Romantic/Sexual relationships between TAs and their students
Teaching assistants may appear to some undergraduate students to inhabit an ambiguous niche in the university organizational hierarchy. The TA is a student as well as an instructor, with some of the responsibilities and characteristics of both. TAs typically are closer in age and culture to their students than they are to many faculty. At the same time, they are closer to faculty than their students in terms of authority. Those TAs who teach labs or discussion courses in particular will come to know their students extremely well over the course of the semester, and situations may arise with the potential to blur or eliminate the professional boundaries within the instructor/student relationship. TAs must endeavor to avoid these situations, as they may result in devastating academic, professional, or legal consequences for both the TA and the student. A romantic and/or sexual relationship between a TA and his/her student creates a conflict of interest, as the TA is supposed to evaluate the academic performance of the student, and his/her impartiality may be called into question. As a result of the power differential (the situation in which one member of the relationship is in a position of authority over the other), the relationship may not truly be consensual. This may negatively impact the education of the student, and the TA may be subject to future litigation.
According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison Faculty Legislation, “it is almost always the case that the individual with the power or status advantage in the relationship will bear the burden of accountability” (Miscellaneous Statements and Policies, Including Nondiscrimination and Affirmative Action, II 307).
In the case that a TA engages in a romantic and/or sexual relationship with one of his/her students, that TA must inform his/her direct supervisor, who will then take action to make “arrangements to eliminate or mitigate a conflict whose consequences might prove detrimental to the university or to either party in the relationship.” Failure to report such relationships or to comply with arrangements made to eliminate conflicts of interest may be grounds for disciplinary action or dismissal.
For more information, please see the Secretary of the Faculty’s page on Prohibited Harassment.