The Greensboro College “It Stops Here” Ethics Train Wreck

Everybody’s unethical here.

As usual, however, it starts at the top.

It Stops HereGreensboro College in North Carolina  adopted a new policy on student sexual misconduct, and it requires all first year students to attend a performance of  a one hour play, “It Stops Here,” written and directed by student Michaela Richards, based upon “accounts of sexual assault submitted by survivors.”

Ethics Foul 1 (Greensboro): A female-authored play based on “survivors” accounts is a one-sided, biased and ideological work by its very nature. Do we know that the real incidents are being fairly represented, or would the claims of a “Mattress Girl” be included? Presumably proof of “sexual assault” is being validated by the infamous “Dear Colleague” letter from the Obama Administration that has led to multiple examples of male students being harshly punished in violation of basic due process principles.  It is entirely written from a woman’s/alleged victim’s point of view, and thus certain to be received as hostile and unfair by male students.

Ethics principles violated: Responsibility, honesty, fairness, competence.

Ethics Foul II (Greensboro): Using a work of fiction to inform students about a policy is incompetent. Fiction is always infused with the viewpoint, agendas and biases of the playwright; in this case, such a work is bound to be political. A sincere effort to instruct students on policy should have no political content at all.

Ethics principles violated: Abuse of power, responsibility, respect, competence.

Ethics Foul III: Forced viewing of a work of art isn’t instruction, but indoctrination. In a play, any audience member should have the option of walking out. This is especially true of a play written and performed by amateurs. “The student actors on stage are telling stories of an extremely sensitive nature that should be viewed in a respectful manner,” the president of the college said. “We expect no less of our students, who should know better than to make light of an extremely serious subject that affects us all.” WRONG. Forcing students to watch a play consisting of a slanted view of the sexual assault issue on campus is not respectful. It is, in fact, an insult and a provocation.

Ethics principles violated (Greensboro): Abuse of power, respect, fairness, prudence, regard for personal autonomy.

When people, especially young people and especially American young people who, thank heaven, are still imbued by the culture with a natural detestation of arrogant authority and the courage to defy it, are commanded to do something they shouldn’t be, like to watch an agitprop play, they tend to resist. They did, too:

Members of the audience frequently heckled the cast and shouted sexually explicit remarks.“Many of the boys started calling out ‘She wanted it, it’s not rape,’ and making masturbation noises,” stage manager Claire Sellers told a local news station. Sellers said the remarks were so excessive that cast members “became physically ill and vomited after the show because they were so vulgar.”

Ethics Foul IV (the Students) : There’s no excuse for this. It’s unfair and rude to the students performing the play, unfair and disrespectful to audience members who might have wanted to see it, and an undemocratic use of the “heckler’s veto.”

Ethics principles violated: Respect, civility, fairness, tolerance, the Golden Rule

Ethics Foul V (Greensboro) : No student cast should have been placed in this position. One of the play’s performers, Emily Parker, told theater blogger and professor Howard Sherman that the attendees seemed to upset about being forced to see the play. Ya think, Emily? I’d be upset about being forced to see any play, if I didn’t want to.

Ethics principles violated: Responsibility, competence, caring, empathy

Ethics Foul VI (The Production, the Playwright and  Greensboro) :  Incredibly, the publicity for the play includes a trigger warning:

This play contains information about sexual assault and violence that may be triggering to survivors.

There you have it: utter hypocrisy and inherent disrespect of one group in favor of another. The point of trigger warnings is to allow those who are so resistant to challenging images and ideas to avoid being upset by them if they choose. What of the compelled, involuntray audience members who are “triggered”?  What are they supposed to do, close their eyes and stick their fingers in their ears? Some students are (ridiculously) warned lest their sensitivities be tweaked, but for the first year students forced to watch the play, such sensitivity to their sensitivities is discarded. What about the emotions triggered by a school making them watch bad amateur theater at virtual gunpoint, and the campus hostility to them that this conveys?

Ethics principles violated: Competence, integrity, fairness,  responsibility, respect, empathy, loyalty

Ethics Foul VII (Faculty) : Apparently faculty members who attended the performance just sat back and allowed the catcalls and disruption.

Ethics principles violated: Competence, diligence, responsibility

Now the college, according to its president, is determined to discipline the disruptive students base on a claim of alleged sexual harassment.

Says Samanatha Harris, a director of policy at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE):

“If the charge were disruption, there wouldn’t be an issue here… it’s extremely unlikely a few isolated comments could rise to the level of severity and pervasiveness required for sexual harassment.”

I’ll go further than that: this can’t be sexual harassment. The actors were not being harassed themselves, their characters were. Sexually harassing a fictional character isn’t sexual harassment. Is the claim going to be that this was so-called third party sexual harassment, where an observer of harassment of another individual is made to feel unsafe and in a hostile environment? That’s a stretch. What was said at the play was criticism of a work of art—rude, inappropriate, disruptive criticism deserving reasonable sanctions, but not sexual harassment.

Moreover, the new policy specifically says that it “will not be used to restrict academic freedom or constitutionally protected free speech or expression.” A captive audience expressing its opinion that a play stinks is free speech and academic freedom.

