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The School of Music, Theatre & Dance released the results of a schoolwide climate survey on Thursday as part of the administration’s efforts to foster a transparent, inclusive environment.
This survey was conducted after sexual misconduct allegations were reported against two high-profile SMTD faculty members, David Daniels and Stephen Shipps, in 2018.
An investigation by The Daily from October 2018 revealed that SMTD awarded Daniels tenure in May 2018 despite knowledge of allegations of sexual misconduct against him. The Board of Regents has since fired Daniels after an eight-month process. Daniels currently faces a criminal charge of sexual assault in Texas along with his husband, Scott Walters.
An investigation by The Daily from December 2018 uncovered 40 years of previously undisclosed allegations of sexual harassment, misconduct and assault against Shipps, then-chair of strings and former associate dean. Shipps has since retired from the University.
SMTD has publicly committed to fighting a culture some have described as particularly conducive to sexual misconduct, as many arts disciplines require individual or physical lessons. The administration has held events on how to report sexual misconduct and has installed transparent panels in offices. The survey is just one step in an ongoing, multidimensional process to enact change, according to SMTD Dean David Gier.
“The emotional vulnerability that artists bring is a necessary part of the training and we need to make sure that our environment is a comfortable environment for this to take place,” Gier said.
According to the report, the survey was conducted by Giffen & Kaminski, LLC, a law firm hired by SMTD to help “learn what members of the SMTD community have experienced and solicit positive and negative feedback” so that “issues did not fester in an atmosphere of secrets and darkness.”
657 participants responded to the survey, which asked about both the overall climate and specifics around sexual misconduct, discrimination and retaliation within SMTD. These 657 participants included students, faculty, staff and alumni. The survey was distributed in January of 2020 to a representative sample of SMTD with 37% of students, 64% of faculty, and 73% of staff responding, according to the report.
The report noted that while 59 percent of participants felt satisfied by the climate over the past 12 months, women found SMTD to be less safe than men and faculty less safe than students, alumni and staff. Also, while 90 percent of the participants reported no experience with discrimination, Latinx individuals and people who identify as queer were the most likely to report experiences of discrimination.
In terms of sexual misconduct, the report documented 107 incidents over the past 12 months. Sexual comments made up 40 percent of this total.
The report specifically said “the role of the Faculty as accused perpetrators of Sexual Misconduct is an overarching theme that should be noted.” 41 percent of the sexual comments and 43 percent of the incidents of forcible touching over the past 12 months were allegedly perpetrated by faculty.
The report found that only 27 percent of participants who allegedly experienced sexual misconduct reported their experiences to authorities. In terms of discrimination, the report said “most Participants would not involve the resources of the University or of SMTD.”
“Less than half of Participants indicated they were more than somewhat knowledgeable as to where to go to report, how to report or what their rights would be,” the report stated.
The report noted that “40.6% of the faculty said that they had not reported an issue they experienced because they were fearful of the potential for retaliation.” Around 40 percent of staff reported similar concerns.
The report quoted one anonymous faculty member regarding this issue.
“Once I got tenure, I told the faculty member who always found ways to touch me, to never touch me again,” the report reads.
The report concluded by recommending that SMTD take steps to improve the overall climate, reduce the frequency and nature of discrimination and the frequency and nature of sexual misconduct. These suggestions included increasing communication between administrators, faculty and students, understanding and addressing the under-reporting of discrimination and establishing resources for reporting and understanding what constitutes sexual misconduct.
SMTD Assistant Dean Julio Cardona said the administration is working on a sexual misconduct prevention tool kit in conjunction with the Office of Institutional Equity and the Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center. The tool kit will offer information on how to report misconduct, taking into account SMTD-specific resources and mechanisms.
The tool kit is likely to launch in August after a series of town halls. It will be a “living, breathing document,” Cardona said. He hopes clear, well-circulated information on this issue will combat people’s fear of retaliation and mistrust in the system.
“It’s not just going to sit on a shelf,” Cardona said. “It’s going to be part of the onboarding process for all new staff and faculty, and will be accessible to students as well. It will really be a community-wide toolkit and resource guide.”
In addition to sexual misconduct, Gier said the administration feels a renewed commitment to fight racism within SMTD. This fight will include diversifying curriculums, participating in University-wide Diversity, Equity and Inclusion programs and requiring anti-racism education opportunities.
“These are very profound issues that we have to attack, and SMTD has a huge role to play in it because our job is to train future leaders,” Gier said. “If we don’t support these things right now with our current students and give them opportunities to grow and to develop in these ways, then we are actually deeply part of the problem.”
Music, Theatre & Dance and LSA junior Andrew Gerace is not optimistic about SMTD changing its culture for the better. He said he felt this way while taking the climate survey in January, and continues to feel this way now. Gerace, a jazz student, said he’s observed misogyny within his department and has a general distrust of how the school handles specific instances of misconduct.
“I generally feel that transparency is a word SMTD likes to say but really doesn’t know the meaning of because it’s not what they practice,” Gerace said.
Gerace would like to see the SMTD administration own up to mistakes and to the elitism he feels is present in the institution.
“In the coming year, in terms of campus climate, I would like to see an administration that is willing to admit its own missteps,” Gerace said. “I think that’s key to a process of rebuilding trust.”