Nameless male lecturer sexually exploits Edna Manley College students?

Grounds of the Edna Manley College of the Visual Arts, 2018

#MeToo has finally reached Jamaica’s shores with a number of female students at Edna Manley College of Visual Art accusing a male lecturer of sexual harassment. According to some reports these complaints span a decade, yet the lecturer, Winston Campbell, has continued teaching there, suggesting that the college, for reasons best known to itself, did not take the allegations seriously. 

A Gleaner article quoted a student who said:

“A lot of people have come forward with written and verbal statements in the past, but they have not gone anywhere,” a student who was allegedly sexually harassed by the same lecturer told The Sunday Gleaner.

“This has been going on now for years, and other students and teachers have brought it to the attention of the dean and the principal, and it has all gone unnoticed … swept under the rug and they kind of just – well, they haven’t done anything; he is still here. They are aware of what he has been doing and they haven’t done anything about it.”

Part of the outdoor theatre at EMSVA

According to my sources at the college, this situation would have continued indefinitely had it not been for an American lecturer, Professor Maluwa Meshane Williams-Myers, who–shocked by the number of students who complained to her about their sexual exploitation, and more conscientious it appears than her local colleagues–decided to blow the whistle. As she told a Gleaner reporter:

“I have known about four or five of the cases involving students. Some of them have had their hair grabbed. Some have been asked questions or told, ‘I can’t wait until you are old enough to have sex with.’ Others, basically, if you don’t do this for me, you are not going to have a good grade … a passing grade,” she told The Sunday Gleaner in graphic detail.

These are serious allegations yet Campbell was sent on leave only in late May this year after the Gleaner reported on the students’ plight, and the Board of the College was informed for the first time of the dire situation female students there faced. One is almost sure that if genders had been reversed and it was an older female lecturer preying on young male students, or a male lecturer preying on male students, action would have been taken long ago. 

Taken at the 2018 graduation exhibition at EMSVA

This case raises serious questions about the predicament of women in Jamaican society. Does the laxness with which the complaints of female students was treated suggest an entrenched belief that women’s bodies should be available for the sexual satisfaction of men? Does the scrupulousness with which the alleged perpetrator of these misdemeanours has been shielded in media reports—he remains unnamed–suggest a disturbing capitulation to the power and privilege of men in this society? 

In the absence of the naming of the person against whom all these allegations have been lodged public fury has been directed at the female principal of the college and two other female administrators. But even here questions remain. Shouldn’t a statement be demanded from the current Academic Director of the School of Visual Arts, Miriam Hinds Smith? And if allegations that this state of affairs has been going on for a decade are true, also from the one before her? Shouldn’t both be held accountable just as much as the Principal? They were surely aware of these complaints. Could they both kindly let the public know why they decided not to do anything about these complaints? And why they remain silent in the face of evidence of longstanding violation of the rights of female students? Are they afraid to speak? 

Not only have the institution and those who run it failed their female students, Jamaican media have as well. For by refusing to name the person who is alleged to have violated so many of them, they are sending the message that the rights of women to grant or not grant access to their bodies is not as important as the right of an alleged predator to protect himself against their accusations. If only Jamaican society believed in the right of women to remain inviolate as fervently as it believes in the seemingly supreme right of parties accused of sexual misconduct to an unblemished reputation!

Incidentally, I was informed by a lawyer that there is nothing at all in Jamaica’s Sexual Offenses Act that limits naming an alleged perpetrator of sexual violence while there is a raft of proscriptions against naming or identifying the victims or complainants in such cases. Both national newspapers therefore need to explain the excessive delicacy with which they have treated the accused.

Most dismaying has been the reaction of many who work at Edna Manley College whose first instinct was to insist on the integrity of the institution, all evidence to the contrary, rather than empathize with the victims of the harassment. It was reassuring therefore to read the following plea made by Lecturer in the School of Arts Management & Humanities, Owen ‘Blakka’ Ellis, M.E.S.

…why are we not loudly asserting a commitment to trust complainants in any case of alleged sexual misconduct and articulate our assurance that such complainants will be cared for and supported  while we seek to follow due process and investigate the validity of their reports?

