A liberal arts college in North Carolina is pledging to identify and potentially punish students who heckled a play about sexual assault the college forced them to attend.
“It Stops Here,” an original play produced by students at Greensboro College, was first performed last Wednesday before a crowd of students, but the performance didn’t go as planned. According to people at the play, 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.”
Sellers also criticized school faculty members, saying some were near the hecklers but did nothing to stop them.
Notably, though, the hecklers do not appear to have been invading the performance to disrupt it. Rather, attendance at 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.
One of the play’s performers, Emily Parker, told theater blogger and professor Howard Sherman that the attendees were apparently unhappy about being forced to see the play.
“A particular group of boys was talking rudely,” said Parker. “They were talking loudly about how they didn’t want to be there and how they thought he [the male actor] was gay. Typical teenage boy stuff. ‘He’s so gay’.”
Greensboro has responded firmly, not only condemning the playgoers’ heckling but promising to punish it. Severely, if necessary.
The college says it has launched an investigation under Title IX, the federal law banning sex discrimination in education.
“Under our new Sexual Misconduct policy, the comments that have been reported qualify as sexual harassment,” said college president Lawrence Czarda in a campuswide email. “The college is pursuing a formal complaint of sexual misconduct against the students and is working to identify them. Upon results of the investigation, those found responsible will face disciplinary consequences.” What sort of consequences the students could face is unclear, but the school’s penalties for sexual harassment go all the way up to expulsion.
Greensboro’s student code of conduct describes sexual harassment as follows:
“For general policy purposes, sexual harassment may be described as unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other physical or expressive conduct of a sexual nature where:
1. submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly as a term or condition of an individual’s employment or education;
2. submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as a basis for academic or employment decisions affecting the individual; or
3. such conduct has the purpose or effect of interfering with an individual’s academic or professional performance, or of creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive employment or educational environment.
Presumably, Greensboro’s classification of the heckling as sexual harassment is based on the third definition, although it’s legally unclear whether disrupting a theatrical performance truly qualifies as creating a hostile “employment or educational environment.”
Samanatha Harris, a director of policy at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), criticized the school for seeking to classify the heckling as harassment rather than simple disruptive behavior.
“If the charge were disruption, there wouldn’t be an issue here,” Harris told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “[But] it’s extremely unlikely a few isolated comments could rise to the level of severity and pervasiveness required for sexual harassment.”
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