Art Therapy

Alex sits across from her therapist, tapping her foot anxiously on the floor, not speaking. Her therapist looks empathetically at her, and asks if she could possibly describe her feelings at the moment. Alex keeps her eyes on the floor, and shifts her position uncomfortably. The therapist wonders if she can recount her experience reconnecting with home friends with whom she shared a traumatic middle school experience. Finally, Alex looks up and begins to tell her story.

cast

Cast of alex getting better

Alex is the main character of alex getting better, a play written by 21-year-old Audrey Lang, a junior theater studies major at Ithaca College. The play was performed last fall in The Dillingham Center, home of Ithaca College’s theater program. Throughout the play, Alex, a college student, begins to work through and come to terms with being a young woman who was a victim of sexual assault in middle school. She had not thought about this traumatic episode in her life for a long while. She chose to bury the memory of a boy she had once been friends with and who had touched her and her friends in a way that was unwanted and inappropriate.

Lang portrays the diverse approaches that victims of sexual assault can take toward healing. Some of Alex’s friends had repressed the memories and remained friends with the assailant; others had forgiven, and moved on. Throughout the play, the feelings of shame, discomfort, and paranoia are visceral and perturbing as we watch Alex striving to work through her fears, accept the trauma, and learn to let go.

In the Fall 2018 semester, Lang wrote a 10-minute play for a theater class, which served as the backbone for alex getting better. She based the story loosely on trauma she had experienced in her own life, while asserting creative control in the play when necessary. Lang found the content to be relevant, informative, and universal, as she has known many women and girls who have dealt with similar forms of assault.

Because the play dealt with intimate, triggering, and vulnerable content, Lang made sure that she and the cast and crew members felt safe to voice their own personal stories during the time they were delving into Alex’s journey of recovery. “I chose to work with all females,” said Lang. “There was an all-female cast as well as an all-female rehearsal room. These events are so deeply related to things women and girls are dealing with. But, I wanted the play to be seen by people of all ages and genders.”

This performance not only gave Lang a platform to voice a traumatic event that happened to her depicted through her play, but it also gave the cast members a chance to empathize and vocalize similar occurrences that happened in their lives. This presents significant benefits of theater; the community and support that the participants in the play receive, as well as the chance for the playwright themselves to share and perform experiences for an audience to empathize with.

Lang has been a writer for as long as she can remember. In 2016, prior to alex getting better, Lang wrote another play about issues young women face, Dear Anna, which was performed with MCC Youth Company’s FreshPlay Festival and with the Ithaca Theater Collective. “I always loved writing,” said Lang, “but I was always mostly interested in dialogue and human interactions. Theater can bring life to stories in a way that feels more real because you are actually seeing the bodies.”

Rather than solely working through her struggles and experiences on her own, Lang and many other playwrights who create plays about mental illness or sexual assault work through their pain with a medium that enables others to be fully present with them when they are most afraid and vulnerable. This advocacy work is personal and intimate but the themes and issues addressed are universal. Lang chooses to write her plays about marginalized groups to give these people a platform to share their stories. “Typically, my plays are about women,” she said. “Especially queer women. I try to show them in places of strength and complication.”

lang

Audrey Lang

In theater, the audience can become engrossed with the story in a way that can indulge most of their senses, while also having a space where one is allowed to become emotional and vulnerable. “Theater should be educational and entertaining,” said Carin Etsy, an Ithaca College senior who directed alex getting better and is also a playwright who has written autobiographical pieces about sexual assault. “It forces you to be more engaged because, unlike watching a movie or reading a book, you can’t just leave. Theater is a continuous act; you have to sit there and be faced with another’s experiences and emotions.”

—By Nicole Kramer

Nicole Kramer, an intern at The Sophie Fund, is a senior Writing major and Sociology minor at Ithaca College. She is a nonfiction editor for Stillwatera student-run literary magazine. She also enjoys creating mixed media image-text work and writing poetry. 

Introducing the ACTion Faction!

ACTion is a group of like-minded teens from all over Tompkins County that will work together to fight sexual and relationship violence. They will collaborate to educate and enlighten their peers and the rest of the community so that they can help to keep themselves and others safe.

