ESC Discusses What To Do When Your TA Is Discriminatory

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ESC plans to take steps so that incidents like this won’t ever happen again.

Large portions of this meeting consisted of discussion regarding expectations and crowdsourced guidelines for ESC member behaviour. However, the brunt of the discourse last night was in reference to the Physics TA incident which occurred a couple of weeks ago.

Sensitivity Training and the Physics TA Incident

About one and a half weeks ago, we reported that a Physics TA and GSAS graduate student from Russia had torn down an inclusive, pro-LGBT sticker and replaced it with a notice referencing the Biblical annihilation of Sodom and Gomorrah. Addressing this issue, both in terms of how this incident was reflected in the experiences of council members and what ESC could do in the long term to prevent such controversies from occuring in the future, though newly-elected President Aida Lu recounted how, in her meeting with Deans Kachani (Senior Vice Dean, Columbia Engineering) and Morrison (Vice Dean of Undergraduate Programs), Dean Kachani mentioned that some departments have printed and installed these stickers en masse.

2019 Representative Walker Magrath opened the discussion by explaining that he was a student of this physics TA, apologising in advance if comments seemed emotional charged. Notably, Representative Magrath’s stance was decidely hostile towards the Physics administration for the “absolutely unfathomable” decision to allow a graduate student with such a bio on the Physics website to TA an undergraduate class. The bio in question (which is still live) commends “Orthodox Christianity, the only true faith.” To an applause of snaps, Magrath proclaimed that it is imperative that ESC “strongly condemn these actions,” which “affect so many people in such a personal way.”

In response to allusions to future Gatekeeper training, Magrath explained that such training is only for suicide prevention, and that “maybe we should have another sensitivity training relating to misogyny [and] homophobia.” Though Magrath seemed more intent on condemning the Russian TA as a “radical ideologue with clear homophobic dispositions” and “a bigot to begin with,” other council members focused on expanding upon proposals for training of some sort—rather than indulge in vaguely anti-religious character accusations. Beginning with 2019 President Richa Gode’s inquiry regarding current training for TAs, whether it exists in some format dictated by school or by department, various ideas coalesced into a call for some form of sensitivity training—as GSAS students don’t receive even the cursory instruction which CC/SEAS students do during NSOP—and third party reporting of TA feedback.

The current training, as described by a council member who is a TA in the Computer Science department, consists of nothing whatsoever. The decision to retain undergraduate TAs between semesters is determined by a single person on alert for particularly negative reports in TA feedback. Capping this discussion, President Lu responded to recommendations that ESC be that “third party” by stating she doesn’t think “it’s within our purview to police TAs.” Though ESC fully stands for making recommendations and proposing institutional changes, it may not be the appropriate party for handling such a large scale issue touching upon both SEAS and non-SEAS students. Nevertheless, as Technology Representative Andres Aguayo stated, ESC has a “responsibility” as this incident is a “community issue.”

Space Changes

  • In the opening of the meeting, President Lu described how, following the creation of new LGBT and student of colour spaces in Lerner (and the apportioning of a new space for the Food Bank), there is some discussion with Scott Wright regarding the repurposing of the mail room space—the area behind (and including) the mailboxes rising to the fourth floor.
  • Two council members are attending a meeting with Undergraduate Apartment Housing regarding the chairs in Carlton Arms, as they are apparently really, really uncomfortable.
  • CCSC Vice President for Policy Abby Porter and ESC Vice President for Policy Zoha Qamar are working with the data gained during the tampon/pad pilot program, and are looking for feedback on the program. If all goes well, they will propose a more permanent installation of the tampon and pad boxes.

Miscellaneous Updates

  • University Senator Izzet Kebudi recounted how he presented his Exam Schedule Resolution to GSSC and CCSC’s Policy Subcommittee, with GSSC voting in approval and CCSC voting on Sunday.
  • SEAS the Day is ocurring on Sunday, April 30th, from 1:00 to 3:00 PM. Lewisohn Lawn is reserved from 11:00 AM to 5:00 PM, and ESC will have access to Lerner furniture, a sound system, and a sound permit. There will be games, including basketball and water pong, the project grants showcase, food provided by Shake Shack and Panera, and many shirts, tank tops, and flip flops.
  • When University Senator Kebudi met with Deans Plaa and Morrison regarding Piazza page format, proposing a more centralized and curated FAQ page for entries by major, Dean Morrison apparently decried the survey data as “biased.” Though the intentions are unclear, Kebudi reported that the Administration wants to “build surveys together in the future” so they are “not biased.”

Image via Wikimedia Commons

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1 Comment

  1. Better Than Spec  

    Glad someone's is being proactive about this mess

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