Not much interest in sex harassment workshops

Wits School of Arts (WSOA) began this year by clearing its closet of nasty skeletons.

The school organized new workshops on codes of conduct after the sexual harassment drama of 2013. But the schools efforts are baring little fruit.

After last year’s revelations of improper sexual conduct by senior lecturer Tsepo wa Mamatu, which lead to a commission of inquiry and ultimately the dismissal of wa Mamatu and other offenders, WSOA embarked on the process of drafting an “ethical practices in teaching and learning” handbook.

Catherine Duncan of WSOA told Wits Vuvuzela  that the school needed to revisit a number of principles, values and responsibilities “from scratch” if the school was to be a “constructive and open environment for teaching, learning, and making art”. However, notices inviting arts students to participate in the workshops on one of three days, by signing their names up on a register provided under a description of the handbook, stood mostly empty.

They could be seen in and around the vicinity of the pale brown WSOA building- on the doors of classrooms and performance venues, as well as on notice boards and inside elevators. [pullquote align=”right”] “Doors? No one looks at doors. Why did they put them there?”[/pullquote]

Two weeks on, after the proposed dates of the workshop, those participation registers remain in position with a hardly a name on them.

Chairperson of WSOA’s school council Obett Motaung, 3rd year BADA, confirmed the poor attendance of the workshops.

“There were about 30-odd students who attended (workshops). You see we are facing an issue of student apathy,” Motaung said. Duncan admitted many had not engaged in the project.  “That is also fine and their prerogative,” Duncan said.

Both Duncan and Motaung were eager to stress that the workshops were only one part of larger information gathering process that started in July last and would continue beyond this month’s workshops.

“We gathered all the relevant policy, codes of conduct, standing orders, findings of the investigation into sexual harassment at Wits last year, course guides and so on,” Duncan said.

She said key data from the research went into the student workshops for “development, consultation and feedback”.

CONFUSED: Hankysel Lee is one of the many students who did not know about the workshop.                 Photo: Mfuneko Toyana

CONFUSED: Hankysel Lee is one of the many students who did not know about the workshop.                                                                                                                                                                                 Photo: Mfuneko Toyana

It would also seem that there was poor publicity around the workshops. The majority of the WSOA students interviewed by Wits Vuvuzela were either unaware of the workshops or just did not care to be involved in the process.

Moshini Pillay, 2nd year Fine Arts, said putting the notices on doors was not a good idea and this was the main reason she had not attended.  “Doors? No one looks at doors. Why did they put them there?” Hankysel Lee, 3rd year agreed that the visibility of the posters was ineffective.

She said she “just didn’t see the notices,”  and that she might have attended if she had.

Shubham Mehta, 4th year film and TV, said he preferred not to participate in “extracurricular activity” outside of his studies and that he saw no benefit in participating in the workshops.

A draft of the handbook will be completed by end of term according to Duncan.

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Sexual lunch: No strings attached?

Eyebrows have been raised sky high in response to a lunch hosted by lawyers investigating sexual harassment charges at Wits.

Lawyers from Bowman Gilfillan invited a group of the harassment “victims” to an intimate lunch at Papa Vino’s in Rosebank last week – a move that many are saying is a little out of kilter with professional practice.

Email invitation 

The email invitation sent by Bowman Gilfillan said: “We thought it fitting to arrange a lunch for all students affected by sexual harassment at Wits where all of us can meet in an informal setting and provide support for one another.”
It was made clear they would not be asking any questions related to the various sexual harassment cases at the lunch.
The lunch by the firm might have been very innocent in its intent but the ethical implications need to be taken into account, according to some legal experts.

Ethical considerations
Dr Murray Wesson, lecturer at the School of Law, University of Western Sydney said the lunch was “in bad practice”.

“Lawyers should not confer with multiple witnesses at [pullquote]Lawyers should not confer with multiple witnesses at the same time about issues that may be contentious at a subsequent hearing.[/pullquote]the same time about issues that may be contentious at a subsequent hearing. The reason is that this may give rise to collusion or the appearance of collusion,” said Wesson.
Wesson said while the invitation states that people will not be interviewed at the lunch, it also says that students will be able to drive discussions with one another. His concerns are around the fact that in such a relaxed and informal setting, conversation could lead to the allegations of the various cases.

Wits Centre for Ethics director Professor Lucy Allias said she found the lunch “strange”. She added that she did not understand how the invitation could be considered appropriate.

She said: “It seems to me very strange to invite victims of a highly personal, potentially extremely traumatic kind of abuse to a joint social event.”

One of the students, or accusers, who was invited but did not attend said: “I don’t want to be with other victims, all of us sitting around and feeling sorry for ourselves.”

Response
Wits Vuvuzela contacted Kirti Menon to get the University’s comment, she said: “I don’t think the venue is relevant and at this stage in the university investigations I would not like to comment further.”
Wits Vuvuzela had been told that the sexual harassment cases are currently being wrapped up and the final reports will be out by the end of the month.