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Maintaining Boundaries

Posted: Sat Dec 29, 2018 5:09 pm
by Stained Diviner
I was encouraged to make this post by a community member who heard a talk by David Wolowitz, a lawyer who often works with schools that are setting policies regarding keeping student/teacher interactions appropriate or that are dealing with cases where lines were crossed or where there is disagreement about whether lines were crossed.

He has a brief good article here and has some other articles here. His articles are directed primarily towards schools and teachers, though they are relevant to situations that come up in the quizbowl world that don't involve teachers. Keep in mind that these situations can be complex and sometimes defy a simplistic categorization of predatory.

In the talk Wolowitz gave (based on the account told to me), he described a teacher who in his spare time teaches a yoga class. He is shirtless when teaching yoga, and he often speaks positively about yoga, Buddhism, and vegetarianism. Some female students become infatuated with him and talk about becoming Buddhist. This causes some parents to freak out, and at some point a lawyer gets called and school administrators have a situation they don't want. This is a complicated case, and it's fair to disagree as to whether the teacher did anything wrong, especially when many of the details are not known. That being said, hopefully we can agree that older people working with students should not only avoid sexual intercourse--they should also try to avoid sexual tension and situations where the students are reduced to being followers.

Quizbowl often brings together college students/people in their early 20s with high school and/or middle school students. The high/middle school students often have a lot of respect for the college/post-college students they meet, especially when those college/post-college students have accomplishments playing quizbowl, and that respect can be used for good or evil purposes. If you are the college/post-college student in that situation, it is your responsibility to prevent bad things from happening.

In the first article I linked to, Wolowitz gives these principles that are written for teachers but worth keeping in mind for other people who are with high school and middle school students:
Maintaining professional roles with students
Acting as a role model at all times
Establishing and reinforcing clear boundary guidelines
Boundary crossings which are in the service of the student’s interests
Encouraging autonomy and independence in students
Making the student’s interests primary
Acting transparently
Supporting the student’s developmental growth and social integration

Those principles are contrasted with these risky behaviors:
Acting in peer or parental roles
Dependency that meets the teacher’s needs
Blurring the boundaries between professional and personal roles
Repeated or serious boundary violations
Actions contributing to unhealthy attachment, dependency, or disengagement
Using power, authority, or position to meet the adult’s needs
Opaque or secret conduct
Conduct which may lead to the student’s regression and social isolation

I'll add some of my own advice if you are a college student or recent graduate and are talking to high school or middle school students:
Don't talk about your own experiences with alcohol, drugs, sex, anything illegal, or anything that lacks academic integrity.
Don't share secrets with them or have secrets with them.
After dinner or soon thereafter you should not be hanging out with them.
Avoid statements along the lines of "All members of [religion/political party] are [evil/idiots]."
Avoid one-on-one expensive meals.
Avoid meetings in private spaces.

These are not meant to be hard absolutes--there are some exceptions, and I don't have a problem with somebody talking about a time they did not follow one of these rules and it was OK. That being said, put the younger person's needs first, and only do things that you would be comfortable talking about in front of their parents.

These situations can be tricky. There is at least a five year gap between students and teachers, and they pretty much always meet in a classroom or club meeting, which has some formality. College and high school students are closer in age, and they often meet online or in a lobby or hallway. There are also even trickier situations where people meet when they are both in high school, and now only one of them is still in high school. Even so, it is important to keep in mind that if you are not a high school student, then high school students are not your peers, and you should act accordingly.

Re: Maintaining Boundaries

Posted: Sat Dec 29, 2018 6:20 pm
by Cheynem
This is a very good post.

I think a challenge to a lot of these suggestions (by challenge, I mean difficulty, not that I oppose them) is how the Internet obscures ages. Thus, on Facebook or Discord or even the forums, you end up talking to people whom you're not totally sure how old they are. You end up in scenarios in which a high schooler talking vocally about his politics or religion is shouted down, or you share some running jokes or off-color stories that you might not otherwise do in person. All I can say about this is be vigilant.

Re: Maintaining Boundaries

Posted: Sat Dec 29, 2018 9:36 pm
by wcheng
Thank you for making this thread, David. This is an excellent set of guidelines about an issue that I have briefly pondered but never really considered in depth. I was curious if you had any thoughts about boundaries between older college students (i.e. grad students) and younger ones (i.e. freshman or even older undergrads). An unintended effect of the quizbowl eligibility rules, I think, is to produce situations where you might introduced to someone early on in your quizbowl career during high school as a sort of authority figure, only to go on to play in college and see this person as more of a peer. Do you think this raises any potential issues that the community should be aware of?

Re: Maintaining Boundaries

Posted: Sat Dec 29, 2018 11:17 pm
by Stained Diviner
I have less experience with that type of thing, and I think it is a bit more ambiguous. There probably are several people on this board in a better position to discuss this than I am.

Socially, the leap from being a high school senior to a college freshman is usually much more significant than the leap from college senior to first year of grad school. There is also the fact that taboo subjects become less taboo as people get older. In addition, the college freshman is a teammate rather than somebody you are coaching/mentoring/officiating.

That being said, if you are a grad student or senior, and there is a freshman or sophomore who joins your team, your first reaction should be to welcome them to the team as their potential mentor. College teams are generally more informal than high school teams, so you should do it in a way that is appropriate for you. One part of my original post that remains the same is that the older person should act in the best interest of the younger person, at least at first when the two people are getting to know each other--over time the relationship may become more like an equal peer relationship.

Another thing to keep in mind is that you don't want your team to turn into a meat market. Relationships between teammates are a thing that sometimes happens, and as somebody who has three kids with a former high school Math Team teammate, I'm not in a position to judge you. (Though we're the same age, so maybe I am.) However, when somebody of the gender you are attracted to shows up to their first practice, you need to see them as a teammate/peer/mentee first, and that is even more true when you are at least a few years older than they are. Keep in mind that that means not only keeping your hands off of them--that means avoiding situations and statements that could cause discomfort. If you are in a position of power, such as deciding who goes on team trips or who is on the A Team, then you need to be even more cautious or consider letting somebody else take those roles.

Re: Maintaining Boundaries

Posted: Mon Jun 17, 2019 10:55 am
by Stained Diviner
The original post in this thread was made at the suggestion of Charlie Dees. Thanks, Charlie!