I’ve just finished reading the Diversity School’s redacted report, you know the one where they invited people to give their accounts of what was happening in drama colleges today. That’ll be . . today. . . some 2 years after all the initial complaints were made that resulted in several colleges having to do formal investigations. Horrifying to read then that the complaints that had previously been upheld after investigation were being replicated some 2 years later. Where’s the evolution? Where’s the safeguarding? Where are the changes that they all said that they were going to make?
Now the report isn’t clear as to whether these latest complaints were checked? I know all too well that some people for whatever reason, are capable of making false or unfounded allegations. So I’d be interested to know whether the examples cited in the report had been verified by the colleges involved, or were they just taken on face value? Judging by the fact that certain colleges have already issued a statement saying (again) that they must do better, I also feel fairly safe with my next big statement.
WHY HAVEN’T THE COLLEGES SORTED OUT THE SEXUAL HARASSMENT THAT’S GOING ON WITHIN THEIR BUILDINGS?
This is such an easy fix the only possible reason for the fix not being undertaken is that they don’t see it as an issue.
When I opened The MTA I took advice from a lot of people (obviously), and one of the most important pieces of advice I got (from the Casting Director Debbie O’Brien to be precise), was to ensure that I had a strong boundary line between my staff and my students. We chatted about various stories we’d heard about (keeping in mind this was back in 2008) but I didn’t really need much persuading. I knew that both students and staff would be vulnerable without a clear policy on staff contact.
So one of our rules is that all communications between our faculty and our students have to go through the college. There’s no mutual exchange of phone numbers or email addresses. Staff are not permitted to follow students on social media which back in the day prevented people from DMing or PMing each other (although that is now a moot point when some people just leave their DMs open). By removing literally all ambiguity we’re attempting to protect both our staff and students.
We also talk about attraction as let’s face it – there is nothing more seductive than talent. If your faculty and cohort are good they should all be falling in love with each other (except of course it’s not love, it’s lust, it’s wanting the ‘forbidden fruit’ and when that ‘forbidden fruit’ is gloriously talented it looks ever more appetizing). With a faculty like ours, we would expect students to be in awe of some of the staff and would want to have a ‘special relationship’ with them (we all want to be friends with the popular people eh?). Similarly, staff can end up in awe of a particularly talented/nice student, it’s normal and natural, but by having a strict no-contact policy it just can’t go anywhere.
Now for sure – I’ve had both staff members and students that have tried to ‘bend’ this rule. Students will try to DM someone and say that they forgot the rule or a staff member might ‘forget’ and think that it’s OK to give out a telephone number if they’re needing to check on something . . . BUT this only happens once. A college is based on mutual trust – and I’m lucky that one of the parties will invariably raise a red flag to me if the rule has been breached. We obviously take each case on merit (and to be fair it’s only happened a handful of times), and it’s usually cleared up very quickly.
Twice in our history, it wasn’t cleared up quickly though – and on both occasions, the guest creatives were told in no uncertain terms that they were no longer welcome at the college. One had been doing an external project with some of the students, but their innuendo-laden chit chat had left the students feeling uncomfortable, and the other had been taking one of the students out for a coffee after rehearsals (supposedly to support them. . . but of course on every level that’s a strict no-no). Interestingly one of the perpetrators kind of admitted that they had crossed a line and just took the “do not darken our doors” approach quite calmly, the other though very quickly turned on the students and indeed the college, and denied that the countless meetings had ever taken place. Both reactions are interesting, but both people I believe abused their ‘power’. Both might have had innocent intentions – but our rules are clear, and if you’re unable to uphold them, it’s our job to ensure that you’re not around our students. Even more interestingly I’ve seen both people publicly berate others who are called out for the exact same behaviour that they themselves had done. How manipulative and perverted is it that they know that the behaviour is unacceptable but still choose to do it themselves?
Our staff and students are only permitted to socialise after shows (and then only in the theatre bar where everybody is around), and at our Gradunion ceremony. No ambiguity. Simple but effective hard-fast rules.
If you have a culture where your students and staff are drinking alcohol together – then you will inevitably have a problem. The line has been blurred. Beer goggles, awe-inspiring talent, the desire for the “forbidden fruit” – it’s an incident of abuse of power waiting to happen.
I’ve heard the line about ‘but they’re all adults’ but let’s face it, it’s just a smokescreen for people who know that they’re abusing their position. By definition of the word faculty and the word student – one person in the relationship or burgeoning friendship will hold the ‘power’ and that is not healthy.
If whatever is going on between people is ‘true love’, then it can wait until after the student has graduated, or the staff member has resigned their post. Again . . . no ambiguity. It’s uncomfortable for all the other students to observe a ‘special relationship’ developing between a staff member and one of their peers. It can lead to preferential treatment (or in some cases the opposite, a public bullying to throw people off the scent). However every student pays the same, so every student should be treated the same.
So reading again about sexualised abuse of power at drama schools is devastating, because it means that the people in authority at those colleges are enablers. A strong sentence. . . absolutely. However, they could protect both their staff and their students if they simply implemented, upheld, and policed a no-contact policy. It really is that simple. However, I’d go further . . . if you have staff that have a difficulty with that change in policy. . . ask yourself why, as that’s your real problem right there.
Staff and students should expect to be protected from predators in a college environment. Let’s stop thinking that performers are just edgy shall we and name it for what it is – predators prowling our drama colleges looking for their next prey.
Get them out!
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