Rocky Horror Shadow-Cast Builds on the Past

The original Rocky Horror stage show. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The original Rocky Horror stage show. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

This year’s annual Rocky Horror Picture Show shadow-cast performance at SLC is coming up Saturday at 11 p.m. in the PAC. The performance comes less than two weeks after the remake production of Rocky Horror aired starring Laverne Cox.  

2016 is new in some ways for the SLC show as well. While there is a lot that stays consistent from year to year about Rocky Horror, as the performance largely stays true to the movie, there is some room for innovation. When asked about anything new in this year’s performance, the shadow-cast director Mallika Sundar hinted, “in terms of the parts that I can control…let’s just say that it’s meme-worthy. It’ll be a meme-worthy pre-show.” She added, “Compared to previous years, we have a lot more first years in the cast. Which is wonderful, I love the first years…They bring joy and light to the production. They still have the spark of hope in their eyes.”

Rocky Horror performances alongside the movie have had a long history since the original movie’s premier in 1975. Shadow-casts have become a unique combination of creativity, ritual, and community. Even those who are in the audience, not performers, often enthusiastically participate through calling out additions to the script and wearing costume-like clothing.

Rocky has a lot of meaning, especially for the LGBTQIA+ community and others who may feel excluded by mainstream culture in some way.  Sundar said, “Personally for me, Rocky has always been about acceptance of oddities. And that ranges from being queer, being trans, being fat. Literally anything you could possibly think of, Rocky is about acceptance, and then taking that acceptance and making it sparkly and sexy. And like, I think that’s just fantastic. That’s personally why I think Rocky is so special.”

A devoted following has formed around Rocky Horror since its premier, and this following has created something much greater than the movie itself. “Rocky itself has developed its own community…it’s not a part of the movie, and it’s not a part of the Broadway show, it’s not a part of the revived production, it’s the Rocky community. And that will exist for however long it lasts into the future. It’s something that’s outside of regular social institutions. It’s formed something completely different,” the director explained. 

For some, it brings friendship and a sense of belonging. Sundar said, “It’s definitely been a major source of community, especially on this campus. Like, the Rocky people—that’s where I found a good portion of my friends. […] And like, outside of the Sarah Lawrence world, it’s just been this gathering point for like, all of the weirdos, who are looking for people just like them. And that’s been sort of a community-building aspect.”

So far, this production seems to have avoided the rumored “curse of Rocky Horror,” which comes from an anecdotal history of performers being injured outside of rehearsal but during the show’s preparation. Sundar’s hopes for this year include “that it happens without anyone getting injured. That’s been an issue in the past. It’s called the curse of Rocky Horror. It’s [that] you can’t make it through one production without someone getting some sort of injury. Last year someone got run over by a car. One year someone got stabbed with an x-acto knife.”

However, for those who have not attended a Rocky Horror performance before, those involved mean for the Rocky community to be safe and welcoming. Sundar recommended that those who are unsure about Rocky Horror “show up, sit down, [and] let the experience wash over you.” 

She continued, “Honestly it’s so much fun—Rocky is about fun. And if you don’t feel comfortable, you can leave. I encourage that, and there are some parts of the movie that are a little bit disturbing.” That includes when there is not always clear consent within the narrative, and some of the terminology used in the movie has fallen out of popularity. Sundar explained, “It does use the term transvestite and transsexual, which a lot of people are like, ‘oh, we don’t use those terms anymore,’ but at the same time, there is an older generation of people who still use those terms and apply them to themselves. So, what I’ve personally come to understand is that we need to respect the labels that people use for themselves. And, if Frank says these words, those are the words he uses for himself and we can’t say, ‘oh that’s wrong,’ because that was the time period and that’s what people would call themselves.”

As the 31-year-old movie retains its importance, the Rocky Horror community has grown over time and continued a history of inclusion. This year’s shadow-cast production looks to be an exciting take on the Rocky Horror tradition.

J.M. Stewart '18

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Questions Continue Post Sexual Assault Survey

Posters meant to educate students on sexual assault on campus.   Photo credit: Ellie Brumbaum

Posters meant to educate students on sexual assault on campus. Photo credit: Ellie Brumbaum

In the aftermath of the survey released this past January, SLC continues to deal with the issue of sexual assault and safety on campus. Recent events have been setting out to inform and promote communication within the Sarah Lawrence community, joining other efforts in the last few years since SLC went under investigation by the Office of Civil Rights for a Title IX violation. 