Ethics Foul VIII (Greensboro): The administration is excessively punishing students for a situation that the school created by its own incompetence, arrogance, poor planning, bias and disrespect for students

Ethics principles violated: Competence, accountability, trust, diligence, abuse of power, responsibility, fairness, respect, hypocrisy

Verdict: An all around ethics botch.

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12 thoughts on “The Greensboro College “It Stops Here” Ethics Train Wreck

  1. If I had the courage, I’d start a rival show at the other end of the auditorium or maybe a poker tournament. The school is compelling them to come, but really cannot compel them to watch it. What if some did a comedy improv show that wins the attention of the audience? If that show is required, I could see a rape survivor suing that they are being required to watch something with a trigger warning.

    And frankly, if they want to teach they need to make a program and show that appeals to the people they want to convert to their view. A lecture, a forced beating about the head with something they are reluctant to watch will not change the students’ minds. Do they want to watch up close and graphic shows about the pain of STDs or torture in the 21st century? Make a funny and memorable show that includes the lesson below the good stuff, funny and/or dramatic. That will be a tough balance.This whole project is wasted effort. And the people who already agree don’t need to be forced, Unless it really is a very bad play, this would only harden their audience.

    Along with the rights for free speech is the implied right to be free of speech. I see the right to privacy and to be left alone is growing into a big issue, like the anti spam and anti-robocallers action.

  2. Jack: I have to confess that for years – even before I started following your blog – I have struggled with accepting the concept “abuse of power.”

    The term frankly grates on me, because power is not a victim. But people are often victims of other persons who use their power for harm. The simplification to “abuse of power” has, in my mind, a de-personalizing effect and a consequent connotation or suggestion that “perhaps no one is, or can be, accountable for the ill effects of how [power X] was used.” Also, I have long felt that it is important to distinguish between people who are abused by other persons’ use of the power they truly deserve to have, and people who are abused by others who usurp power they do not deserve to have or use.

    Not “abuse of power” – “abusive use of power”

    Here is what works for me: I avoid using that term, “abuse of power.” I remind myself, every time I see it, that what’s really going on is that people are being abused by other people’s exercise of power. That power may be legitimately owned or vested in the abuser, or, it may be power that the abuser has usurped. Therefore, I remind myself, every time I see the term “abuse of power,” that people are being harmed by what I call “abusive use of power.” I am at peace with substituting that slightly different phrase. It helps me to allow for those persons with power to have and use whatever power is legitimately (ethically) theirs, yet not tolerate either (1) their exercise of that power to abuse other persons, or (2) their usurpation of power that they do not deserve to have, to inflict further abuse.

  3. When are these brain dead administrators going to learn that forcing students to watch a propaganda play is a formula for disaster. I had an experience many years ago at a high school where the radical black students union put on a play which all students were forced to watch in an assembly. It was a long agitprop play focusing on exploration of blacks and about 70% of the students were Hispanic. The auditorium air conditioning wasn’t working and finally the Hispanic students had had enough. Booing, catcalls, and eventually fights broke out between the different racial groups. The fallout was that the radical black teachers who wrote the play were suspended from duty and were transferred to different schools and many of the students were suspended.

  4. Regarding the trigger warning, there’s more. Let’s assume a certain percentage of the class HAS been sexually assaulted previously – men included (the homophobia of the hecklers bodes ill for them). The last thing any of them would want is to be targeted as having been raped, set apart from their peers (these are as-yet disconnected freshmen, right?), objects of curiosity, unwanted sympathy, and prime meat for predators. Most would probably choose not to be reminded of it. They’re not likely to speak up and opt out (what odds on them then being sent for forced “counseling?”). No, they’ll sit through the play, quietly, disturbed. What a disgustingly cruel thing for the school administration to do.

    An interesting audience inclusion, however. From the linked report: the play was “mandatory for all incoming freshmen at Greensboro, as well as for some older student-athletes who were required to attend by coaches”.

  5. The reaction of the students was definitely rude and uncalled for. One is tempted to excuse it given the idiocy and arrogance displayed by the administration in subjecting them to this, but vulgarity is not the proper way to handle it. Doing homework, texting or reading a racy novel- all in studious disregard of the moronic production onstage- would have made the point better. All they did was manage to drag themselves down below the level of the educators themselves.

    You have to wonder what the administration’s response will be to this obvious unfavorable reaction, though. Might they simply give an orientation where the dean welcomes them, tells them of the proud history of their college and abjures them to behave with courtesy and respect for one another as befits adults? Or will they give a performance of the “Vagina Monologues”, since this other play was inadequate?! Given their apparent lack of good sense, I fear the latter.

    • The administrators wouldn’t have noticed passive resistance. They needed something they couldn’t ignore. Continuous booing would have been more appropriate, however.

  6. “The student actors on stage are telling stories of an extremely sensitive nature that should be viewed in a respectful manner,”

    This attitude in theater really pisses me off. It grows out of the arrogance of some performers who want the audience to come in, sit quietly , laugh in only the right places, cry where they are suppose to do so and then jump to their feet at the end in wild applause. Any reaction by the audience that does not fit precisely into what the performer thinks is correct is seen as being out of line.

    I say bullshit. The actor doesn’t get to predetermine exactly what the audience feels or does. The audience is a much a part of the performance as the actors putting it on. They get feel what ever they want , react how they want and if they don’t like something walk out or not applaud at the end.

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