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Sexual Assault Allegations On Varsity Show Creative Team Member Shake The Theater Community

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.

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  • barnard student says:

    @barnard student I don’t understand how the perpetrator can dispute the allegations but also admit he is reevaluating his understanding of boundaries — if there’s something to reevaluate, obviously you did something wrong. Own up fully.

    The people who knew that he was predatory (there’s just no way that so many people have had bad experiences with this person and that no student leaders knew. people talk. especially in theater, there are no secrets.) and chose to protect his place in the theater/campus community need to take responsibility for that as well.

    1. another barnard student says:

      @another barnard student I don’t get this. What if he agrees he caused pain to someone but doesn’t agree that it was sexual assault? Can’t you agree that someone can make poor relationship decisions that may hurt their partner but are not necessarily sexual assault?

      That said, I have no idea what actually transpired between the two.

      1. barnard student says:

        @barnard student That’s precisely it, you don’t know what happened.

        What exactly does he think he did that caused trauma if it wasn’t assault? The student said it was assault, and that means that’s what it was.

        1. Anonymous says:

          @Anonymous What a crackpot conclusion to draw. Reread the statement. He doesn’t admit to any intercourse (or even “sexual touching” taking place.

          1. barnard student says:

            @barnard student the person who was hurt does not owe you or the public a detailed play by play of the assault in order to be believed. both parties know what constituted the assault, and if the assaulter can recognize that those actions require him to reevaluate boundaries and caused harm, it does not make sense for him to simultaneously deny that the actions were assault.

  • Justicequal says:

    @Justicequal If this were someone on the football team this article would’ve been written with a very different tone.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous Agreed. I’m giving them a pass this time because they seem to have (correctly) waited several days to investigate the tips considering Spec’s fuckup of blasting out the guy’s name.

  • Student theatre imitating life says:

    @Student theatre imitating life Now that someone is mad and goes Public you care but guess what Columbia student theatre has had countless instances of sexual assault and other forms of misconduct, abuse, and harassment.

    Now. Finally. When the industry starts speaking up. You finally try to care. It’s too late for some of us.

    If we all came forward about what was really going on to people of all genders and orientations in the program we’d be out of at least 20 more students involved.

  • Sense and Sensibility says:

    @Sense and Sensibility It’s hard to evaluate the veracity of these claims without knowing what the accused and accusers look like.

    1. Are the accusers good looking?
    2. How attractive is the accused?
    3. What do the accusers act like / what’s their general demeanor? Are they flirty?
    4. What is the accused like? Are they creepy, do they tend to miss social cues (i.e. are they in seas)?
    5. How do / did the accusers dress?
    6. Is the accuser rich (i.e. what do the accusers have to gain)?

    1. stop says:

      @stop what the fuck is wrong with you

      1. Common sense says:

        @Common sense Why is a little skepticism a bad thing? It’s not like no woman in the history of the world has ever made up being assaulted for personal gain.

    2. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous I bet the accuser’s a little chunky

  • Concerned Barnard Student says:

    @Concerned Barnard Student Lol please credit Spec for reporting on this before you did… This is just trying to pander to No Red Tape, after Lia Kaitlyn got salty at Spec for reporting on facts. Journalism is not about “grace, empathy and respect.” Ultimately, it’s about reporting on the facts. Spec did show respect by confirming that the source was comfortable being quoted, and would not have published the article without doing so. Spec was empathetic by being cautious with five separate rounds of edits to ensure that no bias whatsoever was inserted into the article as well.
    I can assure you that as pushy as Spec is, if a source doesn’t feel comfortable with their name on something, it doesn’t get published. This has happened multiple times, per my sources inside Spec, who have evidence of multiple occasions where stories couldn’t run without clear confirmation.
    Bwog needs to chill out on the National Enquirer Vibe, and just report on facts. Then again, they don’t want to be biased toward No Red Tape, especially if their job is to be an outside journalistic resource for students.

    1. lol says:

      @lol spec “broke” the story (after they saw a facebook post about how bwog was working on a piece) by pressuring a survivor into allowing them to name her. fucked up and disgraceful.

    2. also says:

      @also please go back to sucking the administration’s dick

    3. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous Hi. I’m a Columbia student and an assault survivor. Spec, you pressured me to put my name on a piece I wasn’t comfortable putting my name on even after I said no, so don’t be all “we don’t bully survivors” when that’s completely false. I know b/c I lived it. You put me in danger and you didn’t care. You still don’t.

    4. Fuck spec says:

      @Fuck spec Spec loves a good story. They exploit queer people, trans people, people of color, and survivors. Nothing new. My trauma doesn’t belong on a headline I need justice.

  • finally says:

    @finally being “unbiased” doesn’t exist. spec is just covering their asses bc they let the perpetrator write a column for them last year

    1. Just to Clarify says:

      @Just to Clarify There was also an op-ed written by Lia Kaitlyn… Don’t think that has anything to do with this.

      1. Anonymous says:

        @Anonymous To “Just to Clarify”: Per my sources inside Lia’s head, Lia isn’t cool with you using her writing an op/ed to justify publishing one by a perpetrator the year before, so please don’t try that BS.

        1. Just to Clarify again says:

          @Just to Clarify again My only point is no one knew this person was a perpetrator, similar to Alana Koenig, so Spec hiring a columnist a year before these allegations came out (he no longer works for Spec) should have nothing to do with this.

  • Ummm says:

    @Ummm Alana Koenig should step down as CUPAL president. The way she has handled these concerns horrifies me.

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous So a 21-year-old student following administrative protocol horrifies you? Ok.

    2. seriously dude says:

      @seriously dude You know what horrifies me? Sexual assault. You know what doesn’t horrify me? People following administrative policies.

    3. barnard student says:

      @barnard student this was not treated with the urgency it should have been. this person was known and exposed to be a serial assaulter and therefore active threat to the safety of people, especially women and younger women in varsity show and other organizations he is a part of. if they were told by admin that they “couldn’t remove him” without a formal report, then they should have shut the show down. using administrative reluctance as an excuse to do little to nothing is wildly unacceptable. student leaders should stop at absolutely nothing to protect students from known perpetrators.

      1. Get real says:

        @Get real You’re treating this as though it’s a proven fact that he raped someone (multiple people?) when no complaint, let alone police report, was ever filed. How is it “known” to the administration when no investigation or trial took place? There’s no reason for them to take any action. The world outside Columbia is not as forgiving.

  • Anonymous says:

    @Anonymous When you attend an institution whose president Sovern slept with his future wife Joan while she was his student, what do you expect?

    1. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous Holy crap I didn’t realize this.

    2. Anonymous says:

      @Anonymous This is actually sexual assault by default in most states. Students cannot consent to sex with their teachers while in their classes.

    3. Wait says:

      @Wait Source?

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