ACTion announcement

The ultimate goal of ACTion is to make the world a safer and more aware place. If teens are aware of the signs of relationship violence, then they will be able to recognize those signs to help themselves and hopefully others. ACTion will strive to make the teenage community in Tompkins County increasingly conscious about sexual and relationship violence and what they can do to help combat it.

Additionally, ACTion will have ambassadors to help spread the word all across Tompkins County: in their schools, on sports teams, in clubs they are involved in, etc. Members of ACTion will help with events that the Advocacy Center plans, and have the opportunity to plan, or collaborate to plan, events of their own. They will be offered the chance to work with others on projects they come up with on their own, as well as work independently on projects.

ACTion will bring teens together to work toward what they believe in. It will not only be an opportunity to inspire change in the community, but a chance to meet like-minded people and find your safe place. ACTion will give teens a place to be heard, and an opportunity to have their voices amplified. ACTion will make Tompkins County a safer, more aware place.

Our first meeting is taking place on Wednesday, September 12 from 6-7:30 p.m. at the Just Be Cause Center (1013 West State Street, Ithaca). To learn more and sign up, fill out this form.

—By Dani Copeland

Dani Copeland is a sophomore at Ithaca High School. She volunteered at the Advocacy Center during the summer of 2018 to help turn the vision of ACTion into a reality. 

This article is republished from The Advocacy Center by kind permission.

“This Would be a Nice Place for a Rape”

Sexual assault and sexual harassment are widespread occurrences at American universities and colleges. Student outrage over a case at Harvard University is spotlighting an equally disturbing problem: how some campus administrators have tolerated sexual abuse by powerful academicians, and thereby perpetuated broadly unsafe conditions for students, staff, and even junior untenured professors.

Harvard’s handling of the case of political scientist Jorge Domínguez, a leading expert in the Latin American studies field, was exposed in an important February 27 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education. The Chronicle reported on the stories of women who charged that Domínguez exercised his power as a star tenured professor over three decades to physically harass and/or pursue sexual relationships with them.

In one chilling incident, as Domínguez and Terry Karl, an untenured female professor in his Government Department, walked through a wooded campus area returning from an event, Domínguez allegedly told Karl, “This would be a nice place for a rape.”

The Chronicle reports in detail on how Domínguez’s constant advances eventually forced Karl to leave Harvard in the mid-1980s for Stanford University, where she earned tenure and served as director of the Center for Latin American Studies for more than a decade.

Karl reported the harassment to Harvard administrators, who at one point actually found Domínguez guilty of serious misconduct and imposed temporary penalties—stripping him of administrative duties. Yet, afterwards, Harvard kept promoting Domínguez—to vice provost for international affairs, and director of the prestigious Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.

According to the Chronicle, a total of 18 female professors, students, and staff members have now come forward with allegations of Domínguez’s sexual misconduct. On March 4, more than 35 years after Karl first reported Domínguez’s behavior to Harvard administrators, the university placed Domínguez on leave and announced an investigation into the allegations. On March 6—a week after the Chronicle story appeared—Domínguez resigned from Harvard, ending a 45-year career on the faculty.

Harvard President Derek Bok, and Henry Rosovsky, dean of the faculty of arts and sciences, expressed concern and sympathy for Karl, but the university’s handling of Domínguez at the time struck her as inadequate and laughable.

The Chronicle reported on how Karl’s problems at Harvard had generated serious concerns among fellow Latin American-studies scholars. In 1984, a dozen of them from various universities wrote to Bok and Rosovsky, saying they could not recommend that any of their students attend Harvard until there was “absolute assurance that they will not face undue risk of harassment.”

In his dismissive response, Rosovsky told the scholars that their letter “displays a degree of moral arrogance that is unusual even by the unfortunate standards prevailing in the academic profession. It pretends to a detailed and objective knowledge of what happened here that you plainly do not have.”

In a 1991 essay in support of Anita Hill, who accused U.S. Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas of sexual harassment, Karl argued that filing a sexual harassment complaint often “pits a person against an institution that is predisposed to defend the accused.” Referring to her own harassment case, without mentioning Domínguez by name, she wrote that she had felt “forced to choose between pleasing this man or losing everything I had worked for.”

