Drama students and parents meet over sexual harassment

The School of Arts is continuing to deal with the fallout over allegations of sexual assault and harassment in the drama department with a third discussion forum with drama students, their parents and alumni.

This follows a Sunday Times report that senior drama lecturer Tsepo wa Mamatu was suspended after being accused of sexually assaulting students.

The school held two forums last week with School of Arts students and staff. According to School of Arts head Prof Georges Pfruender, the first two forums were for the staff and students to identify core problems and suggest solutions for them. The third forum held on March 9 was to include parents and alumni in the discussion.

“We want to create a working space where both students and lecturers will feel safe and respected,” said Pfruender.

According to Pfruender, the first draft of sexual harassment guidelines will be made available to staff and students in the coming week. The guidelines include definitions of rehearsal space and practical classes. It also outlines how students and lecturers should define boundaries, especially during rehearsals.

Pfruender said that there will be two other workshops held in the coming two weeks.

“With such an important issue it will not be enough to have a once-off.”

Pfruender said that the guidelines will be put in effect immediately but policy changes need a bit more time.

It is anticipated that the investigation on wa Mamatu will be completed within the next two or three months “subject to no delays occurring and the number of witnesses coming forward,” said Pfruender.

A therapist has also been provided for Drama students affected by sexual harassment. They can book sessions at the Emthonjeni centre.

On Thursdays between noon and 2pm a therapist will be available to them without an appointment.

“This is a special arrangement for the drama students during this time [with allegations of drama students being sexually harassed],” said Nthabiseng Modikoane from the Emthonjeni centre.

Wits Legal Office “gags” Politics department

The Political Studies (politics) department has written that it is “deeply disappointed” by the action taken by the Wits Legal Office following allegations of sexual harassment made by Wits Vuvuzela, last year. The department  alleges that it was effectively “gagged” by the Wits Legal Office in its attempt to address the allegations against one of its staff members. A response written by the Head of Department, Professor Daryl Glaser, was widely circulated via email on Monday evening.

 

“Not long after the publication of this article, members of [the Politics] Department learnt that this report most probably concerned one of our colleagues,” said the open letter.

 

In an interview with Wits Vuvuzela last week, Glaser confirmed an investigation was underway against the former HOD, but stopped short of confirming the identity of the individual.

 

But in this latest letter Glaser did not shy away from naming Prof Rupert Taylor as the academic at the centre of the allegations.

 

 “We have not been impressed with the way in which the university legal department has dealt with this issue”

 

According to Glaser, the department was informed “at a meeting with the legal office that they would set up an investigation into the rumours and allegations.” They were advised by the legal office “that actions taken by [the] department could potentially complicate any future investigation or other related initiatives.”

 

The politics department stated in their response: “While we appreciate that discretion and restraint are required here, we have not been impressed with the way in which the university legal department has dealt with this issue.”

Prof Rupert Taylor of the Political Studies department. Pic: Facebook.

Prof Rupert Taylor of the Political Studies department. Pic: Facebook.

 

“When Prof Taylor stepped down, we were explicitly instructed not to say anything about why there was a new head of department. When we raised the prospect of discussing sexual harassment with our students, we were expressly forbidden from doing so, as it might compromise the investigation,” said Glaser.

 

Dikeledi Selowa, a former politics first year class representative for 2012, told Wits Vuvuzela that no information was given to the students by the department and they weren’t provided with a platform to discuss the allegations.

 

The department’s response explained: “When our students wanted to hold a public meeting to exchange experiences and handling of sexual harassment on campus, they were informed that no persons or departments could be named, that it could only take the form of a protest.”

 

“No public comment of any sort was permissable”

 

Glaser told Wits Vuvuzela that that no students had come forward with official statements against Prof Taylor. But the department was also discouraged from asking students to come forward “because the act of asking them about sexual harassment would compromise anything that they reported in response.”

 

He continued by saying: “When we repeatedly pushed for a public statement from the university in response to the Vuvuzela article, nothing was forthcoming. No public comment of any sort was permissible.

 

“In our opinion, the extreme conservatism and lack of responsiveness of the legal department has been a major stumbling block in addressing this issue.”

 

The letter stated that until now the legal office has still not communicated with the politics department what happened to the investigation. But instead has “effectively gagged [the] department from making public statements or taking other public initiatives in the name of protecting an investigation.”

 

Wits Legal office refuses to comment

 

Wits Vuvuzela tried to contact the Legal Office for a response to the allegations made by the political studies department but they refused to comment.

Tasneem Wadvalla, a spokesperson for the legal office, responded by saying that because of the virtue of their (the legal office) position within the university, where they might have to act as legal representation for the Wits Vuvuzela, they cannot engage in answering questions about allegations or any other legal matters within the university.

