Sexual Assault Allegations On Varsity Show Creative Team Member Shake The Theater Community
Written by Betsy Ladyzhets
Edited, 11/14/17, 7:46 pm to reflect further investigation.
Early last Friday, Bwog received an anonymous tip from a member of the Barnard/Columbia theater community. This student claimed that a member of the creative team sexually assaulted her in spring of 2016. Student theater leaders who chose the creative team knew of the assault before appointing this member. The member himself was unaware of the allegation until Friday. The tipster wrote that despite alerting the leaders who chose the creative team member that he had assaulted her, he appeared “set to stay in his role”, because the rest of the creative team said they could not forcibly remove him without a formal complaint and investigation by the university. She encouraged Bwog to warn other students, “especially women”, against getting involved with this year’s show.
Other members of the theater community both within and outside of Bwog confirmed the tipster’s story, stating that they knew of other instances of sexual harassment perpetrated by the creative team member. Later that day, after discussions between the Varsity Show creative team and other students in the theater community close to the tipster, the accused member stepped down from the team. A public announcement on this change was made via the Varsity Show’s Facebook page.
That night, we received a statement from the student who stepped down. He explained that he stepped down because he “didn’t want the shadows of these allegations to weigh on the rest of the team.” This student “disputed” the tipster’s account, yet stated that “the most important thing to acknowledge right now is that [the tipster’s] pain is real”, and that he was “committed to reevaluating [his] understanding of relationships and boundaries.”
Although the accused student did not want his allegations to weigh on the rest of the Varsity Show team, in the minds of many members of the Columbia theater community, this issue is far from over. Several other theater organizations have been putting pressure on both the Varsity Show and CUPAL (the Columbia University Performing Arts League) to reconsider community guidelines regarding sexual respect. CUPAL is not a an advisory or governing board for performance groups, merely an umbrella organization that facilitates discussion between groups and helps to advise and advocate for these groups. Students in the theater community tend to view CUPAL as an organization with a great deal of power, however, particularly in this situation, as several integral members of the Varsity Show team are also closely tied to CUPAL.
On Monday, CUPAL has announced that it will be creating community guidelines; a town hall will be held this weekend with members of the CUPAL board, as well as its member organizations to discuss these guidelines. We reached out to CUPAL leadership for a statement, and were told that they will not be releasing a statement at this time.
The incident has also inspired many student groups in the performing arts community to create or revise similar guidelines.
The original tip, received on Friday morning:
People, especially women, need to avoid getting involved in this year’s Varsity Show because a member of the creative team sexually assaulted me in Spring 2016. Other women have reported uncomfortable and unwanted sexual advances from him too. Despite my urgings to remove him from this position of power, it looks like he’s set to stay in his role. The team that chose him informed me that they can’t remove him unless there is a formal complaint filed and investigation undertaken by the university. I’m not sure the bureaucratic red tape will do anything to fix this so if you can, pass this information along to keep people from being involved in the show.
Statement from the former Varsity Show creative team member, received on Friday night:
I decided to step down from my position with the Varsity Show because I didn’t want the shadows of these allegations to weigh on the rest of the team. These allegations express deep pain that someone is experiencing on my account. I dispute her accusation of sexual assault, but the most important thing to acknowledge right now is that her pain is real. Clearly, since she has decided to step forward, her experience that night caused her pain, and nothing I can say here can mitigate my involvement in that pain. Nonetheless, I refute her account of what transpired. While my account of that night differs from hers, I am committed to reevaluating my understanding of relationships and boundaries.