TAs Told to Respond to Sexism With Patience

University of Maryland at College Park removes guide for teaching assistants amid uproar over its advice.

April 18, 2018
Screen shot of excerpt from TA handbook says, "That such assertion should even be necessary is admittedly annoying, but be patient. Besides, it’s unfortunately the kind of practice you’re going to need at," breaking off in midsentence.

A guide for teaching assistants in computer science at the University of Maryland at College Park notes that the women in the group may be subject to sexist treatment from male students who may try "to challenge your authority, to trip you up, or (more subtly) to try to compromise your status by flippancy or suggestive remarks."

That female TAs in a traditionally male field may experience sexism is hardly a controversial statement. But the advice on how to deal with such a situation angered many when excerpts from the guide were posted to Twitter Tuesday.

Female TAs were advised to defend themselves in "friendly but firm" ways. While dealing with this kind of sexism can be "annoying," the guide said, "be patient" and the behavior will likely pass.

Male TAs, meanwhile, were advised to be aware that "a few female students" might try to flirt with them for advantage. The men were advised to remember "it's very likely the lure of your position" that is leading to this admiration.

As the tweet that featured the quotes shows, many found the advice sexist, out of date and demeaning.

As outrage grew on Twitter, the department took down the guide.

Ming C. Lin, the chair, issued this statement: "The TA Handbook posted on the CS website contained highly inappropriate, stereotypical characterizations of women. The handbook has been removed from the site, and we apologize for its offensive contents. While the origin of this handbook is not immediately known, it does not reflect our department’s values or beliefs. We denounce all misogynistic attitudes toward women and will continue to work diligently to provide all students a warm and welcoming environment to learn and succeed."


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