At a Town Hall organized by the Sexual Assault Task Force earlier this semester, a small crowd gathered in the Miller Lecture Hall: the task force, some other faculty, staff and administration, and a few other students. The meeting was described in an email to students from the faculty as an opportunity to discuss topics related to the Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault, the school’s “recent and forthcoming Sexual Violence Prevention & Support efforts” and “policy updates on Sexual Harassment, Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence & Stalking,” as well as “other topics raised by the community.” 

The survey, released in January, showed an 11% official reporting rate, and a lack of perceived safety at Sarah Lawrence compared to other participating schools. Discussion at the meeting focused on the results of the survey, what had been done to improve safety in the past few years, and what could be done in the future. Dean Allen Green, head of the task force and Title IX coordinator at SLC, said, “We have engaged in a very very rigorous educational campaign,” and that among other things, they have “been looking at our resources to make sure students have access [and] also been looking at the role of our investigator that investigates those cases; there are still a number of questions that we have on the table to look at.” 

Some suggested at the meeting that communication problems between students and school administration or staff might have a role in low reporting rates or students feeling unsafe. Genevieve Lamont (’18), a member of the task force, said, “One thing that we were discussing a lot is that everyone who took the survey who experienced sexual assault on this campus chose to tell somebody about it, whether it was a friend, a mentor, a teacher, an RA, health services.” She continued that despite this, only 11% of the students who experienced assault actually submitted a formal report, meaning they actually went to security, so the task force wondered whether this could be connected to “doubt in the institution, and relationships students might have to campus security and the institution.” 

She added that it would be most helpful to open that dialogue to the campus community, but this has been difficult to consistently enable. 

Student Carolyn Martinez-Class said, “I think most of us don’t read past the fourth paragraph of an email. So – the laws changed, and the police is no longer immediately involved. But people are still operating under the assumption that the police is immediately involved. So that’s part of the hesitancy.” Additionally, speaking on awareness of the many policy changes mentioned at the meeting, she said, “And there have been changes to the hearing process. My first year, that was part of the horror stories.” 

Nathan Naimark (’17), another student on the task force, explained that the survey showed that, “Generally students do feel like they are valued and respected in the classroom. And generally they do feel like they are treated fairly by the faculty, staff, and administrators. But also there are lots of numbers, lots of sections in this first part that point to the fact that students don’t necessarily feel listened to by campus staff and administrators.” 

There have been multiple programs recently at SLC to inform students about the resources and rights they have, and about assault prevention and the definitions of consent. However, the response from students has still been unclear. Students may not feel they will be listened to and respected, when discussing safety or when reporting violence. Hannaway explained after the meeting, “There are so many reasons a survivor might not report their assault, and those reasons will differ for every person. I can’t necessarily say why someone isn’t reporting. Everything possible should be done to make sure survivors know that they are safe if they do choose to report, but nobody should ever be shamed for not reporting.” 

She also advised that, “Changing the conversation, and making sure that discussion about sexual assault on campus is both informative and sensitive would help students feel more comfortable reporting.”  

The survey itself did not specifically address reasons for a perceived lack of safety or for low reporting rates. Cultural factors, not only lack of knowledge about school policy, can be part of what makes it difficult for victims/survivors to report violence. Shannon Ruth-Leigh, a member of the task force who is also part of the health-advocacy graduate program, referenced a study that found, “The number one reason that [students] didn’t report is because they felt that the incident was not serious enough to warrant a formal report. And then, for –particularly for LGBT students, the second main reason was because they feared they would be questioned for the assault.” 

Society’s messages about assault can affect victims/survivors’ decision whether to report, in complex ways. There are many factors, culture-based and not, that go into that decision. Discussion at the town hall meeting about education and policy change around sexual assault brought up questions of how to provide respect and support for survivors in whatever decisions they make. 

Martinez-Class elaborated on what she had said at the town hall, “I think part of the low reporting rate is the lack of support not just institutionally but also from students themselves that folks who have been assaulted face. I think another part is that folks really don’t know what happens if you do report it. The same bad experiences that were circulating when I arrived in 2013, are still circulating, and that bad image has persisted through policy changes.”

As discussed at the meeting, school’s efforts to better inform students have had some success. Students who participated in the mandatory ‘Consent and Respect’ course, in the past few years, were more likely to answer in the survey that they understood consent and how to report an assault. Hannaway and other students, however, think more needs to be done in the future. 

She explained, “I would love for the administration to emphasize the experience of students more. Talking about sexual assault absolutely requires sensitivity and understanding, especially when it’s coming from administrators. The tone of the most recent town hall definitely didn’t create a safe environment for discussion, but I think that’s something that they’re going to work on.” She added, “The emphasis should be on survivors and safety, not on numbers. I think there are different ways of communicating that would be way more effective. I would love to see more programming on sexual assault prevention, especially in FYS classes or in orientation. If we can get library info sessions in FYS classes, shouldn’t we be able to get something as important and necessary as sexual assault prevention?” 