As the Chronicle reported:

Karl believes Harvard administrators played down her many complaints, attempting to mollify her rather than dealing with a difficult situation head-on. Harvard refused, as some universities still do, to publicly name the person responsible. They also let him stay, and promoted him, which sent a signal that Karl believes discouraged others from coming forward. If they hadn’t done that, “then these women who experienced harassment in the 1990s and 2000s, it wouldn’t have happened, or they would have known that someone would be punished if they were harassed,” she says. “That’s the great enabling. It’s why the silence is so terrible.”

The Chronicle report on Harvard’s handling of the Domínguez case stirred immediate outrage among alumni, faculty, and students. Hundreds signed an open letter to Harvard President Drew Faust demanding that the university apologize:

When students arrive at Harvard, they are told that the university ‘is committed to maintaining a safe and healthy educational work environment’. Over the past three decades, Harvard has failed to live up to this commitment. The Chronicle has reported that at least three women informed human resources of misconduct by Jorge Dominguez. In these cases, as in others, Harvard has not kept its promise to protect those most at risk. The burden of responsibility to hold abusers accountable does not lie with the victims. It lies with those in positions of authority. We feel an apology is necessary to rebuild trust and to show that the university unequivocally supports those who come forward.

We have all been shocked by the allegations against Jorge Dominguez. Now we call on you to take bold and immediate action to address the power structures that have left junior faculty, students, and staff vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

The signatories expressed their solidarity with Karl and other women who came forward and spoke to the Chronicle: “We respect and admire the courage it requires to share your story.”

More than 200 undergraduates led by 59 students in the Government Department wrote an angry letter to the Government faculty, calling the university administration’s failure to take appropriate action against Domínguez “reprehensible” and making a series of demands addressing the underlying problems:

We feel deeply betrayed by the fact that he was allowed to continue teaching at this university, putting students, faculty, and staff at risk for so long despite the fact that he was censured for sexual harassment thirty-five years ago.

Both Domínguez’s crimes and the department and the administration’s failure to take action for years are reprehensible. But they are also telling signs that the Government Department (and Harvard at large) are home to misogyny, rape culture, and exploitative power dynamics– problems that run much deeper than any single perpetrator of sexual or gender-based violence or any single failure to act to keep our community safe.

More than 100 Government graduate students, in their own letter to the faculty, expressed anger over the administration’s response to the Chronicle story. The letter followed a meeting between graduate students and Government Department Chair Jennifer L. Hochschild:

“We went into the meeting hoping for answers. We left disappointed, disillusioned, and, for many of us, angry. The meeting communicated a message of equivocation, powerlessness, and an unwillingness to commit to addressing this issue or instituting any significant changes within the Department.”

Money, Power, and Sexual Assault (Part 2)

In 2016 and 2017, two of the country’s most powerful conservatives—Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly of Fox News—were shown the door for sexual harassment of female subordinates. This week—thanks in part to the willingness of harassment victims to speak out—it’s the turn of one of America’s most influential liberals: Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein.

weinstein

An investigation by the New York Times—whose reporting last April led to O’Reilly’s precipitous downfall—revealed sexual misconduct allegations against Weinstein stretching over nearly three decades. After being confronted with allegations including sexual harassment and unwanted physical contact, the newspaper reported, Weinstein reached at least eight settlements with women.

According to the Times:

In interviews, eight women described varying behavior by Mr. Weinstein: appearing nearly or fully naked in front of them, requiring them to be present while he bathed or repeatedly asking for a massage or initiating one himself. The women, typically in their early or middle 20s and hoping to get a toehold in the film industry, said he could switch course quickly—meetings and clipboards one moment, intimate comments the next.

In a statement to the Times, Weinstein apologized for his behavior: “I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it. Though I’m trying to do better, I know I have a long way to go.”

Meanwhile, the board of the Weinstein Company—known for such films as Django Unchained, The King’s Speech, and Silver Linings Playbook—announced that Weinstein was taking an indefinite leave of absence; one-third of the board had immediately resigned amid the allegations of rampant sexual harassment by the company’s co-chairman.

The Times story cites a multi-page 2015 memo to company executives by Weinstein employee Lauren O’Connor, which detailed sexual harassment she and other women experienced at the hands of their boss. She wrote:

“There is a toxic environment for women at this company. I am a professional and have tried to be professional. I am not treated that way however. I am sexualized and diminished.

