Whether or not one might be willing to admit it, everyone has been attracted to a teacher at some point during his or her 12+ years of schooling. But in college, these fantasies are much more realistic possibilities because we’re all legal adults and we have a new degree of autonomy outside of our parents’ homes. Coupled with our developing passions for what we study, an encounter with someone with a depth of knowledge in our field can be incredibly alluring.
Yes, professors can be hot because they’re intelligent, accomplished, published, and passionate. However, they can also be intimidating, married, and, let’s be honest, old.
But what about TAs? They walk the fine line between equal and superior. They’re students too, and often close in age, but they hold a degree of power over us, specifically when it comes to grades. And they too are usually intelligent, accomplished, published, and passionate. We experience our TAs in a much more relaxed, casual setting. Unlike a professor’s lecture, a TA’s recitation involves discussion and gradual acquaintanceship. All of this makes them much more likely candidates for dating and relationships.
But it shouldn’t come as any surprise that dating a TA while still enrolled in the course is deemed “inappropriate” by NYU’s Faculty Handbook. The same policy is repeated in NYU’s Anti-Harassment Policy. Section VIII on consensual relationships states:
Sexual behavior that is welcome or consensual does not constitute sexual harassment under the law. However, romantic relationships in situations where one individual has greater power or authority over another frequently result in claims of harassment when the relationships ends and a perception of favoritism while the relationship continues. Such relationships are inappropriate. A “consensual” relationship between a professor and his/her student, a supervisor and a subordinate, or a coach and team player are examples of inappropriate relationships. If a consensual relationship occurs, any situation of authority must be discontinued and appropriate action may be taken.
But it turns out that not all student/TA relationships are deemed inappropriate. We spoke with Craig Jolley, the Deputy Director for the Office of Equal Opportunity, who often deals with issues relating to discrimination and sexual harassment in the academic environment. “If the TA or professor does not have any actual power over the student’s opportunities (i.e. grades, extracurricular involvement, employment, etc.), then a dating relationship would not violate university policy,” he said.
However, when the situation does arise that a TA is dating his or her student while still teaching him or her, the relationship violates the university’s policy because the TA holds power over the student’s academic life. Additionally, Jolley stated that student/TA relationships “often create perceptions of favoritism while the relationship is ongoing” and sometimes results in “allegations of sexual harassment” if the relationship ends poorly. Although still a student, a TA also qualifies as a university employee and a student’s superior, and therefore has more to lose if caught in a so-called “inappropriate” relationship.
In these situations, the NYU administration has the right and responsibility to intervene, although there is no defined method of dealing with inappropriate relationships. According to Jolley, “These situations are always fact-sensitive so they are handled on a case-by-case basis.” However, he finds that TA/student dating does not occur often because students, TAs, and professors alike are usually mature enough to understand their “professional responsibilities.”
Or, as we’ve found, smart enough to keep it undercover.
We spoke with several NYU students who have dated their TAs before. All three students dated their TAs only after the course was completed, but all were, let’s say, ‘interested’ while still enrolled in the course. All three students discussed their experiences under the condition of anonymity.
One NYU senior dated a TA during the summer after her freshman year. After the semester ended and grades had been submitted, she sent him a message over Facebook to go out. She was 18 and he was 24, and they dated for three months. She never felt any dangers from dating him because the school year was over, the course was completed, and she had already received her grades. “It didn’t feel too taboo. But I did feel a little badass. He was super hot. I would have been attracted to him in any environment,” she said.
For others, dating a TA may have other pressures, even after the course is completed. Another NYU senior is currently dating a PhD student, who was formerly her TA. During the course, they were friendly and had many similar interests. It was only after the course was over that they met to “catch up,” and wound up spending significant time together. Their relationship does not violate university policy, but since they both study in the same department and with some of the same professors and have therefore decided to keep their relationship secret from their academic acquaintances.
“I am aware of the risks,” she said, “Even though we haven’t ever done anything ‘wrong,’ it’s pretty scary what could happen if somebody in the administration decided to take offense. Since he’s the one who would be held responsible, I’ve left any decision about telling academic colleagues up to him.”
He decided it “wasn’t anyone’s business to know what’s going on between us,” but she says she doesn’t like the idea of having to hide.
“There’s still a kind of silly amount of awkward stigma floating around this sort of thing. Once I graduate and am no longer a student at NYU in any way I’ll feel better about it,” she said.
Regardless of the stigma, the inconveniences, and the potential dangers of dating an NYU TA, she thoroughly enjoys dating someone specifically within her NYU department. “It’s pretty fun to be able to discuss my subject with someone who’s taking it just as seriously… and who can offer me advice,” she said.
A third NYU senior started dating a TA the summer after her sophomore year. “Our class was a ton of fun and our personalities just clicked from the beginning,” she said. Though they had no romantic contact while she was still in his class, there was an overt interest.
“There was some solid sexual tension throughout and I definitely faked some silly questions to go to his office hours. He later revealed he was onto my game the whole time. Nothing happened between us though until the class finished,” she said.
Her attraction towards her TA definitely yielded positive results: “I worked really hard in our class to impress him. Overall, our relationship was probably one of the best I’ve ever had. It started out flirty and dangerous, but became a relationship of mutual respect and love.” It ended mostly because she went to study abroad in the fall, she said.
NYU permits you to date any of your TAs, so as long as you don’t continue working with them in a professional or academic setting. Abide by the university’s policies, wait until after class, and no undergraduate student need refrain. A big part of growing up in college is about meeting new people, dating, and experiencing love and heartbreak. And who better to experience it with than people who are as passionate about their studies as you are about yours? Plus the good gossip you’d pick up about your professors along the way is not a bad bonus.