Venika Menon (’18), a student on the task force, pointed out the need for communication with students through sources other than besides faculty; I don’t know if 100% of professors would be able to give the best information possible.” Even with future training for faculty about how to discuss sexual assault, other sources of in-person communication would remain important. 

VOX has been planning a program like what Hannaway suggested, to supplement the information campaigns and the few, optional in-person workshops the school has hosted so far. “VOX has been working over the past year to develop a small, discussion based workshop on affirmative consent. We have trained ten students in teaching these workshops, and we’re hoping to get the workshop out to as many people as possible soon. We designed the curriculum with Planned Parenthood with the hopes that it could be implemented as part of the FYS program,” explained Hannaway. There have already been test workshops, and Vox is now searching for the chance to implement the workshops. Hannaway said, “In our test workshops, the feedback has been really great. Taking the discussion about sexual assault back into the classroom was really impactful. The Sarah Lawrence education is all about discussion and critical thinking, so giving that same importance to sexual assault prevention was definitely our goal. Now, we’re just focusing on bringing the workshops to more classes.”

Workshops are being planned for faculty and administrators as well, not only students. Ruth-Leigh discussed workshops planned through the Capstone project, at the meeting. She is working with the Health Advocacy program on “developing a workshop for administrators and faculty around how to best support students affected by sexual and interpersonal violence. And that doesn’t just mean from the moment that somebody comes to you and says, ‘I think I may have been assaulted.’ I think most people on this campus have the awareness of how to get that person to resources right then. But I think that there is a need always for an ongoing conversation about how we can better support students who are coming in with a whole range of traumas, of experiences, that affect their ability to learn and develop here on this campus.”  

The discussion about sexual violence, at Sarah Lawrence and elsewhere, is not limited to the task force or to events such as the town hall. At the town hall, Menon said, referring to her and the two other students on the task force, “We are very aware of the fact that the three of us do not represent Sarah Lawrence.” Lamont said part of their goal is, “making sure that those conversations are spread throughout the campus.” She added, “We’re a campus that can talk about this and wants to talk about it. We don’t want to hide it. We don’t want to pretend like it’s not happening, or that there’s not something we can do. Because that’s not what this school’s about.”

J.M. Stewart '18

SLC Phoenix

The Phoenix is a non-profit, student-run publication representing the voices and opinions of Sarah Lawrence College community members. Our print edition publishes bi-weekly on Tuesdays, and our online edition is updated multiple times per week. Anyone may attend our open meetings at 9:00 PM on Wednesday nights in the North Room of the Pub.

Sexual Assault Survey Brings Up Questions About Safety on Campus

Consent education posters on campus. Photo credit: JM Stewart.

Consent education posters on campus. Photo credit: JM Stewart.

Results from the Sexual Assault Campus Climate Survey that began in February 2015 were published recently, and while Sarah Lawrence’s results were similar to other schools that participated in the survey, there were some important differences. One of the most notable differences was the rate of reporting—11%, despite 92% of students saying they knew how to report. The percent of students who felt safe on campus was also unusually low; 68.1%, while this statistic was 84.7% at peer institutions. 130 schools participated in the survey, and approximately 500 students at SLC. 

The Task Force was created in the fall of 2013. “It came after a major incident on campus where we wanted to take a look at our policies and procedures,” explained Dean Al Green, the leader of the task force and SLC’s Title IX coordinator.  Genevieve Lamont (’18), a student representative on the task force, said, “It’s very much an ongoing dialogue. We need feedback from students, because we – the three undergraduate students – make up a very small portion of [the student body]. All our narratives are very different...and they’re not conducive to getting the general climate of the whole campus.” Lamont continued, “We rely on feedback from students to kind of get the general understanding, so it’s very much an ongoing dialogue that is happening, and it is constantly changing, and it has different viewpoints, and it’s very complicated. But we’re doing our best.” 

There is a task force email, sexualassaulttaskforce@sarahlawrence.edu, but representatives of the task force say it has been underused. Another student on the task force, Venika Menon (’18), explained “We would appreciate if students wrote to us, because I know that it’s a conversation a lot of students have on campus.”

One of the most visible changes to SLC policy on sexual assault in the past few years is the Affirmative Consent policy. In July 2015, a higher standard for consent was established in New York state law. Sarah Lawrence’s definition of consent now echoes that definition. The school has publicized the updated definition of consent through a poster campaign. The posters are part of a larger effort to educate SLC students on sexual assault, particularly on sexual assault prevention in recent years. The mandatory Consent and Respect online course also began two years ago, for all new students and for students in leadership roles such as RAs. It appears to have been helpful; survey results indicated that first and second years felt they had more knowledge of how to recognize and respond to assault, compared to juniors and seniors (who did not all take the course). 

