Response to and Support for Alumni Letter

Sherry Harper-McCombs, Professor of Theatre

The department of theatre and dance wants to both applaud and respond to Sarah Zimmer’s letter published 4 February. The professional worlds of theatre, dance, film, and television have protected serial abusers for many years and has only recently begun to wrestle with this problem and seek solutions to it. As a department, we have begun to incorporate what are becoming accepted as the best practices in our field to combat this problem by adopting the Chicago Theatre Standards for our rehearsal and production process. We also have faculty who are looking to be certified through Intimacy Directors International in order to both model best practices in our production program and also to educate our students about what they should expect in the professional world so they will know to protest when they do not encounter best practices there. Intimacy direction and choreography is becoming industry standard in our field in the same way that fight choreography has long been the industry standard for safety in the production process.

Our industry, because of its connection with the film and television industry which has a higher profile than live theatre, has wrestled quite publicly with a culture in which sexual misconduct was not only winked at and swept under the rug but was almost an expected part of work in the industry. As a department, we have spent years pushing back against this culture of silence and acceptance and, like the industry and art form we all love, we have not always gotten it right. That said, the only thing we want to correct in Sarah’s letter is the editor’s note which asserts that we did not report the 2016 incident to the Title IX office. That is untrue. Three faculty members from the department of theatre and dance sat down with our then Title IX staff in order to both report the incident and seek advice on how to proceed. This meeting did not result in a Title IX case which is most likely why it may not show up in any record from that academic year. Perhaps because of the nature of the industry in which the faculty in the department of theatre and dance has lived their professional lives, we take our roles as mandatory reporters quite seriously. We reported what was brought to us, and sought help from the office of Title IX.

As a department, we share our alums’ anger and frustration around issues of sexual misconduct. We are not only committed to holding abusers accountable but to changing the culture which is ultimately what allows this type of conduct to occur. We are committed to changing that culture both in our field and on our campus.