Stuff I’m Thinking About

Principles are on my mind. Oprah is right. We need to stand up tall and speak out loud. Principles need voicing. Even if it is very uncomfortable to revisit past fights. Even when we had to give up fights, we must stand up and speak up. In whatever way is possible for us. From our chairs if we are in pain. With our feet if we can march. With our endowments and our donations. Sometimes while moving forward in our lives, we also need to move others forward by telling our stories. That’s what Tillie Olsen said. She was right. Stand Up, Oprah says. Stand Up, Gloria Steinem says. Stand up, stand up, stand up. And sit down and stay down, still says Rosa Parks. Fight that war. Sit on your butt until they change the laws Mama, and open the doors, and bring the kids home. “I’m Nobody, are you Nobody too? Said Emily Dickinson. Exactly. All of us Nobodies together can move the world. Thank you, Margaret Mead. I say, let’s get the guns out of their pockets, and back into their pants. Just the bad guys’ pants. Let’s stand up for the good guys, too. Speak the story that is yours. Like mine, it’s probably a Nobody story, and those are the ones that actually change the world. One at a time. And at the polls.

My story:

I moved my principles forward because I had to do so in order to be able to look at myself and my child in the mirror. I also moved them forward because I was afraid for my health, and my job. I moved from my Principles because I needed to stand up for my family values and my students. It was personal, but not just for me. I moved them forward because I was heartbroken for us all because no rational effort worked to change an extremely negative situation where an abusive man was allowed to continue his abuse despite whistleblowing and documentation. I was heartbroken that my administration, who professed respect of my considerable accomplishments, would not help us.

I sued Florida State University over gender discrimination, in the Federal 9th Circuit. I bowed out after Summary Judgement, although my lawyer thought that we could win an appeal. I was tired, basically. And if I lost it would totally bankrupt me. I read the AAUW reports. Tragedies. I chose my mental health. I quit and built my business.

It’s small consolation that some things changed for the students and staff. But are they still changed? No. Until we really remove the possibilities for doing harm now available to misogynistic men and gynophobia women — possibilities to disparage and disenfranchise and constructively discharge, and verbally, physically, socially and sexually assault women, LGBTQ, and people of color, we need the courts to be on our side. They are committing crimes. Otherwise — it all reverts to the status quo.

I am not mentioning his name. He is not the point, not really.  I’m following Oprah’s lead in this. It’s embarrassing, but I am still afraid. Anyway, his name is not hard to find.

Principles really count, but it’s so hard to stand up sometimes. I too tried to be a duck and let the water roll off my back, hold on to my job, support my child, look the other way, pretend it wasn’t real, try not to care about lost artistic opportunities despite international awards…lost years. I felt it should be a secret for a long time, held within the “family.” I felt that I was protecting the program and the students from notoriety. That was wrong, wrong, wrong of me.

But since then, I admit I’ve been silent and complicit. Being silent because I lost the case lets them think they won, and that makes me complicit in their crime. Principles should continue to be acted upon, after one’s personal fight is over. Perhaps even more so as other’s can learn from your failures. Create better strategies.

I dreamt of a Black Bear standing on his hind legs walking in tandem with me on the other side of the street. Washington St. as it was when I was young. Barbara’s Bakery, Wayner’s Gift Shop, Piper’s Candy. Lubins Drugstore?

Here I walk, on the page. Alongside my shadow, the black bear. Danger. I am afraid to tell my story but if I don’t, the bear will cross the street and eat me.

I am a little proud to have been in the first new wave against sexual and gender discrimination but I am more afraid. I am proud to have had the guts to follow through and stay the course, but I feel fear. I grew up in a city and danced in a profession where, by and large, women were treated with respect and equality. Yet, I count 17 incidents of non-verbal sexual harassment and abuse suffered over 62 years. 5 in Iowa City before I was 16. And I was raised a UU and knew all that was wrong, and it felt icky to have a swim coach cup your butt. I told no one. 17 white roses are due me. How many are due you? Count them up. Give them water.