“Speaking from personal experience, when we did the Consent and Respect before coming to school and then after doing it as a student leader on campus here, I think it’s a good re-introduction to the concept that happens, [and] it makes a lot of laws clearer to you, about what your rights as a student are, so that can be very helpful,” Menon said. 

Michelle Guile, a Health Advocacy graduate student who recently joined the task force, partly agreed: “I definitely felt like the consent training was helpful, I mean it did give you the option to have the Title IX coordinator’s information texted to you, which I personally did so that I would have it.” However, she also felt more was needed, saying, “It’s helpful but it’s also lacking...I definitely feel like there needs to be more education and awareness of what’s happening. Especially for people who don’t live here, or are not on campus all the time, like you’re not going know [certain] stuff.” Guile also raised some concerns about the ‘Yes means yes’ posters around campus. “There’s probably just so much more to it that you’re not going to understand by just seeing that poster.” She clarified, “You have to actively educate people.” 

School procedure in cases of assault has also changed. The changes are based in an effort to make resources more accessible to victims/survivors, and to give them more control over the situation following an assault. Dean Green explained, “We have made a few changes in that we now kind of automatically call victims’ support for any victims; we also are working with Westchester Medical Center and a program there called FACT – Forensic Acute Care Team – which is, anyone who is sexually assaulted, they would go directly there [and] they could retrieve evidence and maintain it, and so that happens.” He continued, “The other change in policy is that we used to automatically call Yonkers police, and now it’s up to the victim to decide if they want the police called. 

He added the school has started doing threat assessments immediately after an incident is reported, to assess whether an individual should be allowed on campus. He explained, “We have to make that assessment based on the safety of the whole community. And so we’re really taking that very seriously as well. 

The reasons behind the low reporting rate, and the relative lack of a sense of safety, remain unclear. The perception of a lack of safety is likely part of a wider problem than that of sexual assault. Menon pointed out that “People feel more unsafe than the numbers would suggest they should, and that [is because of] a lot of factors including the perception about general school safety, and the question of ‘have you ever been attacked or sexually assaulted’ was a very specific question, so I think people might have come at those two questions differently.” She continued, “The example that I gave at the committee [was], I would feel unsafe walking from here to Hill House at night, for a very specific reason, that being that my friend has been egged on Kimball. It has nothing to do with sexual assault. But that would also play into my answer in the first part, the perception question, and not into my answer in the second part. There are specific things that have gone into people feeling unsafe on this campus.” 

Green continued, “And we’ve been thinking about what does that mean. We’ve got security around, I don’t know if the perception is that security’s not responsive… We just don’t know. We’ll continue to ask questions, but I don’t think we’ve had any hard affirmed conclusions yet.”

Possible factors may include a lack of perceived social support for survivors. 

Lamont expressed surprise that there is no dedicated student group to enable discussion and community for survivors; “There are typically things that have chapters across different schools ..That’s really surprising. I bet there would probably be a lot of interest in that.” An isolating culture at SLC could be part of it, as could certain classroom dynamics. On the subject of feeling triggered in a classroom setting, Lamont observed, “I definitely would not feel comfortable saying to the majority of my professors, ‘Yeah, I need to leave because this is upsetting’, even for like a few minutes. That definitely does not seem like the culture.” 

There has been a history of controversy over the school over Sarah Lawrence’s responses to sexual assault on campus. Sarah Lawrence was one of multiple schools placed under investigation for sexual violence issues by the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights, in 2014. That controversy is part of the reason for changes in the past few years. Dean Green said, “The other thing that spurred the organization of the task force was, we have also been looking to get a response from the Office of Civil Rights about the case, the allegation that we failed the complainant. It’s been over two years now, we haven’t heard anything. We don’t even know what the complaint is, what the basis of the complaint is, we’re not allowed to know.” He continued, “But the OCR came to campus, and had open meeting with administrators and students, and there were a select number of administrators that met one-on-one with them. And they walked away, and we just have to wait for, I think, a ruling. And then we’ll look at what they say we have to change. We may have already made some of the changes that they will recommend, because we have been changing our policy as we perceive things that aren’t working as well.”

There will be a Town Hall meeting tonight, tentatively schedule for 5:15 pm in the Marjorie Leff Miller lecture hall. Students will have the opportunity to share their perspectives with the Sexual Assault Task Force.

JM Stewart '18