Teacher’s pet: getting down with GSIs

GSI

There is always that one grad student. The one who makes your mouth water when they derive equations in sections. The one who actually motivates you to do all your reading each week, just so when you answer a question correctly, they can flash you a brilliant smile. I’ve received many a mean stare from my fellow classmates for asking an attractive GSI a simple question after class, and almost everyone I know has been obsessed with a GSI as some point or another.

I even know someone who was brave enough to do something about that little crush. They initiated a relationship, first through conversation about the subject, then progressing into talking about all of the common complaints among students: sleep, school, and lack of food. The GSI stopped being such a unattainable figure and became a student, someone who was going through a very similar time, and an attraction grew. The attraction was to be put on hold, though, as both (correctly) realized that the power dynamic of a student-teacher relationship was not healthy. They both resumed their previous positions in the classroom, although my friend did seem to be more engaged in the material than they had beforehand. After the semester ended, the two did exchange numbers. Throughout the break they spoke, and eventually went on a date. Although neither of them had wanted to pursue a relationship previously, the spark of commonality was missing, and their  10-year age difference became glaringly obvious. And so ended another romance on the Berkeley campus.

Strangely though, the end of this romance didn’t feel the same as most. I had been drawn to the stories of their encounters, allured by the presence of future consequences and broken rules. But when I thought about it, why was I taken aback? Nothing had happened, especially when compared to most of the romantic encounters my peers seem to find themselves in at frat houses or co-ops. The fact that the GSI was older wasn’t the problem. It was the title that had captured me. I almost wanted to be my friend, living out the fantasy of nudging the line of proper academic conduct.

However, my friend’s experience also helped me get through my GSI obsession phase pretty easily. After hearing some of the not-so-glamorous details of their encounters, and how extremely different they both were, I began seeing my GSIs as I always should have been. They’re people, committed to a field, immersed in their studies, and probably even more stressed, sleep-deprived and busier than I ever want to be at Cal. Yes, GSIs can be attractive, intelligent sexy people; but just as attractive as anyone on this campus.

And if I’m being honest with myself, I do believe that the student-teacher relationship is important. They have the power to decide your grade and are responsible to provide an equal education to all of their students, something that I would find difficult to do if I knew one of the students would be sharing my bed at night. And while I believe that everyone should find love if they so choose, is there really a problem waiting until the semester ends? We’re all adults, and we should be able to be responsible individuals when it comes to navigating our academic and personal lives. Hey, if your moral compass points in a different direction from mine and you have no problem getting down and dirty with your GSI, it’s completely your and your partner’s decision. But do so at your own risk. No semester fling is worth an F, and a I bet a failing grade will last longer than many relationships you will find yourself involved in here at Berkeley.