“I am a 28-year old-woman trying to make a living and a career. Harvey Weinstein is a 64-year-old, world famous man and this is his company. The balance of power is me: 0, Harvey Weinstein: 10.

“I am just starting out in my career, and have been and remain fearful about speaking up. But remaining silent is causing me great distress.”

Following a settlement with Weinstein, the Times reported, O’Connor withdrew her complaint six days after sending her memo.

Weinstein is known as a champion of liberal causes, and a donor to Democratic Party candidates. Former President Barack Obama’s eldest daughter Malia interned at the Weinstein Company last summer. Weinstein recently helped endow a faculty chair at Rutgers University in the name of feminist icon Gloria Steinem.

The combined force of power and money was evident in Hollywood’s deafening silence after the scandal broke:

In the wake of the blockbuster Times exposé, The Daily Beast reached out to dozens of prominent actors, actresses, and filmmakers—who both have and have not worked with Weinstein—only to receive many replies of “no comment” and plenty of radio silence.

“Nauseating, chicken-hearted enablers all—all the people who knew and said nothing—and those who are STILL staying silent,” TV personality/writer/chef Anthony Bourdain, one of the few celebrities who did speak out, tweeted in response to the Beast story. Bourdain, who made clear he was not referring to Weinstein’s victims, has 6.45 million Twitter followers.

Update:

“Harvey Weinstein Is Fired After Sexual Harassment Reports” (New York Times headline, October 8, 2017).

The Weinstein Company fired its co-founder Harvey Weinstein on Sunday, after a New York Times investigation uncovered allegations that he had engaged in rampant sexual harassment, dealing a stunning blow to a producer known for shaping American film and championing liberal causes.

 

Taylor Swift’s Story

Music star Taylor Swift is victorious in her effort to hold a prominent Denver radio personality accountable for sexually assaulting her during a publicity event prior to a concert at the Pepsi Center in 2013.

After a jury ruled in her favor on Monday, Swift described her effort as a fight for “anyone who feels silenced by a sexual assault.” Acknowledging that not every victim can afford the “enormous cost” of taking a case to court, she announced that she would donate funds to multiple organizations that provide legal assistance to sexual assault victims. “My hope is to help those whose voices should also be heard,” Swift said.

Swift attorney Douglas Baldridge said the singer is “taking a stand for all women—she’s trying to tell people out there that you can say no when someone grabs you, no matter who they are. I think it’s a new day, because someone with the guts and the courage to stand up with absolutely no upside in doing so—that being Taylor Swift—has told everyone, ‘This is it, the line’s drawn.’ It means ‘no means no,’ and it tells every woman that they will determine what is tolerable to their body.”

The Denver Post quoted Abbey Shaw, a 16-year-old fan who was on hand for the verdict, saying: “She is putting out a message for women like us: Stick up for yourselves.”

The case began when KYGO radio host David Mueller groped Swift, who was 23 at the time, under her skirt during a backstage meet-and-greet photo session. At the trial, she described the incident: “He stayed attached to my bare ass-cheek as I lurched away from him. It was a definite grab. A very long grab.”

Swift chose not to report the incident to police, but her manager informed station executives about the incident. Mueller sued Swift’s team for $3 million for making false allegations and getting him fired. Swift countersued for $1 in symbolic damages to hold Mueller accountable and serve as an example to other women. The jury in the civil case brought in U.S. District Court was apparently swayed by the testimony of eight witnesses supporting Swift’s allegations as well as by a photograph depicting the incident. In civil cases, jurors must reach a verdict based on a preponderance of evidence not proof “beyond a reasonable doubt” as in criminal trials.

Swift wept during the trial, and during her testimony described the shock of having been assaulted: “A light switched off in my personality.” She said she “just looked at the floor. I couldn’t look at either of them [Mueller or his girlfriend], and I just said in monotone, ‘Thanks for coming.’”

Attorney Baldridge said the $1 awarded to Swift represented something of immeasurable value because typically “victims are prone to blink rather than relive the shame and humiliation of what took place. It takes people like Taylor, wonderful people like Taylor, who we all know, to stand up and draw these lines.”