We Need to Talk About the Elephant on Campus (the One Wearing the Woody Allen Mask)

Arts and Culture

Photo courtesy of Savannah Lyon

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Imagine a world where those who sexually assault, diminish, and oppress aren’t allowed to get away with what they have done, regardless of their status, power, or wealth. If it is hard to imagine it is because it is contrary to what we have always known. For so long, abusers have been protected by their celebrity, influence, and position. However, I am fighting for a world where we are all held accountable for our actions; it is what survivors fight for every day. So, what does this have to do with UC San Diego? Well, UCSD has a problem and its name is Woody Allen.

“The Films of Woody Allen,” or TDGE 122, has been offered at UCSD since the late 1990’s. It is devoted to Woody Allen’s filmmaking and “influence” in the modern art world and it has been taught by the same professor, Steven Adler, since the beginning. This same class is offered for Winter Quarter 2018.

Woody Allen keeps coming up in the news, for good reason. He is a prime example of everything that is wrong about our society and celebrity culture because he exemplifies the lack of punishment and accountability assaulters receive when they hold positions of power. A quick Google search will reveal the ways in which his star status is finally dimming as Hollywood finally sheds light on sexual assault in the industry which is also pervasive in society at large. Actors are donating the money they made from starring in Allen’s movies to charities that support survivors, networks are considering whether or not to release his films or to cancel his contract, people are finally speaking out against him, and standing up for Dylan Farrow.

Dylan Farrow, daughter of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, has spoken out against the vile acts her father performed on her when she was seven years old. These acts were brought up in court in the late 1990’s, in the letter she wrote and published in 2014, and again in the recent CBS interview. Dylan Farrow has spent her life speaking out against her rapist, and by offering this course, we as a university are ignoring everything she has gone through. It is time to right that wrong.

I’ve taken it upon myself to do just that. So, on January 22, I took my concerns to the Theatre Department and the school, stating the hypocrisy of a college campus that has a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion requirement offering a course that glorifies someone who has a history of predatory behavior as shown in the naked photos he took of adopted step-daughter Soon-Yi when she was 17 years old and sexual assault allegations lined up against him by Dylan Farrow. First, I did a little research on the class, then emailed the professor as well as Laura Jimenez, the Theatre department’s Undergraduate Coordinator. I got an email back from her 12 minutes after I sent it. I was surprised. But when I opened it, I realized why the response was so quick.

The e-mail seemed to lack the etiquette all Theatre majors and minors were expected to follow. The message was a single dismissive line: “TDGE 122 does not fulfill the DEI requirement. TDGE 122 was last offered in Summer 2017 and 2014.” She did not coordinate or offer to refer me to someone higher up who could better answer my questions and concerns. Simply put, she did not do her job. I responded back six minutes later, with both a hello and a thank you: “That’s not what I was saying. I’m saying a college that requires a DEI course shouldn’t have a Woody Allen class as a part of its curriculum. It goes against the very nature of what such a requirement would hope to address. A college that requires a DEI course of all its students and then goes and has a Woody Allen focused class is giving off the message that well, they only do this requirement because they don’t want to be held liable for when its students do something racist, sexist, etc. You dismissing me and not addressing the problem says a lot about why this class is still on the curriculum and a lot about what the Theatre Department is about. It is being offered this quarter as well. None of these statements negate the issue that such a class is being taught in the first place.” She never responded back.

This prompted me to email my Thurgood Marshall Provost, Leslie Carver, and then all of the other college Provosts: Emily Roxworthy of Warren College, Ivan Evans of Eleanor Roosevelt College, Paul K. L. Yu of Revelle College, John C. Moore of Muir College, and Ann Craig of Sixth College. Though Provost Carver explained that she has no say over what courses the Theatre department offers, I knew that she would have to contact the department and the professor, which would add needed pressure to the situation. Provost Carver was the first person to get back to me: “I got your message regarding your concerns about the TDGE course on Woody Allen’s films. I wanted to let you know that I am going to contact the chair of the department and relay your concerns. There are a lot of potential issues here that might make it difficult for them to cancel the course this quarter. I will get you more details once I talk to the chair. Soon after, Professor Adler, did as well: “Thank you for your email and the points you bring up. Your comments are well received, and I appreciate your feedback. I would be happy to speak to you about your concern. If you would like to talk, please reply and let us know, and Elisha Cata of the Department of Theatre and Dance office (copied here) will arrange a time for us to meet. I’ll also include Professor Nadine George-Graves from the Department of Theatre and Dance (also copied here) in our meeting so she can offer her perspective, as well. I will also share your concern with my departmental colleagues for future consideration.

I then attended a series of meetings with me on one end of the table and someone much older and higher up on the other, a literal representation of the power imbalance between students and faculty.

