UC Santa Cruz Title IX/Sexual Harassment Office

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Especially for Graduate Students

Teaching Assistants and Sexual Harassment

The Title IX Office expresses appreciation to Professor Frank Andrews for writing this article.

As a graduate student, especially in your role as TA and mentor to undergraduates, you must follow strict professional guidelines regarding sexual rights and equality. Because these guidelines have been changing in recent years, because they may differ from the guidelines you grew up with in dealing with peers, and because the consequences to your career for violating these guidelines are so severe, it's essential that you understand them clearly and put them into practice scrupulously.

We are committed to making this campus a comfortable, safe place for you to work and learn regardless of your sex. It is similarly committed to the well-being of all students and staff, including all the students you will teach as TA or work with as scholar and researcher. This demands that you know your rights, stand up for your rights and those of others, and remain sensitive and vigilant to see that no one's actions, including your own, interfere with the work of others.

Nationwide statistics prove that some people feel so uncomfortable in science departments that they do not pursue studies in certain disciplines. Among factors that contribute to this are put-downs of women by men, of one race by another, sexual harassment, discrimination, and the injection of romantic or sexual overtones into relationships where there are differences in the power of the people involved. This statement summarizes the laws, regulations, and policies relating these issues to you.

Sexual Harassment

The University of California has defined sexual harassment to be any unwelcome sexual advance, request for sexual favor, or other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:

  1. your agreement is implied to be required for instruction, employment, or participation in a university activity; or

  2. where your evaluation or grade is implied to depend in any way on activity; or

  3. the request or conduct negatively affects your academic experience or creates an intimidating, hostile, or offensive environment.

Examples of Sexual Harassment

Suggesting, even if in a "joke," that your schoolwork could be lessened or a grade evaluation be raised if you spend time socially or romantically. Any pressure for sex, any threat to punish for refusing. Any remarks about clothing, body, or activities that could be construed as sexual, either in appreciation or as a put-down. Insulting sounds, suggestive whistling. Intimidating, angry, loud, or insulting language where someone feels frightened (note: this is violence - verbal violence, rather than physical). Jokes about sex or gender. Inappropriate touching or feeling, attempted kissing or fondling, assault. Leering, obscene gestures, exposing of body. Displaying objectionable cartoons, photos, drawings, calendars, posters, T-shirts. Saying or "joking" that, for example, women cannot learn this material or run this instrument as quickly or as well as men, or that women are not good at math.

Unethical Romantic Behavior

Under no circumstances should a faculty member or TA become romantically or sexually involved with a student while that student is enrolled in his or her classes. If a faculty member or TA becomes involved with a student who is not in his/her classes, at the very least the faculty or TA must take all necessary steps to protect the student's professional future from any possible prejudicial consequences.

For faculty, this includes but is not limited to the following:

  1. informing the Department Chair of the conflict of interest;

  2. resigning from any supervising committees (dissertation, advisory) affecting the student;

  3. refraining from writing letters of recommendation for the student (for grants, fellowships, jobs, graduate or professional school, etc.); and/or

  4. giving up any position of authority over or responsibility for that student's career, inside or outside the University, at any time in the present or future.

Implication for TA's

Do not suggest or engage in any romantic activity with any student you are teaching or supervising, even if it is the student and not you who initiates the activity. If, despite this policy, a romance should begin between you and one of your students, tell the instructor immediately and have the student switched to the jurisdiction of a different TA. This is not really a satisfactory resolution of the issue, because all students should have access to all educational resources, free from questions of romance or sex.

Female graduate students have a right to the same opportunity of getting TA's and RA's as males, the same opportunity of getting the "good" research projects, of getting to use the instrument that everyone wants to use, etc.

It is not easy to make this community a safe, comfortable learning environment for everyone. But we have an obligation, together, to do just that. Some members of our community, male and female, carry burning memories of having been abused, manipulated, or raped. Some members can hardly find the self-confidence to enter our buildings, let alone enroll in our courses. It is not just instructors and TA's who deliberately or inadvertently intimidate students - it is peers, fellow students, who use put-downs and one-upmanship and manipulations and exploitation that add to the burden everyone carries. All of us must be alert for any behavior that could lessen peoples' sense of safety and comfort, and all of us must be determined to speak out about it whenever we see it - to get it stopped and to educate us all in being more supportive in the future.

If you find yourself feeling confused, threatened, unsure, frightened, coerced, outraged, or worried at what goes on around here (or if you think somebody else is worried about what you are doing), let someone know who can give advice or do something about the matter. UCSC now employs full-time a Title IX Coordinator/Sexual Harassment Officer whose job is to be available as a resource on sex discrimination and sexual harassment issues, to investigate and resolve reports or complaints, and to educate the campus community in these areas.

Please call Rita E. Walker, Title IX Coordinator/Sexual Harassment Officer, 119 Kerr Hall, 831-459-2462, rew@.ucsc.edu, or you can also bring your concerns to a knowledgeable faculty or staff on campus with whom you feel comfortable.

Even if your communication is vague, even if you choose to be anonymous, we need to know of your distress. You are not likely to be the only one with the same concerns.



Contact Rita Walker , Title IX Officer: 105 Kerr Hall . email: rew@ucsc.edu . phone 831.459.2462 * 831.459.4825