Dear Gillian: Help! I'm hot for my GSI

Wednesday, September 30, 2015 - 5:46pm

Dear Gillian,

As a freshman this fall, I’m in a section led by a graduate student instructor who is (1) smart, (2) nice and (3) fine as hell. And she looks right at me a lot of the time. And she’s fine as hell.

I know its, like, number two on the list of ways to eff-up as a freshman, but I can’t help crushing on this GSI, hard. I don’t want any trouble, but I don’t want to miss out either. I’ve been doing a good job keeping it in my dreams, but in our last e-mail exchange, the answers to my questions were followed by an emoji. Not a hearts one, but a smile one with those slightly rosy cheeks that could be a blush. I got it bad.

– Hot For Teacher


Dear Hot For Teacher,

The student-teacher forbidden love has been chronicled by authors and artists through the ages. It almost always ends badly. The consequences have ranged from grade deflation, to litigation, to castration, to murderization. Or worse, the denial of tenure.

A thing with your GSI is not as taboo as a cross-generational flirtation with a full professor. The dynamic, however, is always going to be thornier than a tryst between peers.

One story you can look to is that of Héloïse and Abélard, who ruffled some feathers 12th century Paris. Héloïse d’Argenteuil was said to be the best-educated woman in France. She was brought up by her uncle Canon Flubert and became a renowned scholar and writer. The best was paired with the best, and it was decided she would study with the famous French philosopher and theologian Peter Abélard. Well, as we all know, private tutoring is the perfect opportunity for private seduction. The two shared a great intellectual, erotic and spiritual passion for one another, which was not the least bit kosher in the Middle Ages.

It seems that when Flubert found out about the couple, he was livid. Pregnant and unwed, the two fled to Brittany and married (which Heloise was reluctant to do, viewing marriage as a burden to her freedom). News of the morning-after marriage began to tarnish their reputations and careers, and Abélard put Héloïse into the convent of Argenteuil to be a nun. To Flubert, Abélard’s secret seduction, marriage and warehousing of Héloïse were cowardly, and he vowed revenge. So he broke into Abélard’s room with some friends and castrated him. Carrying on, the erstwhile lovers corresponded through a celebrated series of seven letters in which they exchanged insults and blame, expressed their despair and longing, and pledged their cerebral and corporeal devotion.

Now, Hot, you might be thinking castration is not a legit threat in the 21st century. But do you even know anything about Fine-As-Hell’s relationship (or ex-relationship) status? By the time you’re a GSI, you’ve probably accumulated a complicated love footprint, particularly if you’re fine as hell and using a blush emoji with a freshman in week three. There could be some venomous players woven into this web that you’re not even aware of.

It doesn’t take Héloise and Abélard’s fiery affair that runs from wild love to forced celibacy to bring trouble to a student and teacher that find themselves in a sketchy tête-à-tête. David Mamets (yep, Zosia’s father) two-character play “Oleanna” suggests only an intention of intimacy between professor John and undergraduate Carol, yet they were up the creek pretty quickly.

Carol goes to her professor’s office distraught, complaining the material was not well presented in his course, and asks for passing grade. John is distracted, on the verge of being granted tenure and closing on a new house, but eventually sympathizes with her criticism of the academic system and decides to help her if she meets with him privately to discuss the material. At an intense moment, he puts his hand on her shoulder to comfort her, and she shakes it off, visibly upset. Carol returns having filed complaints with the University (and the tenure committee) that John is sexist in class and sexually harassed her when she met with him. Freaked out by how this will affect his chance at being tenured, John grabs Carol when she tries to storm out of her second visit. Pretty soon, he’s denied tenure and suspended and Carol faced with feelings of violation. Things only get worse from there.     

Now, Hot, you’re probably thinking, “Whoa, whoa, it was only an emoji.” But you know what they say: Emojis are gateway icons that just lead to harder keystrokes and pretty soon you’re sharing peeks on YikYak.

We stereotypically think of older men in teaching positions seducing young, ambitious schoolgirls. But in Zoe Heller’s novel “Notes on a Scandal,” — which was made into a film with Cate Blanchett and Judi Dench — is closer to your situation, flipping the script to show us another casting of roles. Art teacher at a London comprehensive school, Sheba Hart, lusts after 15-year old student Steven Connolly, and it’s not long before they’re having sex in risky spots but managing to keep the affair hidden.

One problem you can see here, H, besides the red light of being with a minor, is the conflicting concerns of two people at different stages of life. As the relationship progresses, Sheba becomes more and more attached to Steven as he inversely loses interest. As middle-aged adult, with a dusty marriage and an insecurity of aging, life is moving at a slower pace than it is for a teenage boy, and Sheba clings to the relationship as she tries to cling to her own youth. Though the gap between you and Fine-As-Hell is only around six years, consider that she’s worrying about getting kicked off her parents’ health insurance and you’re worrying about getting kicked off the line at Skeeps.

In the story, Sheba’s nosy friend finds out about the affair and starts writing an account of the tryst. So clearly, nothing can be kept secret. Somehow people will always find out, especially when proof is as easy as a screenshot of a Snapchat of the two of you getting cozy at office hours.

Sting, who had worked as an English teacher before becoming the bassist and lead singer of The Police, captured many of the pitfalls of student/teacher temptations in “Don’t Stand So Close to Me,” which I recommend you listen to. His advice is to put some spatial distance between yourselves and the rest will take care of itself.

So, Hot for Teacher, if you’re not scared out of your mind by now and are still clicking through your GSIs public profile pictures, I’d say wait until next semester when you’re no longer in enrolled in the class, or better yet next year when you lose your frosh status. For now, just make an impression in class by spicing up your comments with some sources that flaunt outside research and genuine curiosity (I don’t know what class it is, but hopefully not Psych 494 “Adolescent Sexuality” or French 350 “Mistakes.”) Stand out and look sharp. Fine-As-Hell will remember you in 2016.


Send an email to or anonymously here describing a quandary about love, relationships, existence or their opposites. Gillian will attempt to summon the wisdom of the arts (literary, visual, performing) to soothe your troubled soul. We may publish your letter in the biweekly column with your first name (or penname). Submissions should be 250 words or fewer and may be edited prior to publication.