In two open letters, students, staff and alumni of the University of Toronto Faculty of Music have accused the institution of routinely ignoring investigations of sexual assault, racism, and more. The status quo, they say, is a culture of abuse and intimidation.
The first open letter contains serious allegations of both sexual abuse and assault, and essentially an institution that ignored it, affecting the Faculty as a whole. The list of names on the letter is both long and convincing, with hundreds of signatories, and comes from all levels of the Faculty of Music from students to prominent faculty members, including Associate Deans, and members of the Registrar’s Office.
They paint a disturbing portrait of a learning institution where faculty members could sexually harass students with little to no repercussions to their careers, even in cases of repeated allegations.
Among the details:
- More than 40 separate stories were submitted detailing sexual harassment and abuse
- At least three statements come from students who turned down an offer of acceptance from UofT because they’d already heard about the culture of abuse
“Since I began at U of T and for years before, a colleague consistently harassed nearly every woman in the theory department with varying degrees of threat/severity over the course of several years. Although individual profs were supportive and tried to help us, he was reported to the senior administration over and over and still nothing changed, and we were left to try to protect each other and figure out ways to deal with it on our own. I know I had it “easy” compared to others, but I was still scared to come into the building at times because I knew he would be there and I knew that if something happened I would have no protection — because if the administration wouldn’t help my friends, what chance did I have? It broke my heart to see the people I care about suffer, and to know that this person likely targeted undergraduates too, who are even more vulnerable, and to know that there was nothing that we could do because the faculty refused to protect its students.” (UofT music student [name withheld])
Messages of support and solidarity come from numerous current and former faculty members, including Midori Koga, Monica Whicher, James Parker, and Krisztina Szabo. The letter was initiated by Faculty of Music Undergraduate Association President Ines Wong, Fourth Year, Comprehensive, and follows months of similar, and largely anonymous, claims on social media.
Allegations of racism ignored
By way of a separate Instagram post, BIPOC women from the UofT Jazz faculty point to their own experiences with racism.
“After a year of work, we feel compelled to make a joint statement with #thisisartschool about our time as the only POC women faculty members at UofT Jazz and our Anti-Racism work with UofT’s Faculty of Music.
“It is not an understatement to say that we have both experienced psychological abuse and discrimination from UofT Jazz and the FoM. We are choosing to break this toxic cycle of abuse.
“We are hurt that our names are posted on the UofT Jazz Anti-Racism, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion document on the UfoT Jazz website to exemplify change and progress when we have experienced:
“TRAUMA, EXHAUSTION, BULLYING, GASLIGHTING, ISOLATION, FEAR, AND INTIMIDATION”
The multi-slide post details several specific allegations, such as being excluded from an Anti-Racism and Equity committee meeting. As in the case of sexual abuse, the letter writers say the institution failed to act on repeated allegations, or replied with bureaucratic responses that went nowhere.
“Encouraging us to voice our concerns to faculty members who are unwilling to listen is not an action item. Referring us through administrative pathways that were created to suppress us is not an action item.”
As the first letter notes, the issues in discussion are pervasive throughout the music industry, and as they point out, “Silence is complicity”.
“The culture of misogyny and harassment at the Faculty of Music has been allowed to continue for too long. “Small issues” are seen as poor collegiality and “large issues” are buried under University red-tape. Women of all ages are not safe. This needs to stop.” (Elizabeth McDonald, Alumni & Faculty, Voice Performance)
Among the recommendations:
- Prioritize and enhance student safety with concrete commitments and actions, including open communications between students, Faculty, and Admin
- A systemic review performed by an external organization to pinpoint the specific issues that result in maintaining an abusive culture, as well as the ways in which power is abused
- Mandatory consent training for Faculty, staff, and students
- Beefing up the role of the in-house Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Officer
Despite its content, the letter initiated by the Faculty of Music Undergraduate Association ends on a hopeful note.
“While we recognize that the Faculty of Music is part of a larger problem that affects the global community, we also recognize the institution’s ability to instigate positive change. As the leading music program in Canada — and as an institution set within the most diverse city in Canada — the University of Toronto Faculty of Music has the potential to become a world leader in breaking through the systemic inequalities which plague the music industry. We as students choose to stand against oppression and inequality; we hope that by taking action, the Faculty of Music will stand with us as a driving force for positive change.”
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