Let us speak louder in empathy.We owe it to all women. We owe it to the great woman in whose honour the college is named. We owe it the women of Sistren – a renowned group of activist women whose genesis began at this college. We owe it to our sisters and daughters and granddaughters.    

Policing rape culture

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Gleaner column 3/1/2018

Looking back on 2017 one thing stands out. Jamaica was way ahead of the curve in what would become the most significant social disruptor, globally, in recent years—breaking the silence on sexual harassment and rape culture.  As far back as early 2017 a young local activist, Latoya Nugent, had the gumption to start the #SayTheirNames campaign in Jamaica accompanied by a list of offenders who had been named by young girls and women as their violators. For this she was vilified and treated like an enemy of the state, with six assault rifle-bearing members of the Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency (MOCA) descending on Mary Seacole Hall at the University of the West Indies to arrest her.

The actions of Latoya Nugent, and her close allies Nadine Spence, Taitu Heron and others gave rise to what is now known as The Tambourine Army because in accusing the then leader of the Moravian Church, Paul Gardner, Nugent tapped him on the head with a tambourine. This caused several senior activists and journalists to harshly criticize the tactics of the younger generation of activists, on the grounds that their modus operandi was too militant and they were using violence to make their point. Never mind the far more serious violence these women were protesting, assault with a tambourine became a thing in Jamaica.

In India too a young lawyer named Raya Sarkar started a growing ‘hall of shame’ list of names of sexual predators leading to a remarkably similar fallout between an older generation of feminists and a younger, more impatient one, tired of waiting for ‘due process’ to trip in. Like Nugent’s list in Jamaica care was taken to ensure that complaints about sexual predation were registered based on evidence corroborating the accusation. The difference was that the Indian list came in the wake of the phenomenally successful US-based #MeToo campaign in October 2017 whereas the Tambourine Army and the #SayTheirNames campaign in Jamaica were already in full swing by February 2017.

The problem of rape in Jamaica is not new. According to artist Judy Ann Macmillan her mother, Vida J. Macmillan, did her best to change the rape laws of Jamaica in the 70s with continuous letters to the Gleaner. The punishment in her day for raping a child was twelve lashes. Judy Ann grew up on the story that her mother had even tried to talk to Edna Manley about it and Edna’s response was “If you are about to be raped dear I think you should lie down and enjoy it.” Mind you those were the days of the ideology wars and Vida and Edna came from opposite sides of that divide.

The sheer number of women and children routinely being sexually violated even today points to a pervasive ‘rape culture’ that is so deeply ingrained and accepted that there is hardly any outcry against it. Most women don’t even bother to report their rapes because of the tortuous procedures involved that make them relive the trauma in the process of being interviewed by police and legal personnel bristling with disbelief and completely lacking in empathy. Nor is this a local problem only. As @LauraOlin tweeted “Why women don’t report: 60 women give the same account of Bill Cosby and a jury still can’t agree that he raped anyone.”

Latoya Nugent was ahead of her time in the stellar championing of victims’ rights to call out their aggressors by name. So important did a similar movement become in the US only months later that Time magazine named as its persons of the year, The Silence Breakers—the women who had the courage to speak to the New York Times about their sexual exploitation at the hands of Hollywood mogul, Harvey Weinstein.

Meanwhile I heard a local journalist complaining that he preferred the hashtag #MeToo to #SayTheirNames because the latter was too confrontational. Yet as a vice.com article titled The Trouble With Saying ‘Me Too’ pointed out: “For each of us who have been raped, assaulted or harassed, there is at least one rapist, at least one abuser. These are the people who need to be held accountable, instead of survivors being put on trial to prove their assaults were bad enough to count for something.” In France, the campaign used the hashtag #BalanceTonPorc – roughly translated as “snitch out your pig” a far more hard-hitting and unflattering tag than #SayTheirNames.

Naming those who injure you is important, breaking harmful silences is crucial. Let the Tambourine Army do its work. As an anonymous supporter of Nugent’s said, “Men will hear tambourines shake in their heads anytime they feel tempted to touch a woman or child, and they will think twice. They are the ones who will be afraid.”