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OPINION: OU School of Drama response to sexual harassment allegations reflect inclination in arts to protect powerful

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Kelsey Ray

Kelsey Ray, a 2012 OU School of Drama graduate.

Editor’s note: Kelsey Ray is a 2012 OU School of Drama graduate. In a recent OU Daily article, she was one of four former students who came forward with sexual harassment allegations against Tom Orr, former School of Drama director and current professor.

It has never been my intention to participate in a smear campaign of any sorts. Rather, I believe that all who participated in the original article did so in a measured and thoughtful way.

Dr. (Judith) Pender has always been one of my favorite professors from my time at OU. I felt that she dealt with situations with a logical and fair-minded approach. Maybe that’s why, when I read the details from her email to the faculty, that I felt so taken aback.

To call into question experiences that for many are deeply personal and hurtful, painting them as “outright lies,” perpetuates the tendency in the arts to protect those in power. For me, my experiences with Tom pale in comparison to the others, and I stand with them and believe them.

But also, as a current teacher now in the arts, teaching students who are roughly the age we were, I can safely say that if I were to talk to my students the same way, I would not only be breaching my code of conduct, but I would also lose my job.

There is a fine line between constructive criticism and a much more damaging territory, and this line was often crossed during my time at the School of Drama. The most important takeaway from this is that words have power, and therefore consequences.

One cannot speak believing they have impunity, nor should students ever excuse away behavior as that’s just him being him, i.e. boys will be boys. It is only through education that the industry can be changed.

If students are taught that sexual comments in nature are the norm, or that you risk an accusation of a smear campaign if you call into question comments that made you uncomfortable, then they will expect the same in the professional world, and demand nothing differently. I also pose the question, what benefit is there to coming forward now, only for it to all be lies?

I’m incredibly grateful to OU Provost Kyle Harper for quickly defending all who have come forward, and hope that it provides comfort for those who have shared, and anyone who has not felt comfortable sharing, that the University, which I love, has not turned its back on you. This continues to highlight the fact that even if something is not your experience, that doesn’t invalidate another’s story.

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