Everybody’s unethical here.
As usual, however, it starts at the top.
Greensboro 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.