According to Wits University spokesperson, Shirona Patel, there were two investigations on sexual harassment currently happening at the university. “The first, where an individual was named, was that of Tsepo wa Mamatu, while the second was a campus-wide inquiry where all people have been encouraged to come forward with allegations of sexual harassment.”

[pullquote]”There is scope for a more effective university response to sexual harassment and sexual violence on our campus.”[/pullquote]

 

The political department felt that “It is imperative that investigations prompted by the Vuvuzela article exceed the mandate of the announced inquiry” They said that the “conservative” approach to the issue “suggest a desire to avoid grappling with the full dimensions of this critical issue and feel that a general inquiry primarily focusing upon general policy and procedure is inadequate.”

 

The department said they were “frustrated” that this issue has gone on for so long without a strong public statement by the university, and that there is scope for a more “effective university response to sexual harassment and sexual violence on our campus.”

 

The open letter suggested that the approach of the legal department needs to be reviewed and “information needs to be constantly and immediately available for students and staff so that they are empowered to secure their own safety.”

“Students and staff need to be heard, involved and consulted in the process of battling sexual violence of all forms on this campus.”

ANC Youth League (Wits) rushes in defence of “sex pest”

The Wits ANC Youth League (ANCYL) rushed in the defence of senior drama lecturer Tsepo wa Mamatu and accused the South African media and Wits University of harassing black academics in the country

“This sensationalism suggests to us that Tshepo [sic] wa Mamatu is innocent and that a conspiracy is driving these allegations,” the organisation said in a statement.

The statement accuses the Sunday Times of using “faceless and spineless sources” to compromise the integrity and to humiliate wa Mamatu.

Wa Mamatu has been accused in media reports of sexually assaulting and violating his students during rehearsals, auditions and off-campus for a period of six years.

The Wits Democratic Alliance Student Organisation (DASO) published a statement responding to the Wits ANCYL asking “is the race of a person important or the nature of the crime?”

DASO added that wa Mamatu was not only accused of making advances on students but also asked them to “undress, touch themselves, sliding his fingers into their pants, sexual relationships and alleged rape over a period of 6 years”. DASO said the issue should not be about race, but about rape and sexual harassment.

Tshediso Mangope, chairperson of Wits ANCYL, emphasised that their statement wasn’t a racial issue but that wa Mamatu is being crucified by public opinion. He questioned the mechanisms and processes used by Wits University and the students who reported the lecturer to the Sunday Times.

“Why report allegations to the media when no formal complaints were made to the university and the police?” asked Mangope.

“If these students were genuinely violated, they have the opportunity to report these with law enforcement institutions (not the media),” read the Wits ANCYL statement.

SRC representative Tokelo Nhlapo said the university had a history of responding differently to cases based on race.

“I think that Tsepo [wa Mamate] is treated this way because of the colour of his skin” said Nhlapo. “If the university seeked justice, they shouldn’t have made comments in the media.”

Sibulele Mgudlwa, SRC president, believes that the case wasn’t treated fairly. He said the university responded differently when the same allegations were made last year about a white lecturer.

He said the SRC was “not defending or declaring him [wa Mamatu] guilty. [The] priority is students.”

However, Mgudlwa said the mechanisms that deal with sexual harassment and sexual violence issues should be standard across board.

“The university has a tendency of selectively applying its policies,” he said. “Response should be uniform, swift, regardless of race and academic standing.”

ADDITIONAL RESOURCES:

Campus-wide inquiry into sexual harassment

Wits has set up a campus-wide inquiry in response to allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct, most recently against a senior drama lecturer.

The inquiry will assess existing policies and procedures to prevent instances of sexual harassment and is set to conclude in August 2013, the university said in a statement.

It will be led by Centre of Applied Legal Studies head Prof Bonita Meyersfeld and Joe Mathibe, from an outside law firm.

The investigation will also look at whether there are ‘quid pro quo’ relationships at Wits and whether staff and students are aware of sexual harassment procedures.

“It will also look at whether the process of addressing incidents of sexual harassment at the university … is fair, robust and sensitive,” read the statement.

The Sunday Times reported last weekend that senior drama lecturer Tsepo wa Mamatu was suspended after being accused of being a “sex pest” who sexually assaulted students.

Following the report, the School of Arts, which includes Drama, held forums on Monday and Tuesday to discuss sexual harassment and sexual assault within their department.

“The forum held on Monday was about hearing what the students had to say.  The heads of school explained the incident reported by the Sunday Times but they didn’t name him,” said third year Drama student Cait Morris.

“But they were defensive about it and not taking responsibility,” she added.

According to Morris, the Monday forum was a “very emotional. One of the people who spoke was among the first to report him [wa Mamatu]”.

Morris said that one of the first questions that were asked was whether the head of department knew about the allegations against wa Mamatu.

