Sun | Nov 29, 2020

Edna Manley high-flyers encourage school to use platform to denounce sexual abuse

Published:Thursday | June 6, 2019 | 12:00 AMSade Gardner/Gleaner Writer
Ragin Fyah

The arts have long been revered as a field that encourages and appreciates human expression. In a sordid plot twist, several art students at the esteemed Edna Manley College of the Visual and Performing Arts have come forward in a recent exposé published in The Gleaner, claiming sexual assault by a senior male educator at the institution.

The academic has since been sent on leave, but the shockwaves continue as onlookers and graduates revile the school’s administration for seemingly turning a blind eye to the complaints lodged against said lecturer for several years.

Kristina Godfrey, founder of sociopolitical-themed handbag brand Heavy Mannaz, was fresh out of high school when she enrolled at the institution’s School of Visual Arts. The fine arts graduate said she had heard rumours indicating that the lecturer was a sexual predator, and shared how his power intimidated victims and other students from speaking up.

“We all experienced the real ego of the lecturer and his power. I was never sexually assaulted, but that’s not to say I never experienced things that made me uncomfortable,” she told The Gleaner. “I was never locked in a room, and nobody forced themselves upon me, but I’ve had peers that have experienced that. Our grades were aligned as this is a course you had to take when you entered Edna Manley, so we had to be careful with how we vocalised those things. I think that came with being naive and not confronting that our rights are more important that any grade.”

Allegations

Godfrey said the explosion could have been dealt with internally before reaching the public sphere as the allegations are perennial.

“When the first article came out, my heart sank and I felt almost angered that we had to have an outsider be the one to shake up administration on an issue that could have been dealt with internally years ago,” she said, “I kept reflecting on how I could have been naive to a lot of the scenarios coming from high school with the mentality of a child and that power dynamic between a lecturer and how that holds weight in how you move around the space.”

The allegations also saddened bass guitarist from Grammy-nominated group Raging Fyah, Delroy ‘Pele’ Hamilton, who shared that he was never sexually assaulted while he studied music at the school, nor heard of such complaints.

“It really hurts my heart to hear something like this happening at the college, which I hold very high, and we (Raging Fyah) speak about on a great magnitude,” he said. “We push Edna Manley on the map and let everybody know that this is where the magic originated, this is where we spent our years and met the members of the band, so to see this side of things creeping up it doesn’t look good.”

Though he does not believe that the allegations will mar the illustrious legacy of the college, he advised that a thorough investigation be done to restore lost trust in the institution and its handling of similar matters.

“If what is alleged is true, I wish whoever the person is be brought to justice,” he said, “The college is held high not just among locals, but internationally, and if you look at any band that is coming out of Jamaica right now playing for an artiste, at least three or four of them are musicians that came from Edna Manley. It’s all young minds that are at Edna Manley, whichever school. It’s a creative space and we all go through this system and develop our talents to bring it to the world and represent Jamaica. To damage a young mind and give them that trauma at a time when they are most vulnerable is really just sad.”

Godfrey hopes the issue will not be swept under the rug, and urged the school board to use its platform to address hushed issues and rid facilitators and conductors of sexual abuse.

“We are on the forefront now not for the creative work that all of us have done, but for sexual assault,” she started. “Moving forward, it’s an opportunity to have the discourse on what sexual relationships with lecturers and students mean and how administration treats students and give them power in vocalising any issue that they have. They can be the pioneers of really having that serious discourse, as the idea of lecturers exploiting what a relationship is in terms of getting grades or being forced to enter a relationship at the expense of going forward in your education is not new to the educational system. Edna is on the stage now, use it to talk about some of these serious issues.”