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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Column: Dat [Teaching] Ass[istant]

This wouldn’t be an Aggie column without at least one article on sex, so here it is! Those of you who know me personally probably saw this coming. Those of you who know me very personally have already seen … actually, I’m not going to finish that joke.

Before their first years as teaching assistants (TAs), all graduate students attend an orientation covering the basics of teaching, grading and the myriad forms of plagiarism one can expect (we know what you did last midterm …). Of all the rules and regulations drilled into us (heh, drilled), one stood out in my mind: Under no circumstances is a teaching assistant to date or be in a relationship with a student in their class! Ever!

It makes sense: Having your lover in your class is a conflict of interest, compromising your impartiality (heh, compromising). If the relationship occurred before the class starts, you must either break it up or find someone else to teach for you. If the relationship occurs during the class, however, you’re in hot, sexy water.

Why date a graduate student? We’re intellectuals, above the drinking age and don’t live in dorms, so that’s a start. We also tend to be older, providing the whole cougar/male-equivalent-of-cougar set of benefits. Then there’s basic physical attractiveness. If you think the late teens are great, wait ‘til the mid-twenties! Most of all, the “forbidden fruit” aspect of teacher-student relationships makes them mysterious and alluring: like sex with vampires. Pale, poorly-written vampires.

Lusty lapses do occur. I had a friend in undergrad who hooked up with his intermediate Mandarin TA. You bet I respected that! He managed to get an older and more experienced woman to risk her career just to sleep with him. That’s rolling a twenty for charisma right there! The relationship did not last, making the rest of the year quite awkward, but he got an A.

Ultimately, nothing can stop true love. I’ve met at least two married couples, all professors in their fields, who first met as student and TA! They simply had the wisdom to keep their urges in check until after the class was over. Remember, the prohibition is solely on teacher-student relationships. Otherwise, we’re all adults. Once the class ends, anything goes. Let the games begin! That’s a good metaphor for dating, right?

I’ve talked to some of my peers about this (what else would we talk about? Research? Pfff!), and the responses are expectedly diverse. Some indeed mentioned having a phenomenally sexy student in their class and the frustration of having to wait until the end of the quarter to do anything about it (and could you imagine having to wait a whole semester?). Some got flattering comments about their looks on their TA evaluations. Others seemed quite oblivious to the whole matter. One of my grad student buddies TA-ed a big introductory bio class recently and I met some of his students. This column in mind, I asked if any of their classmates had unrequited crushes on their TA. Turns out, most of them. Male and female. Were his lectures that good?

I’ve gotta admit, I was a bit disappointed that nobody ever came up to me with a completely inappropriate but flattering request while I was a TA. Not that I have that high an opinion of myself (though my lectures are that good); I just thought that kind of behavior was normal, like in the scene in Indiana Jones where a student has “Love You” written on her eyelids and slowly blinks at Harrison Ford. I even planned out my response:

It’s the Friday before the Monday final exam, and a student comes into my office wearing the completely wrong outfit for an entomology practical. I say I’m here to fix the cable … wait, wrong fantasy. I remind her how she needs to do well on this final to pass the class. She leans on my desk and says she’ll do anything to ace this exam. I ask her, “Anything?”


“Great! Go home and study!”

MATAN SHELOMI’s married … to Science! You can try your luck anyway at mshelomi@ucdavis.edu.


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