“Head of Arts department Kennedy Chinyowa answered the question. But he did not give us a yes or no. Only later in the meeting did he admit that there had been suspicions,” said Morris.

Morris said that the forum on Tuesday was much better because the students felt they were more involved in finding a solution to sexual harassment in their department.

SRC member Pearl Pillay, who was present at the meeting, said: “The Tuesday forum was about looking for a way forward together, as staff members and students. What students think needs to be done so something like this does not happen again. “

She said problem areas were identified and students came up with solutions.

The heads of departments said they would take the suggestions, present them to the rest of the staff members and then get back to the students.

When professional intimacy is betrayed …

The story of senior Wits drama lecturer Tsepo wa Mamatu allegedly fondling and sexually harassing students, and even raping one of them, has focused many people’s attention on what constitutes as an improper relationship between a lecturer and a student.

On Twitter particularly, former students of the accomplished actor, director and playwright have spoken about how wa Mamatu allegedly used his position as lecturer to pressure students into sexual acts under the guise that it was for the benefit of their education.

Tweets from the account of former Wits student Mary Straub (@merrystrwberry) have been frequent and detail her experiences in the Drama department.

Yesterday a tweet from the account read: “We were told we are brilliant, but our unwillingness ‘to go all the way’ would cost us marks.”

In reply to Straub’s question  as to whether sexual abuse at Wits had become institutionalized among lecturers, a tweet from journalist Katherine Child (@katthechild), read: “Yes, and a history of turning a blind eye. And re-hiring perpetrators students had spoken out about”.

Wits’ Head of Communications, Shirona Patel (@shirona37), defended the university’s efforts to protect students, saying in a tweet: “Wits is doing all it can- it never covers up these issues- need as much evidence as possible”.

In a speech he gave at the Wits Great Hall last year, Nobel Laureate and celebrated author, JM Coetzee urged more male students to become teachers, and said that “it will be good for society in general, particularly at this time in history when men who enjoy working with children are suddenly under so much suspicion.”

What the tweets have not answered, and a question Coetzee implies, is whether an emotional connection between teacher and student is possible in the times we live in, especially between male lecturer and female student?

Wa Mamatu, as a lecturer in a small department, had the opportunity to shape the development of his students on an individual basis, a type of impact rarely found in larger departments.

The close interaction between lecturers and students in smaller settings creates an ideal environment for highly focused monitoring of student development. It’s an environment that has the ability to remove the power imbalances between students and lecturers. It’s what could be called a professional intimacy, one where the teacher can positively influence the student. A beautiful paradox when done right, a shame when done wrong.  But how are students ever to know when it’s wrong?

Like many others who misuse their power against students, wa Mamatu seems to have blurred the boundaries and used that intimacy for personal gain, turning what could have been a fruitful partnership into a show of power and dominance.

However, a stronger inter-student relationship between female students spanning generations, able to warn and protect each other from sex pests, seems to have emerged ‘organically’ on Twitter and is filtering onto campus as a result. Could this be social media’s answer to violent patriarchy?

 

USEFUL RESOURCES:

Sex pests in Wits Drama: More allegations surface

Sex pests in Wits Drama: More allegations surface

Witsies woke up to front page news on Sunday March 3 about accusations of sexual harassment against a senior lecturer, barely three weeks after the university marched against sexual violence.

