Does Cornell have a policy about non-romantic relationships between TAs and undergrads?

Date: March 2019

Question

Hello Deans,

I am a PhD student and this semester I’ve been working as a TA for a large class. Some of my students have repeatedly invited me to have lunch with them, to get drinks with them, etc. I don’t mind getting to know my students. The professor teaching this class has emphasized to me that it is part of my job to get to know the students and to alert him about those who might be in need of any kind of help. However, I am wondering if Cornell has a policy about non-romantic relationships between graduate TAs and their undergraduate students. Obviously, this is outside of the realm of the Cornell policy on consensual sexual/romantic relationships, but is there a policy that would apply to my case? Are there any formal rules I should be aware of?

Sincerely,

Diligent TA


Response

Dear Diligent TA,

This is a great question and one that most instructors – faculty and graduate students alike – confront at some point in their teaching career. You are wise to give it some thought and formulate a personal plan and policy.

It’s useful, both for you and the faculty teaching the course, to get to know your students. It can help them be more comfortable coming to you with questions and difficulties they may be having. When you get to know students, and their academic work and goals beyond the course, you can be more adept at writing recommendation letters for campus recognition awards, jobs, or graduate school subsequent to the class.

You are right to think about the potential pitfalls of socializing, or appearing to socialize, with students outside your instructional role and responsibilities. Even if you are doing this with good intentions, i.e., to be a better teacher and mentor for your students, the perception of others in the class that the students with whom you socialize will get a special or unfair advantage, in grades or extension of time to submit assignments, can sabotage both your good intent and your reputation. Objectivity and fairness are hallmarks of how you will be judged as an effective teacher throughout your career. 

Instead, consider activities that are available to all students. For example, announce to the entire class, “I’ll be eating lunch at Trillium this Friday. If you’re nearby, find me and let’s chat.” Avoid activities with undergraduates that involve alcohol. You might respond to such an invitation with something like, “It’s so thoughtful of you to invite me for drinks; let’s talk during my office hours instead.” Think about what you hope to accomplish by meeting with and getting to know students, then find ways that aren’t easily open to misinterpretation, mistaken perceptions, or other risks.

I’m glad you know about Cornell’s new policy on consensual relationships.  Policy 6.3 prohibits sexual and/or romantic relationships between faculty, and others in a position of authority, and students. There are other relationships that are not prohibited but that must be disclosed, such as a relationship that existed prior to one or both parties coming to Cornell, and relationships between faculty and graduate students where there is no academic or working relationship (and no expectation there will be one in the future).

Let me know if you have questions about this new policy.

Warm regards, 

Jan

Jan Allen
Associate Dean for Academic and Student Affairs