These meetings were emotionally and mentally draining. In each meeting, I was told that my desire to get this class taken off the books was, to paraphrase their words, an extreme long shot. In both meetings, my “personal connection” and “intense care” for this issue was alluded to, insinuating that I myself care about this issue because I’ve been sexually assaulted before. As if that has any place in a professional meeting. In my meeting with Provost Carver, she recommended I go “see someone” and not let this take over my life because I’m “such a good student.” I was told that I was brave, that she was sympathetic, that I was the first person to speak out about this despite some people wanting to in the past. Yet, it was repeated over and over again that there was nothing she could do, that this was a battle I’d have to fight on my own.

After the meeting with Provost Carver, I took some of her useful advice and immediately went to the Theatre Department’s office to file a formal complaint, ironically right to the face of Laura Jimenez, the person I was filing it against. I didn’t hear back until the next day.

There was an apology on Laura Jimenez’s behalf and a brief statement about her being notified of the issue. They offered to send my original concern to someone else. It was too little, too late; by this point, I had already set up a meeting with the professor of the class and had made enough noise to get noticed by the department. Still, I responded, stating just how wrong her conduct was and how underrepresented students like me and other students on campus who exist in this institution without a voice, feel as a result of her dismissal.  

My hour-long meeting with Professor Adler and, self-described mediator, Professor George-Graves made me feel helpless. I showed up to the meeting 15 minutes early; both professors were late. Professor George-Graves hadn’t even been informed on the meeting’s topic, which she made clear at the beginning of the meeting when she asked us to “catch her up.” But I was prepared.

I sat there while they both spent time giving unsupported, logical fallacy-filled arguments that oftentimes had nothing to do with the topic. Professor Adler compared banning this class to banning classes on Black history and climate change. I was asked time and time again about hypotheticals of this or that being taught or not taught in class, when it all comes down to one statement: Art is not required, it is chosen. You do not have to teach Woody Allen, you choose to. It isn’t like history, it’s not set in stone. There isn’t an exact timeline to follow or strict figures to feature. Art is something that we as consumers of media get a choice in, and despite personal beliefs, there should be a moral obligation in these fields to feature artists that don’t have a history of abuse.

Throughout the meeting, Professor Adler kept referring to the allegations against Allen as “uncomfortable topics” as if sexual assault is a topic that is unsavory but ultimately inconsequential when it comes to teaching. Professor Nadine George-Graves’ biggest contribution to the discussion, besides not mediating, was to state that “they as professors don’t teach what is ‘good’ but what is important.” Towards the end of the meeting, Professor Adler explained that he teaches Woody Allen because he loves him as an artist, and when asked whether or not he would still teach the class if Allen had been convicted and sent to jail, he said, “I don’t know…maybe.”

After that meeting, I started an email campaign which would allow anyone who has a concern about this class to voice that. I wrote out a draft for people should they need one, and I asked them to email both Charles Means, the Department Chair, and Steven Adler, the professor. Over 30 emails have been sent; every single one has received the same one-line response: “Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us. We have received your comments, and are discussing this important topic as a department.

Again, I could see how people who speak out are treated. We’re belittled, and apparently if we’re fighting against sexual assault we can only care if we ourselves have experienced it. Dylan Farrow shouldn’t still have to fight for people to hear and believe her. Survivors shouldn’t be dismissed first, believed second; or believed only after evidence was released or after the perpetrator has confessed. There is power in being heard and listened to. UCSD knows this, and chose not to listen.

The department is protecting itself and by extension, Woody Allen, hidden under the guise of “academic freedom.” We’ve reached a time where it no longer stands. There are some issues that are crystal clear: Woody Allen has a number of longstanding sexual abuse allegations and, therefore, shouldn’t get his own class devoted to him. That’s it. Line drawn. It may seem small, but removing this course from UCSD’s catalog speaks heavily to what we as a community and campus will allow. We can’t let anything slide, no matter how “small” they might seem.

This Woody Allen class engages a much larger issue and by shutting it down now, we are saying TIME’S UP. We are showing survivors that we believe them and will support them. We must take the stand now. So, please get involved. Sign the petition, send the department an email, and voice your dissent. We must reclaim our power as students and make them realize that this is not only our school, but our community as well. We deserve to feel safe in our home, in the institution we invest four years in. It’s not just about feeling like we are a part of a community but knowing that we are valued as a whole and as individuals who have a lot to offer.

Though this class might not be cancelled this current quarter, it can be removed from the course catalog. Let it carry us into a time where we are selective about who gets our acclaim and attention; only artists who are worthy should be lifted up. Take charge of your education and help decide what gets taught. Help stop the cycle of abuse.

The positions stated here do not necessarily represent the opinions of The Triton, any of its members, or any of its affiliates. We welcome responses to opinion pieces. If you’d like to submit a response, or comment on a different issue affecting the UC community, please submit here.