I'm very proud to have been involved in drawing up some new guidelines on preventing sexual harassment in university drama departments.
It started after I wrote a blog about Max Stafford-Clark and various people got in touch with their own stories. One that particularly shocked me concerned a visiting tutor in the pub after a class who made an arrangement to give a student an interview later, at which he then assaulted her. It got me wondering whether we had any guidelines on what we considered acceptable behaviour. Not because I think sexual assaults are ubiquitous in our discipline, but because Drama involves some activities that are important to the discipline but, without clear ground rules, could be exploited.
It turned out we didn't, so SCUDD (the Standing Conference of University Drama Departments) suggested a group be convened to draw up these guidelines.
I worked with Geraldine Harris, who's a friend, but also whom I saw lead a brilliant session at a conference 25 years ago on the way certain classroom exercises (contact improvisation, trust exercises, etc.) may falsely assume they are neutral but actually might need to be rethought. We convened a diverse group of colleagues from a range of institutions and at various levels of seniority. The full group comprised Leonie Elliot-Graves (Goldsmiths), Stephen Greer (Glasgow), Adelina Ong (Central), Karen Savage (Lincoln), Pedro de Senna (Middlesex), plus me and Gerry. And over a series of meetings and drafts, we produced a crisp, clear and I hope helpful set of guidelines.
There are complexities involved in these things. First, all institutions will have their own guidelines, so ours are discipline-specific suggestions for best practice. Second, all institutions will have their own disciplinary procedures, which ours are not intended to contribute to, so ours are meant to be preventative, not disciplinary. Third, it is not illegal for students and staff to have sexual contact, so it is not our business to ban something that isn't against the law; we are focused on abuses of trust and of the discipline.
While I guess we mostly had staff preying on students in our heads, we were mindful that students can harass other students, that it could be technicians, administrators, visiting tutors, workshop leaders, and others who become involved in acts of harassment and assault. In some cases, it would be possible for a student to sexually harass a member of staff too. Our guidelines are intended to be of broad application.
What emerged very clearly from our work was the importance of collective responsibility and of consent; collective responsibility because it is wrong that the responsibility and time and emotional labour fall only on those who have been subjected to harassment; we should share the job of keeping our spaces safe for our colleagues and students by agreeing common principles of behaviour and working together to address any breaches of those principles. And consent because it's easy to assume that consent has been given when a student enters a class, but consent needs to be informed (do they know what they are agreeing to), specific (agreeing to participate in a 'physical theatre class' doesn't mean they consent to being touched, for example), voluntary (they mustn't be pressured into giving it), explicit (students should not be judged to have consented by walking into a room or by not objecting to something), and time-bound (consent is not a blank cheque; as the exercise changes and develops, check in on the consent).
The draft guidelines have been shared with all of SCUDD's member institutions and we got a lot of feedback from them, which we've incorporated. The guidelines have been sent to SCUDD who will formally adopt them and recommend that all member departments also adopt them and, most important I think, share them with their students so everyone understands that our discipline does not tolerate harassment.
So I'm very proud of what we've achieved.
You can read the guidelines here:
And there's an article by Gerry and me in The Stage which you can read here:
And Matt Hemley's written a short news story about the guidelines: