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Accountability for widespread abuse of students at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

Accountability for widespread abuse of students at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland

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This petition has been created by jee c. and may not represent the views of the Avaaz community.
jee c.
started this petition to
Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
This is a petition calling for the Senior Management Team at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland (RCS) to assume responsibility for numerous cases of widespread abuse faced by students.

This movement has arisen from an open letter which details the RCS’ failure to duly address an official complaint put forward by an initial group of ten students which was upheld in March 2019. the RCS has taken pains to ensure that this complaint has been kept highly confidential, silencing us as students by citing school policies which have been as coercive as they have been vague. We intend to publicly state our present position regarding this longstanding issue which has severely impacted our experiences as students and overall wellbeing. One of the greatest lessons we have learnt since embarking on this complaint process lies in recognising the importance of speaking back to institutional violence, and have come to firmly believe in contributing to a wider dialogue surrounding systemic abuse and structural oppression.

On 28 October 2019, a post shared on Facebook highlighting this initial complaint drew attention from numerous students, staff and members of the public. From the comments and reactions to this post, it became clear that our complaint represents a mere handful of student abuse cases amongst a much wider pool of many others, including staff and external employees. We stand in solidarity with these individuals who have since come forward with their own testimonies of discrmination and abuse they suffered during their time at the RCS. It is with and through this sickening realisation that we seek your support in prompting the RCS to finally take the necessary steps in effecting real change such that no one else will become yet another victim of discrimination and abuse in this school.

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On 1 February 2019, ten students from the BA (Hons) Contemporary Performance Practice (CPP) programme at the RCS filed an official complaint via the Conservatoire’s complaint procedure. The complaint filed was based on numerous incidents of abusive and unprofessional conduct displayed by members of staff on the CPP programme and in particular, its course leader Prof. Deborah Richardson-Webb. The complaint filed was supported by written statements, amounting to a total of 103 pages, comprising detailed accounts of the different instances of abuse suffered by students within the context of the CPP programme. An investigation panel was formed, comprising Alan Smith (director of finance), Dr. Gordon Munro (director of music) and Suzanne Daly (academic registrar) who reviewed the supporting statements over the course of six weeks.

On 14 March 2019, Dr. Munro confirmed the outcome of the panel’s findings that Prof. Richardson-Webb had breached the Conservatoire’s Dignity at Work and Study Policy, citing at least six instances. He issued a letter which confirmed that the complaint had been upheld to each of the ten students as well as Prof. Richardson-Webb, Prof. Hugh Hodgart (director of drama, dance, production and film) and Jackie Russell (director of human resources). However, that was all which was communicated. No one knows, for example, in which six instances did Prof. Richardson-Webb breach Conservatoire policy or how they arrived at their conclusions. From the very beginning, the institution has taken pains to remind us throughout this entire process that a strict policy of confidentiality had to be maintained. We complied throughout. Upon reflection, however, we recognise that this had been a crucial means with which the institution ensured our silence. A list of outcomes which we sent in as recommendations for the institution to pursue as a result of the successful complaint was merely ‘received with thanks’. Nothing further was heard of it.

On 22 March 2019, we received letters personally addressed to each of us from Prof. Hodgart providing a summative statement of the process and directives to us as to how he believed things should have proceeded from that point on. His ideas are disappointing and indeed humiliating to our efforts, reflecting zero consideration for the enormous emotional trauma we had endured and labour we had exercised in undertaking that process. In his letter, he provided no suggestion of any outcome to the complaint whatsoever. There was also no reference to the outcomes which we had recommended just a week earlier. The stress, anger and pain which had been brought to bear in our statements was completely disregarded. In order to demonstrate how we find the inaction on the part of the RCS senior management team to be downright unacceptable, we have decided to outline six instances based on our statements where Prof. Richardson-Webb might have possibly breached the Conservatoire’s Dignity at Work and Study Policy, here. You can find details surrounding the below points at the post shared on Facebook here:

https://www.facebook.com/egan.chan.5/posts/2728437857207663

Trigger Warnings: (Systemic) Ableism, Abortion, Mental Health, Mental Illness, (Systemic) Racism, Sexism, Sexual Assault, Anti-Trans Bigotry

1. Physical intimidation

2. Disparaging casual remarks on student experiences of abortion and unsafe mentoring practices

3. Multiple disparaging casual remarks on student experiences of mental illness

4. Actively and consciously misgendering trans-identifying students

5. Deeply unprofessional conduct towards sexual assault survivors and blatant disregard for their lived experiences and / or trauma

6. All-white (and all-cisgender) staff team mainly comprised of CPP graduates selected by Prof. Richardson-Webb. This results in a gross inability to acknowledge the unique position of people of colour on the CPP programme, and the racism they experience within it


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All of us felt a clear need to ensure that these cases of abuse - and many more - had to be acknowledged and addressed by the RCS. However, what had proven to be an extremely complicated and tedious complaint process, in addition to our regular coursework, deterred us from following up with Prof Hodgart’s letter of 22 March 2019. We were disappointed that he chose to devote his letter to telling us how we all have to protect the CPP programme as “a unique and precious asset not solely for the RCS but for our culture and our country”, repeating how the whole complaint had to remain “strictly confidential”, and how it is essential that “everyone involved behaves with scrupulous professionalism towards everyone else in the CPP community”.