Storified by Akinoluwa Oyedele· Mon, Mar 04 2013 02:18:46

Iol
Tsepo Wa Mamatu, deputy head of dramatic arts, is at the centre of a string of allegations of rape and sexual abuse brought to the Sunday Times by former students. It also emerged that Xoli Norman, an academic contracted to teach at Wits, faced allegations of sexual harassment at another university before his appointment.
After Wits Vuvuzela published an article about a lecturer sexually harassing students last year, it received accusations against two other lecturers before the Sunday Times’ expose. As the news spread onTwitter, some students suggested that sexual harassment on campus is a bigger problem than previously thought. 
Students who had known about these allegations or had nearly fallen prey to lecturers themselves heaved a collective sigh of relief at the publicity this story “finally” received.
Tsepo wa Mamatu drama lecturer at WITS FINALLY in the news, exposed for rape and sexual assault!!! Front page, Sunday Times.Toxic Lex
And my Facebook is a cacophony of Varsity friends, men and women, screaming "FINALLY!" We all knew & yet none of us knew how to speak it.Marie Straub
Thanks to all the girls I know who came forward to report this shit. Brave. We all know what happened. Now they know. #TsepoWaMamatu Toxic Lex
@the_lombz And we should all be ashamed for pretending and ignoring it just to keep the peace #SELL_ITZanele Madiba
@MissMadiba nt shocked hey. He was always dodgey! His classes revolved around sex. I even took him to task once, sick man.Sarah Jackson
Meanwhile all the other predators at Wits are looking up to the sky & thanking their lucky stars that its not them dat were caught out.SMH!Nomonde_Ndwalaza
Some Dramatic Arts graduates said the rehearsal space particularly made it easier for lecturers to take advantage of students. Wa Mamatu told the Sunday Times: “what happens in a rehearsal space is private and confidential. I can’t break that confidentiality”.
@troyevillelolly Rehearsal space is sacred. Has to be. You have to be able to push boundaries. Always those who will take advantage of such.Marie Straub
I make no excuses for Wa Matu, I’m just saying the problem is bigger than one individual. The rehearsal space is one of great vulnerabilitymegan godsell
@merrystrwberry Mostly, I remember holding other terrified 20 year olds who were crying and trying to figure out ‘how far was too far’megan godsell
You had to be willing to tell your teacher ‘NO’ in the strongest terms. Repeatedly. Knowing it’d cost you a good 10% come exams.Marie Straub
‘NO’ I will not hump that chair, because that’s NOT a breathing exercise.Marie Straub
‘NO’ I will not do this monologue naked just because you’d like an extra image for your wank-bank.Marie Straub
Two former students also related personal accounts of how lecturers tried to take advantage of them, including during the rehearsal of a rape scene.
I did a piece with two classmates. Lecturer said: "That was so powerful. Now imagine if you set it in a bathroom & you 3 girls were naked."Marie Straub
We were told we were brilliant, but our unwillingness to "go all the way" would cost us marks. He was disappointed we hadn’t got naked.Marie Straub
Eventually, as a ‘fuck you’ to the lecturer, we set it in a bathroom as requested. But wore robes. Scene in no way required nudity.Marie Straub
@merrystrwberry Amen! The shy scarred 20 year old who had to kiss a girl in his class ‘for an exercise’is dancing now! #WITSsexualpredatorsmegan godsell
In my time at Wits Drama school I encountered many wonderful, honourable lecturers, male and female. These assholes were the exceptionmegan godsell
But, there is this to say. I was a student at Wits Drama. Tsepo was a few years ahead. He started as a lecturer in my final year. BUTmegan godsell
during my(and his)time as a student, there was a lecturer sexually harrassing the female students. He would pick a female student every yearmegan godsell
and focus his attention on her. A first year, every year, and in my year it was my friend. He was fired for this, eventually, quietly andmegan godsell
without any open reprimand or repercussion from the university.He is still a known and respected playwright. And the techniques practiced bymegan godsell
Tsepo are techniques this guy used all the time. So the precedent for this behaviour is set and accepted at Wits Drama School.megan godsell
@merrystrwberry I still remember the really awful abuse and harrassment on Brett Bailey’s MEDEiA. The director, also guest lecturing, usedmegan godsell
@merrystrwberry an emotional and deeply sexual script to dominate and fuck with a huge female cast and would remind us that he was gay ifmegan godsell
@merrystrwberry we complained. He once pulled a male actor out of a rape scene and put himself in with the female lead to ‘show’ how it wasmegan godsell
@merrystrwberry done. Process is process, rehearsals need to be a safe and sacred space, but just that. This Confidentiality is bullshitmegan godsell
Wa Mamatu was placed on “special leave” by the university and denied all the allegations brought forward. Some of Wa Mamatu’s friends and colleagues expressed shock at the front page news.
I’m at a loss for tweets today. Tsepo wa Mamatu is a friend of mine. I’ve not gone past that story today. Not looking forward to #TalkAtNineEusebius McKaiser
Spent today thinking about my friends, ex-colleagues & the students I taught for 7 1/2 years at Wits Drama. I’m shocked by today’s news.Theatre…and stuff.
I hope that swift action will be taken to restore the integrity of Wits Drama. My thoughts are with everyone connected to today’s news.Theatre…and stuff.
Higher ed institutions must be a safe space where students learn. This situation is sad, appalling, and embarrassing http://www.timeslive.co.za/local/2013/03/03/senior-wits-lecturer-accused-of-being-sexual-predatorDavid J Hornsby
Wits started a campus-wide investigation into sexual harassment on campus last year. Some said ‘naming and shaming’ remains a powerful way to combat the problem.
Screw this ‘we know these people’, shit, abuse is abuse. We need to stop protecting these preditors. Witsies must come out about Tsepo!Zanele Madiba
I urge ALL Wits drama students present and past to speak up. Please call Wits with your stories. I suspect it’s worse. Your story counts.kgomotso matsunyane
@khadijapatel glad someone was named this time around…that doesn’t happen in these type of stories.Zamantungwa Khumalo
@Margaritamojo @Witsvuvuzela What else can it do? Wits needs evidence and ppl now need to come forward.Shirona

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