We all know that this sort of experience contributes to our feeling that we can not stand up to a big man offering a job, or teaching you, or who is a therapist. And we don’t because we need the job and the grade, and are confused by people who break moral boundaries when they are supposed to be helping us. 17 white roses. In my lovely city and in New York and Cambridge, and Sarasota. Yes, sexual and gender discrimination are intrinsic to our culture. Why does it repeat? Not because one draws it to oneself, though being pretty does help with that. It’s because bad guys can get away with it in this culture of woman hating.

This must change, and it will change. If the right women are put into power. To get that done, we have to stand up! We have to speak out! And most importantly? We have to vote the right people in.

Or, we could enact Lysistrata. Deny all men sex. Just kidding.

I stood up for myself and my female students, against FSU administration — An administration that was textbook complicit and that backed me into a corner with demeaning definitions such as “difficult,” “temperamental,” “too interested in women’s issues,” “overly sensitive,” and so on. And on and on. This administration, as so many academic institutions have, ignored me and other women in our department who complained and documented their complaints. They continued to ignore complaints as women quit, left school, had suicidal break downs and were beaten up by male students who were not punished. They ignored it when a self disclosed, while auditioning, male student who suffered from stuttering due to anxiety, was forced to withdraw from the department — manipulated into signing a statement that said it was his choice. They ignored it when 9 women were told they were “too fat.” Nine graduate students were denied educational opportunities because they weighed more than he wanted them to, even though they lost weight with my help. They ignored it when I reported the “big man” had called a Hispanic student a “Spic.” A WHAT? Deans, one now a Provost, and two Chairs did nothing. One told me to take my mind to a “clearing.” I gagged on my chicken salad. What a misuse of meditation.

This was a department administration that did nothing for 7 years. Nor did FSU Human Resources. They ignored my competence. I suppose that I was inconvenient, in fact I was. As interim director I closed a 1/3 of budget deficit, put some money back in the endowment (the previous director spent it all), and recruited a full class despite the place being threatened with shut down. I was offered the position but no more money.  I was to continue teaching full time. I had an 8 year old who needed me at home whenever possible. I am a single mom. They didn’t offer enough money to hire a good night time nanny for when I had to do all the paperwork after my day of teaching and rehearsing. I turned it down. Oops.

And then…we hired the abuser and the discriminator. He “presented” very well. He was friendly and funny. I called people at other schools where he had taught, and theatres where he had worked, and they supported his bid for the job. Later, some of them said — but didn’t you know? Why do people do that? Why are we so afraid to give a bad recommendation? I was played by him, despite my many years in the field and my usual good judgement.

I also didn’t listen to my gut when I was showing him the town and he barked “get out and grab me that flyer!” and then when I looked at him upon getting in the car…quickly and shamefully apologized. I knew then. It was too late. He didn’t like women in general, and particularly strong women who spoke up and complained. So, me. It could have been someone else. It wasn’t personal. In a way. Except to me.

I did not grow up thinking that I was supposed to fall down in front of a dictator. Even a funny dictator. I suppose some of the students told themselves…”it’s only for 3 years” ….and that is what I told them to think, too. “It will be a blip in your life, soon.”

As is so often true, he used constructive discharge through removal of duties and opportunities — including blocking my timely promotion, tampering with student opinion of me and removing good evaluations, demonizing me to donors, discounting my work behind my back, sexual innuendo, libelous description of my personality, denial of contingency of my deal yearly directing, rumor and gossip within the community at large, attempts to downgrade or sabotage my national profile artistic work, accusations of racism, accusations of cruelty to students. Also… consistent poor to no casting for women, lack of adequate recruitment and casting of minority students including African Americans, Asians, and Hispanics of darker complexions, verbal abuse of his administrative assistant. I had proof of it all, and witnesses. I am grateful to three students who stood up with me. I feel a bit sorry for the ones that did not.