We decided to take a pause and credulously expected that during this time, Prof. Hodgart would, as he stated in his letter, write to us again “in due course to confirm what future steps will be necessary for everyone involved to achieve the ‘re-establishment of trust’ … as a priority.”

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Close to half a year had passed and there had been no response from Prof. Hodgart nor his colleagues. On 9 September 2019, Chan Teck Guan Egan sent an email to Prof. Hodgart demanding that he respond by 13 September 2019.

From Prof Hodgart’s response of 13 September 2019, it is painfully clear that there continues to be no accountability for us as students and the abuse we have faced. There is no stated apology for failing to follow up “in due course”. It is us as students who exercised unpaid emotional labour to file a complaint and bring our abuse to light, who are expected to continue to perform further labour and advise the institution as to how we have suffered detriment on this process so that they can begin to investigate. Our inquiry into the RCS’ dismal E&D infrastructure to address the long-standing BAME attainment gap as well as an immediate and comprehensive review of the existing complaints process were met with one-liner statements of how “HR is looking into this”. He refuses to comment further on our views regarding Prof. Richardson-Webb’s suitability for her role in spite of all that she has perpetrated as well as condoned under her purview. His statement that he cannot accede to our request for compensation as “we were not treated detrimentally in relation to our process and the programme was delivered”, is categorically irresponsible.

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This open letter calls upon the Senior Management Team of the RCS to be accountable and transparent in implementing regulatory and policy changes in order to adequately address the grave discrimination and abuse faced by so many students on the CPP programme under the leadership of Prof. Richardson-Webb amongst other students. It is crucial to note that there are numerous others, current and past students of the CPP programme, who have experienced abuse on the basis of race, gender, disability, age and sexual orientation and whose testimonies are not accounted for within the process we are presently undertaking. Our group is unique in that we organised ourselves as an initial group of ten people who filed an official complaint supported by written statements. Others may not have had the mutual support we have experienced as a result of coming together, to summon the immense energy necessary to put their testimonies on the record. In this way we consider ourselves privileged and hope that our struggle can serve as a platform for those who would feel inspired to speak their truth as well.

We have hereby established a list of revised demands:

1. A public, formal acknowledgement from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland regarding the systemic abuse (including but not limited to racism, misogyny, ableism, queerphobia, transphobia) faced by those involved in the complaint as well as those whose voices are not heard in the complaint but have experienced similar violence both within the CPP programme and across the school, past and present.

2. For the academic board to grant mitigation in assessment processes to students involved in this complaints procedure, including but not limited to the exclusion of Prof. Richardson-Webb from issuing these students grades and feedback.

3. A transparent and comprehensive account, i.e. having clear key performance indicators (KPIs) and clear timelines of how the Senior Management Team of the RCS intend to:

A. deliver mandatory anti-oppression training for senior management, heads of department and lecturers on unconscious bias including but not limited to anti-racist teaching and learning (within an institution where less than 5% of the permanent staff body self-identify as BAME).

B. recruit a team of paid, full-time staff who will address long-term structural issues relating to race (e.g. the long-standing BAME attainment gap) in collaboration with the Students' Union. This does not include the current (sole) E&D officer, Roz Caplan, who faces a critical lack of support in her role and therefore has in turn been unable to effectively address and advocate for the numerous cases of systemic abuse both within and outside of the CPP programme. This team should be led by a BAME-identifying academic and begin with a Conservatoire-wide audit on the experiences of BAME students and staff.

C. establish a Hate Crime Reporting Centre and feedback channel with a centralised disciplinary system across the RCS. Reporting of hate crimes must be strictly anonymous, victim-led and cannot necessitate direct confrontation of the perpetrator.

D. revise the existing complaints process which has proven itself to be by far inadequate. The process which we have undertaken as outlined by the RCS’ complaints procedure has been needlessly traumatic for us as students who are invariably subject to an imbalance of power when filing a complaint against a senior member of staff.

4. Offer reparations to those who have suffered discrimination and abuse either as student or staff / external employee at the RCS. Prof. Hodgart’s insistence that compensation cannot be offered because “the programme was delivered” to us as students is roundly fallacious in its refusal to acknolwedge how, as a result of the malpractice of Prof. Richardson-Webb and her staff team, the RCS has breached its contract to provide us with an adequate standard of tuition. We firmly maintain that the abuse suffered by us as students has had a severe negative impact on our learning and wellbeing, denying us the full opportunity to participate in the teaching offered.


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“In the transformation of silence into language and action, it is vitally necessary to teach by living and speaking those truths which we believe and know beyond understanding. Because in this way alone we can survive, by taking part in a process of life that is creative and continuing, that is growth." - Audre Lorde (1980)

sincerely,

Chan Teck Guan Egan
Ewan Keith-Driver
Rosslyn May Trewin Marshall
Angel Ng
Charlotte Statham
and other anonymous students