Trigger warning: This story contains descriptions of sexual harassment and violence.
Those who spent time with John Scamehorn remember one consistent behavior: he was always taking pictures.
“He was at every event with a camera — I was kind of told, you know, he’s a donor. He gives money, and that’s why he’s on campus, and he’s harmless and just loves the arts. Theatre people are really opening, and we’re the kind of people that don’t turn others away. I think he took advantage of that, and that was how he was able to be around. I thought this was a lonely person looking for community.”
This is how one former OU arts student, who asked to remain anonymous, remembers her first experience with Scamehorn, an OU professor emeritus, who this week has been accused of sexual harassment by at least four former OU arts students during his time involved with the OU’s Weitzenhoffer School of Arts as a donor. When she first got to know Scamehorn, he was obsessed with taking pictures at OU arts events. Gabrielle Reyes, another former OU drama student, said she also had similar experiences with Scamehorn, who previously served as a professor of chemical engineering at OU since the 1980s.
“He would always be at every opening night. He would always be front row center, and he would always be there to take pictures of us. At first, I loved it because these photos were the ones I was using to share on Facebook and Instagram and Twitter,” Reyes said. “These were my cherished moments — a celebration with my best friends and my new friends. He would always be taking photos, and we never saw anything wrong with it at the time.”
But, in February 2016, Reyes said a friend who worked for Scamehorn discovered a large file of photoshopped images of numerous women from OU’s school of drama and said the pictures depicted OU students’ faces photoshopped onto bodies of people in “disturbing” positions. Reyes said the pictures haunt her, and she has issues getting them out of her head.
University press secretary Matt Epting told The Daily in a statement on June 4 that the university severed employment ties with Scamehorn in February 2016, but that he still retains the title of OU professor emeritus and has access to benefits afforded to any other university retiree. Epting would not say why employment ties were severed with Scamehorn in 2016. Scamehorn, who The Daily has left two voicemails for and received no response, was scheduled to speak at an academic symposium in the Oklahoma Memorial Union on June 6 but withdrew from participation.
Darryl Cox, an adjunct professor in the Helmerich School of Drama, was an associate producer on Scamehorn’s film “Pax Masculina.” “Pax Masculina” is a film set in a dystopian world where men have complete control over women, but a group of women rebel against the patriarchal government. During production of the movie, Cox usually saw Scamehorn holding a personal camcorder and would separately film fight scenes involving the female leads, which Cox said he found odd. Cox and other workers on the film eventually confronted Scamehorn about the plot of the film, as Cox said they believed the original script focused too much on a “fetish” Scamehorn appeared to have for women being hanged.
“He was very upset at me because I, as associate producer, was kind of the "actors advocate" on the set, and I stated the actresses, when they were on the rigs, could only be up there for five minutes because I knew he was itching to show a lot of long footage of the actresses — of the characters slowly strangulating,” Cox said. “I was not going to let that happen, so I said they could only be up there for five minutes at a time. He was very upset with me for doing that.”
Cox said the first script had to be rewritten by the film’s director. Cox said he remembered a confrontation with Scamehorn while filming the hanging scenes since Scamehorn was angry the girls would not actually feel pressure around their necks during the filming.
The woman who met Scamehorn during her time at OU said Scamehorn once cornered her on the North Oval to ask her questions about a play she had recently starred in involving nudity and depicting a rape scene. Scamehorn told her he thought the rape scene was “not violent enough” and asked the woman if her father came to see the show and how he felt about seeing her partially nude. The woman also said Scamehorn messaged her privately on Facebook some time later and commented that she played “a perfect rape victim.”
“I was angry, and I was really sickened because it was clear that was something he got pleasure from watching,” the woman said. “That was not the purpose of the scene. It was such a perversion of everything about it, and the fact that he sent that to me in a private message at all was disgusting.”
The woman said she felt alone and cornered that day on the North Oval when she was approached by Scamehorn. Cox said Scamehorn is calculating and makes sure to only act inappropriately in front of young girls and not in front of others.
“You’ll hear a lot of people saying they didn’t personally see him do anything. I want you to note that almost all of the people who say that are men, and I want to point out that of course men didn’t see him do anything — he didn’t want us to see him doing anything specific in the realm of sexual harassment,” Cox said. “He was very clever. He would always back off when confronted about misogynistic behavior. I feel very confident that these women that are reporting this are absolutely to be believed.”
In February 2016, the same month the university severed ties with Scamehorn for undisclosed reasons, when Scamehorn’s photoshopped images were revealed, Reyes was deeply upset and didn’t know what to do, and she felt she would not be heard by officials within the school of arts.
“I was so disturbed — the day that I found out, I cried, and I called my sister, parents and anybody who would listen to me and not think I was crazy for being freaked the f--- out,” Reyes said. “Because I felt so taken advantage of just by being at the school and being in those shows that I prided myself so highly on, those that my parents would come to.”
But now, as more people lend their support and tell stories of Scamehorn’s actions on Facebook and other social media outlets, Reyes said she has no reason to be silent on the issue.
“I just want to speak my truth, and I have an incredible life — I have no need to hold my tongue. I have the success I need. I don’t need to be silent.”