News / Canada

Western University student newspaper runs article on how to 'stalk' teaching assistants

A suggestion that students should “stalk” graduate teaching assistants to get a date with them has landed Western University's student newspaper in hot water.

The editor-in-chief of the Western Gazette is standing by his frosh week issue and refusing to apologize, despite an explosion of anger on social media.

Editor-in-chief Iain Boekhoff insists the article isn’t sexist and is part of a humorous section of the paper.

But others are offended by the piece, and continue to demand an apology.

London marketing professional and cartoonist Diana Tamblyn said she was “appalled.”

“It’s a step-by-step breakdown about how you would get the attention of your teaching assistant if you have a crush on them in class, and it’s in the special frosh week edition of the Gazette,” she said. “The editor-in-chief of the Gazette is apparently standing by the whole issue, saying it’s satire.

“To me, satire is if you’re Jonathan Swift and you’re talking about somebody eating babies, which we know is not something that happens. You can recognize what it is.

“If you’re talking about sexual harassment on campus as a how-to list, this is a real problem that exists every day.

“Western has a reputation of being a party school to the point of being written up in Playboy and being featured on David Letterman, and I don’t think this is a good way to present yourself to incoming frosh.”

Tamblyn wants the article disposed of, online and in print, and an official retraction.

Also unhappy is Megan Walker, executive director of the London Abused Women’s Centre. As well as what she called the “irresponsible” piece about teaching assistants, she's unhappy with other stories in the frosh week issue that she says promote drinking and give a guide to drug use.

Walker referred to a 2007 controversy at the Gazette in which an article about feminists was printed.

“The community at large and the London Abused Women’s Centre have worked with the Gazette to develop strategies and programs to work towards the safety of students, staff and faculty,” Walker said. “When we see three articles of this nature it’s incredibly disturbing to us and undermines the years of work we have done.”

Western University’s Janice Deakin, provost and vice-president academic, has written to the Gazette to express her displeasure with the teaching assistants article.

“Not only does the spirit of the article run contrary to Western’s efforts to have a workplace and learning environment that is free from sexual harassment,” she wrote, “it is disrespectful of the essential contribution graduate teaching assistants make to Western’s academic mission.”

On behalf of the Gazette, Iain Boekhoff said frosh week brings a special issue that includes light-hearted content, like the teaching assistants article.

“I’m surprised it’s got so much traction because it’s in our frosh week issue every year,” he said.

Content in past frosh week issues has been arguable worse, he noted: "Two years ago it was just straight ‘how to have sex with your TA’ as one of the 50 or 100 things to do before you leave Western.”

He insisted he does't need to apologize because the article wasn’t sexist and was even gender-neutral.

“I had one complaint late Sunday night which is after three days of people losing their minds on Twitter,” he said. “This thing is entirely Twitter.”

But does he regret anything? Some.

“I don’t regret publishing it,” Boekhoff said. “I regret that it caused offence to so many people, and it wasn’t well-received by some people.”

As for the word "stalk," Boekhoff said it was never intended to be taken literally and the Gazette's readership would understand that.

"Facebook stalk is a common term for students and is not a malicious term in any way," he said.

The link above is to an archived version of the teaching assistants story. It has been removed from the Gazette's site since this story was published.

More on