepy students as a TA

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vela

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Well, it does sound a bit strange to me, but your school may handle incidents like these differently. Or it could be your department chair screwed up.

I agree with micromass that the professor and department chair did handled it poorly. That you felt you had to convince them this was a serious issue is absolutely terrible. You thought about the issue a lot before bringing it to them; you asked for advice here; and you researched what reporting involved. You didn't want to get the guy in trouble, but he creeped you out enough that you determined you needed to discuss the issue up with them. That alone should have been enough for them to take it seriously. Instead, they both act like it's a non-problem. This is exactly the kind of dismissive attitude that makes women reluctant to come forward and just put up with crap when they shouldn't have to.
 
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I'm not really so sure that it's a male vs. female issue.
 
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I'm not really so sure that it's a male vs. female issue.
Maybe not. There might be males that treat this situation appropriately, and there might be females who deal with it in a horrible way. But I think that on average, the women would deal with it better than the men. It's just a speculation of my part, I have no evidence at all.
 
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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?
Please don't think I'm trying to justify the behavior, but it sounds a bit like the guy's got issues that go a little deeper than plain old disrespect. I've heard a lot of "creepy guy" stories from my female friends that follow this pattern and a common theme seems to be that the issue of the creeper in question isn't so much that he's plain hostile or predatory but more that he doesn't know any better, with a slight overtone of ASD-related problems. There's creepy guys that are overly forward or aggressive (ie "douchebag"), and there's creepy guys that are just desperate because they don't know how to function socially, especially with women.

So I wouldn't necessarily disagree if you decided to go to the police or some other disciplinarian, but I think the guy isn't beyond helping. If you're worried about "ruining his future", have you considered reporting his behavior to a counselor or someone who can talk to him in a non-disciplinary capacity about his behavior? Dealing with those issues productively will get him off your back, and it will also help him resolve his issues (and, by extension, help the other females he will encounter in his life).
 
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Oh yeah, definitely. Judging from his response to my e-mail, he just didn't know that he came off a little weird. I understand that.
 

f95toli

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Judging from his response to my e-mail, he just didn't know that he came off a little weird. I understand that.
But that is not your problem. I don't know how old this guy is, but since he is at university I'd assume he is -at least from a legal point of view- an adult. The "he did not know better" defense might be relevant if you were talking about someone who is 13 years old, but by the time you get to university you should know better; if he doesn't then that is serious and someone should intervene because otherwise he will just keep doing it. I agree with the others that your line managers (which is what they are in this case) handled this very badly; perhaps to the point where THEY could get into trouble if this ever went further.
The "it was just a joke" or "I did not realize you took it seriously" arguments are exactly the reason for why sexual harassment legislation in many countries is formulated in such a way that what matters is how the victim perceives the situation, NOT what the intention was: i.e. it is illegal even if he did not realize that he was harassing you (I am not sure if this is true in the USA are well).
 
I have to add that I'm sure how anyone was trying to "hang him high". In situations of harassment like this, the harassment should be reported to the "manager" and dealt with. How could that possibly not be the proper response? No one that I saw said to pursue his prosecution to the fullest extent of the law or anything.
 
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The "it was just a joke" or "I did not realize you took it seriously" arguments are exactly the reason for why sexual harassment legislation in many countries is formulated in such a way that what matters is how the victim perceives the situation, NOT what the intention was: i.e. it is illegal even if he did not realize that he was harassing you (I am not sure if this is true in the USA are well).
However, as I explained to the professor and chair, the issue is not that I felt uncomfortable. As I said to them, to be honest I would not consider getting anyone else involved unless I legitimately feared for my safety if it were just one on one. The main issue is he was embarrassing me in front of my class, and I was a less effective TA because of it.
 
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Does this happen often in universities?
 

Choppy

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Does this happen often in universities?
Sexual harrassment? Unfortunately yes.

I would expect that student-to-TA harrassement is much less common than student-to-student harassment. I'm sure this is not an isolated case though.
 

WWGD

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Sexual harrassment? Unfortunately yes.

I would expect that student-to-TA harrassement is much less common than student-to-student harassment. I'm sure this is not an isolated case though.

Don't you mean _allegations_ of sexual harassment? Shouldn't we hear both sides first before making a final judgment? Isnt a false positive as bad as false negative? Shouldn't a jury/committee be the one to determine if harassment actually took place? Until then, it is a matter of allegations. Frankly, if we are honest with ourselves an observe our own conduct, we will admit we all have done stupid , thoughtless things. Wouldn't we want to be given first a fair chance, without taking things to the level of threats, to address our own stupidity? And for the accusation of male ineptitude, I can bring up allegations of rape/harassment that turned out to be clearly false, that were supported by the far-out feminist groups.
I don't mean to imply that samnorris93 is lying , but out of basic fairness, we should wait until both sides are laid out before making a final judgement. Samnorris93 has been more reasonable and flexible than many here.

EDIT 1,2: Maybe most of us ( including myself) would benefit from reading the book "Crucial Conversations" (or related) on how to address touchy, emotionally charged situations effectively. I am not preaching here, I am reading it myself because I could definitely improve in this area.
 
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Vanadium 50

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WWGD

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"but"? I see.
???

I do see that you do not make allowances for the fact that you may have misunderstood my response.
So much for that. Just spell out whatever it is you're trying to say. If you believe I am actually saying
she is lying, then explain just how that follows from my post. Otherwise, you are making unfounded
accusations.
 
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???

I do see that you do not make allowances for the fact that you may have misunderstood my response.
So much for that. Just spell out whatever it is you're trying to say.
These things are a nightmare to discuss, it's like global warming and euthanasia.
The point is that sometimes the allegations are true and other times they are not, you never know the full story and should refrain from treating the situation with such zeal.
 

WWGD

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These things are a nightmare to discuss, it's like global warming and euthanasia.
The point is that sometimes the allegations are true and other times they are not, you never know the full story and should refrain from treating the situation with such zeal.
I am not treating the situation itself, I am addressing the innuendo by Vanadium 50, who is accusing me of something, just not explicitly.
 

Vanadium 50

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When you say "I am not accusing someone of something, but..." it's a transparently backhanded way of accusing them. Samnorris93 deserves better.
 
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Honestly, I would have been very concerned had they just taken my word for it. In a case like this, nothing should be done without proof. In my case, I have no doubt that other students would have backed me up if it were to come to that, and fortunately it didn't.
 

Vanadium 50

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Yes, but you had the text messages, right?
 

Choppy

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Don't you mean _allegations_ of sexual harassment? Shouldn't we hear both sides first before making a final judgment? Isnt a false positive as bad as false negative? Shouldn't a jury/committee be the one to determine if harassment actually took place?
Actually, I was asking a question to Homogenous Cow. I did not know if his or her question pertained to sexual harassment in general, specific sexual harassment of TAs, TAs wondering how to deal with creepy students, or what. That's why I used a question mark.

That said, it's important to remember that this thread was started by someone who came on requesting advice on how to deal with a specific situation.

If someone came into the academic guidance forum and stated that they were struggling to pass a certain class, most readers would not automatically assume that they are "alleged" to be struggling or that they need to hear the instructor's side of the story before they respond with any advice. That's because they're not passing out final judgement on the people involved. They are responding to a request for assistance with a problem.

And often the response pertains to more than just the specific individual asking the question. This thread has well over 2000 views at the moment. How many students or first time instructors might actually be in a similar circumstance and browsing the web for advice on how to deal with it? I have no idea, but I suspect over the lifetime of this thread it will be more than zero.

And for the accusation of male ineptitude, I can bring up allegations of rape/harassment that turned out to be clearly false, that were supported by the far-out feminist groups.
One of the major issues in facing the social problem of sexual assault is that it's actually quite common for people to believe that the survivor is lying. This is compounded by the facts that (i) sexual assault can be very difficult to prove since the argument often boils down to a he-said-she-said fiasco, (ii) reporting the assault often involves disclosing private and intimate details about oneself that most people would rather not share, (iii) victim-blaming reactions are quite common - why did she drink so much to begin with?, why was she dressed like that?, it wasn't like she was on her way home from a nunnery, why did he go to a gay bar alone? and (iv) it's a lot easier to believe that the survivor is lying than it is to do something about it. Unfortunately as a result of all this, it's not uncommon for accusations to be withdrawn.

Similar issues can be faced with sexual harassment.

I don't mean to say that no one ever lies about assaults or harassment. Of course it happens. And in any circumstance where someone is going to face a penalty - either civil, criminal or through academic discipline - of course those doling it out need to hear both sides of the story.

I don't mean to imply that samnorris93 is lying , but out of basic fairness, we should wait until both sides are laid out before making a final judgement.
Are you expecting the student in question to come into this thread and argue his side of the story?
 
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Yes, but you had the text messages, right?
Yes, of course. Though, again, no way to prove it was from him. Which was another reason why, given the potential severity of the consequences, we decided to not report him.
 

WWGD

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When you say "I am not accusing someone of something, but..." it's a transparently backhanded way of accusing them. Samnorris93 deserves better.
Yes, lively imagination. Or complete lack of it. Just because you are unable to understand what I said and unwilling to ask does not make it so. What I meant is that even when Samnorris93 tells the truth, it seems only right to hear both sides or to wait for someone who has more information on both sides to pass judgment. So much for your transparency. And you seem to believe that it is possible to clearly interpret the meaning of statements made by someone you know nothing about. This is highly questionable to me.

A gentlemanly rule in discussions is to make an effort to see your (ideological/conversation) opponent's argument in the best possible light. You have done the opposite, knowing absolutely nothing about me.
 
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WWGD

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<Snip>


Are you expecting the student in question to come into this thread and argue his side of the story?
No, just that we should take this into account; many seem to have tried and convicted the student. I have to admit that, as a male, I do have an interest in stopping
these automatic convictions of rape and harassment that are passed before all the information is known. Of course I am against rap, but I am also against false accusations that can ruin someone's life. Try finding a reasonable job after being falsely accused (NOTE this has never happened to me, but I do know people to whom it has happened and even after suing an winning are unable to work again).

When you say that sexual harassment occurs often, you seem to be bypassing the trial or committee evaluation that should happen before one concludes something went wrong.

Again, I don't mean to minimize the plight o victims of sexual harassment, but I want to point out that false allegations can be just as hurtful in many different respects. Just like there is a stupid male fringe that thinks it is OK to treat women as objects , there is an equally idiotic female fringe that sees men as predators, waiting for any chance to take advantage of women.
 
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vela

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No, just that we should take this into account; many seem to have tried and convicted the student.
I don't think that's a fair characterization. The OP asked how to deal with a situation, and many here recommended the student should be reported to the proper campus authorities because the described behavior clearly qualified as sexual harassment. Was the OP embellishing or lying outright? Perhaps. We don't know. But it doesn't really matter because we're not the ones responsible for reporting or resolving the situation.

There are, in all likelihood, people on campus whose job it is to deal with situations like this. They have the training to investigate and appropriately deal with the parties involved. I'm not sure why you seem to assume that any report will result in the hammer coming down on the kid and ruin his life forever. For all we know, they might have found that the kid was simply clueless and didn't realize how his behavior was perceived by others, and that a simple conversation would resolve the situation.
 

ZapperZ

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No, just that we should take this into account; many seem to have tried and convicted the student. I have to admit that, as a male, I do have an interest in stopping
these automatic convictions of rape and harassment that are passed before all the information is known. Of course I am against rap, but I am also against false accusations that can ruin someone's life. Try finding a reasonable job after being falsely accused (NOTE this has never happened to me, but I do know people to whom it has happened and even after suing an winning are unable to work again).

When you say that sexual harassment occurs often, you seem to be bypassing the trial or committee evaluation that should happen before one concludes something went wrong.

Again, I don't mean to minimize the plight o victims of sexual harassment, but I want to point out that false allegations can be just as hurtful in many different respects. Just like there is a stupid male fringe that thinks it is OK to treat women as objects , there is an equally idiotic female fringe that sees men as predators, waiting for any chance to take advantage of women.
But that is why most of us asked the OP to REPORT the incident so that it can be investigated!

Look, the policy on sexual harassment is VERY clear in many campuses and work places. If Person A feels that what has been done to him/her satisfies the criteria of sexual harassment, then he/she has the right to seek assistance via reporting such an incident. This is what happened here, i.e. we heard from her side of the story. We then indicated the NEXT step she should be doing, and what *I* had indicated were based on ALL the sexual harassment training and briefing that I've been given, both as an employee of a Federal Lab and a US educational institution.

Please note that many such complaints filed in US campuses are often resolved amicably, i.e. once the authority steps in and investigated the situation, both parties often resolved this issue, especially the "offender" once he/she realizes that what he/she had done could easily escalate into something that could ruin his/her future. So the act of reporting such incident does NOT always result in the accused being destroyed.

But it must be reported first!

Zz.
 

Choppy

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When you say that sexual harassment occurs often, you seem to be bypassing the trial or committee evaluation that should happen before one concludes something went wrong.
You're confusing an actual event with the findings of a committee. Incidents of sexual harassment occur whether a committee investigates them as such or not.

If a person goes out and intentionally kills another person, a murder has been committed whether a police investigation leads to a trial that ultimately convicts the murderer or not. Regardless of the finding, you have a dead victim.

Sexual harassment occurs on campuses. That's why most universities have policies that define it within their codes of conduct, and why they have ombudsmen. It's why the initiate programs to prevent it. If it did not occur without the finding of a committee, then you could solve the problem by simply not having any disciplinary committees or addressing it in civil courts... but fortunately we know that burying our heads in the sand doesn't solve anything.
 

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