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“Distressingly toxic”: Faculty of Music dean acknowledges culture that threatens student safety

Open letters from students demand mandatory consent training for faculty, creation of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion Officer
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The FMUA called for action against sexual harassment and misconduct in the faculty. PHOTO BY SAMANTHA YAO/THE VARSITY
The FMUA called for action against sexual harassment and misconduct in the faculty. PHOTO BY SAMANTHA YAO/THE VARSITY

Content warning: this article discusses sexual harassment and violence.

In response to two statements on sexual harassment issued by the Faculty of Music Undergraduate Association (FMUA) in the past month, Faculty of Music Dean Don McLean, on behalf of the faculty administration, released a letter which acknowledged that the Faculty of Music has a toxic culture and discussed how the faculty will address the FMUA’s four proposals.

The letters were posted after recent allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct within the faculty were shared on social media, including one from a student outside the university against a current U of T professor. The Music Graduate Students’ Association also issued a statement on sexual harassment on May 12. 

The first open letter calls on the faculty to create a better environment for students by holding the perpetrators of sexual assault and harassment accountable, and to create a better system for reporting such incidents. The letter also provided resources for students and invited them to an anonymous townhall to discuss the issue of sexual assault and harassment in the faculty. 

The second open letter explains the enabling of sexual harassment that the FMUA believes pervades the faculty, and details four proposals to address it. According to the FMUA, as of June 4, over 650 people had signed the letter. 

FMUA grievances

The FMUA believes that the faculty is part of a larger problem in the classical music industry in which perpetrators of sexual misconduct don’t face consequences for their actions.

Moreover, the letter noted that survivors in the faculty are at an even greater disadvantage because of a confusing reporting process at U of T and a general mistrust of the university’s ability to handle the situation properly. They also wrote that survivors can be discouraged by the complicated reporting process and by a fear of reprisal from perpetrators. 

The letter stresses a need to create a safe environment for students and address the root causes of the culture that enables perpetrators. 

Demands and further action

The FMUA made four demands: committing to concrete and transparent action in response to allegations of sexual misconduct, instituting an external review of faculty, obligatory education on consent for all members of the Faculty of Music, and the institution of an Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Officer for the faculty. 

In an email to The Varsity, the FMUA wrote that their proposal for “an external and impartial review” is intended to ensure accountability, take into account the needs of survivors, and prevent repeated events in the future. 

Furthermore, the proposed “in-house Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Officer” is meant to act as a guide through the aftermath of experiencing sexual violence. 

Another proposal made in the FMUA’s open letter recommended involving the Sexual Violence Prevention and Support Centre (SVPSC) in educating all members of the Faculty of Music on consent. 

In the past, the SVPSC has been criticised by students as lacking transparency and proper communication with student groups. When asked about these criticisms and how those gaps would be navigated, the FMUA provided four points: having intimacy coaches who teach strategies for navigating physically oriented learning — such as music education — in a consensual manner, reformatting information on the SVPSC’s website into social media posts to facilitate easier understanding, advocating for more resources in collaboration with the University of Toronto Students’ Union, and urging the university to revitalize campus mental health services by increasing their budgets. 

Response from the Faculty of Music 

In a letter, Dean McLean, writing on behalf of the Faculty administration, acknowledged the open letter, thanked the creators, and agreed that serious action needs to be taken to address the culture within the Faculty of Music. 

“The institutional culture detailed in the Letter is distressingly toxic and needs to change both immediately and permanently. It is clear that we have failed to ensure the safety of our community,” wrote McLean. “The painful truths of individuals, and those of others whose voices are not yet registered, are deeply shocking and upsetting.”

The letter promises the formation of a working group to address the demand for transparent action against sexual harassment. 

McLean also wrote that they will work to change the faculty’s culture and to make consent training mandatory. He also mentioned that the process of creating the Equity, Diversity and Inclusion officer role mentioned in the letter is already underway, although he acknowledged that financial constraints could cause delays in the process.

The dean wrote that an external review of the faculty is important, but added that the community looking “inward” is also important. 

If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence or harassment at U of T:

Visit safety.utoronto.ca for a list of safety resources.

Visit svpscentre.utoronto.ca for information, contact details, and hours of operation for the tri-campus Sexual Violence Prevention & Support Centre. Centre staff can be reached by phone at 416-978-2266 or by email at [email protected]

Call Campus Police to make a report at 416-978-2222 (for U of T St. George and U of T Scarborough) or 905-569-4333 (for U of T Mississauga).

Call the Women’s College Hospital Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Care Centre at 416-323-6040

Call the Scarborough Grace Sexual Assault Care Centre at 416-495-2555

Call the Assaulted Women’s Helpline at 866-863-0511