When no one at FSU would DO anything to stop his discrimination against his female faculty, staff, and students, and his students of color, I came to understand that the administration was corrupt, and that I might lose my job even though whistleblowers are supposed to be protected, under the FSU bylaws. I filed a gender discrimination complaint, first with the department and dean, then HR, then the EEOC and then in the 9th Circuit where I lost on Summary Judgement, despite my lawyer being Jonathan Moore, the same lawyer who argued and won against “Stop and Frisk” in NYC. He took my case Pro Bono. That’s how strong the case was.

How did I know Jon Moore? I worked for him on the first FIA requests of the FBI for National Lawyers Guild attorneys. I tried to figure out what had been redacted. It was my night job and helped to support my dance company. He called me on Mother’s Day 2010 and asked me how things were going. And, when I told him, he asked if it was sexual harassment, and I said — “no– the man is gay”— and he said “send me all the documentation and write up your story. ” I did. He wrote back: “This is gender discrimination, pure and simple.”

Jon walked me through the process. Document, document, search your mail, your records, your employment contracts (I found I had been demoted on pay rank after 2 years of a higher rank — and I hadn’t noticed!), think through the entire 6 years. Talk to your students and friends and ask what they heard, saw and knew… Then, talk frankly to FSU HR because you have to before anything else, if no action, file with EEOC, and wait for them to give you permission to file in court because they aren’t going to take your case because it isn’t a class action suit. They like “big” cases. Like maybe all the women in the world standing up together?

And, when you file in court prepare to be deposed. And I was. Six hours. And I went through a humiliating mediation requirement where the University offered me so little, and no apology — Jon got up and walked out. I didn’t know what he was doing. He came back to get me. That day was so excruciating that I lost a rental car in Tampa. I eventually found it the next day. All the parking garages looked the same. I was in an altered fear state, shaking and seeing stars throughout the six hours of deposition.

My case was ruled over by a female judge who had graduated from the same small law school class as the FSU lawyer who was defending the University. Her first sentence in the brief, something like:

“this is the worst case of workplace bullying I have ever heard of, but it does not rise to the level of gender discrimination.”

Well yes….it did. Or Jon would never have taken the case. He likes winning cases, and splashy cases. I refused to let press know it was going on, stupidly. Why? I was afraid for my reputation. What reputation! Who cares! I’m Nobody! I should have let my principles lead me even more.

Yes, I could have appealed. He thought we would win the appeal. But I read the reports of gender discrimination and faculty on the AAUW. Tragedies. Mental Health and future earnings slashed.

On my birthday, 3 years after filing, I resigned. And walked in the park and thought how very lucky I was to be in beautiful Iowa City, and to be able to begin again. But this is not really about me, not really.

If I had appealed, today, I would have won that case. And been awarded some serious money. Because everyone above me in the chain of command, knew— they all knew he was breaking the law in several Title VII and Title X ways. They were complicit in a crime that had been going on for years, and had been reported. They were lazy.

It is so ironic that Florida State began as a college for women interested in studying the Fine Arts, and Liberal Arts.

What happened? He was rapped on the knuckles, sent to Anger Management, and people were moved out of his office and out of his reach. But I doubt he changed. They never do. People who abuse, abuse again. They are ill. That is why we have laws to protect us, and them. From themselves.

Stand up! Speak out! It’s for everyone who comes after you. It’s not for you. It’s ultimately for them. You are just the conduit.

You might be a man with a daughter abused by an evil doctor. A man who did not intervene though he saw a crime. A man who did intervene and lost his job over it.

We must all stand up. It’s not about catharsis. This is not prayers and sympathy. We deserve this recompense just as much as those that come after us deserve an equal and safe playing field.

Stand up! Stand up! Stand up! Or sit your butt down and do not be removed.


%d bloggers like this: