Not only the relationships between teachers and students are problematic, but also those between male and female students, says the FAMU initiative – You don’t have to endure it

Not only the relationships between teachers and students are problematic, but also those between male and female students, says the FAMU initiative – You don’t have to endure it
Not only the relationships between teachers and students are problematic, but also those between male and female students, says the FAMU initiative – You don’t have to endure it

In the summer of 2021, a protest performance of the student initiative You don’t have to endure took place in front of the Prague DAMU building, in which representatives of the student body drew attention to problems related to the abuse of power on the grounds of art schools. They discussed sexism, bullying, inequality in relationships as well as excessive drill and humiliation. Less than a year later, people from the Film and Television Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts (FAMU) also brought their testimony. This initiative was created from below in an effort to name toxic phenomena in the faculty and defend the interests of the student body. After several months, they reflect on their experiences with art education, the problems that emerged on the basis of their questionnaire research, as well as the attitude of Jan Hřebejk, who tries to describe the love relationships between teachers and students in the Czech TV miniseries Background of Events.

How did the original initiative You don’t have to stand it at Prague’s DAMU impress you?

It was a turning point for many of us, even if we didn’t see it live and only watched the live stream of the performance. Our friends from DAMU suffered during their studies, and it was refreshing to see that someone picked up on their traumas, even if what they were experiencing was shocking at times. At the same time, we asked ourselves whether an institution like DAMU could change. And in retrospect, this concern is still valid.

With online teaching, there was more isolation – from teachers, from aggressors, from people who were somehow problematic for us. Along with that, distance also arose. When a person does not go to school, he gets a new perspective on face-to-face teaching.

However, even then it seemed to us that the environment was somewhat similar to that at FAMU. It raised questions about what all of what is being dealt with at DAMU is also happening at FAMU. There are a lot of common denominators. In addition to a number of other problems, we would point out the fact that our study problems spill over into our professional life. At the time when the initiative “You don’t have to endure it” was created at DAMU, we were not yet able to name the problems at FAMU – partly because there was a pandemic. Most of the things that bother us about our school only started to occur to us when we returned to school and started meeting and sharing our stories. At that moment it started to make sense, and the debate moved to analyzing our experiences with FAMU.

At the time, FAMU supported the You Don’t Have to Endure initiative. Did that make it easier to develop your own version of the initiative?

We appreciated that the school management supported the initiative at DAMU. But we do not perceive that it would in any way interfere with our discussion about establishing something similar at FAMU. It wasn’t like that, we had our own need to do something at our school and we didn’t think about how the school management would react. Our position differed from DAMU in one important respect: at that time we already had an ombudsman at FAMU and we knew that she represented a kind of communication point for us, at least from the beginning. Maybe it was specific in that, but at the same time we tried not to rely on school for our progress. It is important to mention that from the beginning we decided on two paths to take: either to stand completely outside the internal institutions of the school, or to become part of them. In the end, we decided not to become part of the ombudsman’s work, to stand purely behind the students and remain autonomous. Perhaps it was also related to the problems that have prevailed at the school for a long time – we didn’t want to be here just for someone, but for everyone.

So how did your initiative develop?

At the beginning, i.e. in October 2021, there were more of us and we were in a different composition. We had great motivation to solve the problems we encountered. But at the same time, it is very demanding mental work, lasting several months almost every day. Some female members and some male members joined later, so the line-up changed. What does not change is the premise that we independently represent the student body, regardless of the fact that one of our members is now a member of the FAMU Academic Senate.

Much of your study has taken place online. How much has changed since returning to classrooms?

With online teaching, there was more isolation – from teachers, from aggressors, from people who were somehow problematic for us. Along with that, distance also arose. When a person does not go to school, he gets a new perspective on face-to-face teaching. Then we appeared next to each other again and we think that also stirred up the whole debate. But even in online teaching we encountered some problems, we saw, for example, unequal treatment of students, inadequate behavior on the part of pedagogues and other things. And we wrote about these problems. The moment we met, there was a greater need to act. Greater appeal and greater urgency.

Did your personal experiences, negative experiences from school play a role in the decision to start the initiative? Or do you think that the long-term atmosphere at the school does not meet the standards that quality higher education should have?

We have different experiences. But even without direct negative experience, it can be seen that the setting of FAMU as an institution is not entirely healthy in the long term. Another thing is that we often come across the experiences of fellow students from other departments, and we saw that in some fields people had no space at all to open up and solve anything. They didn’t even have the space to express themselves many times. We found that alarming, and that’s why we wanted to create that space. In general, it can probably be said that the motivations in our team are diverse: someone joined the initiative on the basis of strong personal experiences that left a mark on him, others on the basis of other motivations. We think it was this mix that ended up working well for our work together.

There are several departments at FAMU, including feature directing, documentary, screenwriting and dramaturgy, sound, camera, audiovisual studies, animation and production. The FAMU International program also works here. Does the rate of negative experiences differ in different departments?

Somewhere everything seemed to be perfectly fine. But this is often just an appearance – structural problems are practically everywhere. What differs is the type, targeting and structure of the problem. And that’s exactly what we tried to name and describe, and that’s also why – unlike DAMU – we resorted to the method of questionnaire collection. It occurred to us to somehow process the experiences of fellow students and transform them into data to make it understandable.

How did the questioning and formulating of the questions take place?

We sent the questionnaire by email to all current FAMU students and, upon request, to graduates. We tried to map the areas of problems that students may encounter on campus. We also left space for sharing specific experiences, needs or ideas. We compiled and evaluated the questionnaire with the help of a sociology student and the Konsent association.

What did the results show? Can it be summed up somehow? What can be said about the school from the information obtained?

The most frequently reported problem was sexism, in the form of inappropriate comments, discrimination and, in rare cases, even rape. There were also numerous experiences with racism and the abuse of authority, power and the inability to provide constructive criticism. The problems are not only in the relationship between a teacher and a student, but also between students, which was a very sad discovery for us. The investigation gave us information that many students have really alarming experiences with the Academy, but also that others have very positive ones. Some accused us of spreading unnecessary hysteria and creating problems that don’t exist. These different attitudes gave us the message that the experience with the academic environment also depends on the specific background of the students – on gender, class, ethnic origin or physical and psychological condition. We therefore want to appeal to mutual empathy. Those who are less privileged even outside the academic environment are often more vulnerable within its structures and become targets of problematic behaviour. That is why we would like students to be able to recognize the urgency of the experience of others and lend them a helping hand. So that it is also their desire to create a different, better environment.

You presented all outputs – similarly to DAMU – also in a performative way. Was the form of expression important to you?

Yes. It was important for us to transfer the results to the public space, say them out loud, let them sound, resonate. The statements and problems that were heard at the performance are something that many students feel, experience, but do not confide in, they are things that we do not officially talk about on campus. We wanted to break this silence, reveal public secrets and open the debate, say what students are afraid to talk about out loud. Although the performance took place on the school grounds, it took place in the presence of the public, which gave us a certain degree of independence.

The performance ranged from general cases that described racism, sexism or a lack of support and care to sexual harassment and sexualized violence. Were you surprised by what people encounter at FAMU?

Although we went into the investigation knowing that the environment of our school is not healthy in many aspects and that various problematic things happen here, there was a certain surprise and shock. Both from the quantity of explicitly described experiences, and generally from the largely negative experiences.

Some time has passed since the results of the questionnaire were published. What debates took place at school in the meantime and how do you feel about them?

We already know that our performance opened some unsolved cases and prompted some teachers to reevaluate their practice. We met with the school management and began to communicate the requirements that we published during the performance. Of course, it’s a long shot and we’d like things to move faster and more significantly. So far, there has been no official academic meeting dedicated to our investigation. We are communicating with the school authorities so that it happens as soon as possible. At the senate on September 22, the senators reached a consensus that the academic community would be convened.

Currently, the series Background Events has stirred the debate about the relationship between teachers and students. In it – according to the reviewers – a false and trivializing image of hierarchy in the university environment is presented. Your initiative commented on the series on Facebook. How do you perceive the transfer of the issue of abuse of power in relationships on campus to the series and also the fact that the head of the screenwriting department, Petr Jarchovský, is also behind this series?

We think that bringing these themes to a TV series may not be inherently bad, but needs a conscious and sensitive approach. We have already commented on the series, so we can only repeat that, in our opinion, it works with the topic insensitively, distorts reality and reproduces many stereotypes. It is a topic that is still taboo and unresolved in Czech education. Relationships often have unacceptable consequences both for a specific student and for the entire team. We find it particularly problematic that the series is broadcast by public television… A large number of students are trying to get these topics into the public space, and that is why we regret that ČT approached the issue in this way. The fact that two of the authors are educators and one of them even works at our faculty only confirms how different the students’ and teachers’ views on the given issue can be. But we were surprised by how many male and female students voiced their disapproval. Hopefully the ice is beginning to break on this topic.

Jan Hřebejk, director of Background of Events, stated in an interview for DVTV that the creation of your initiative was initiated from above, at the request of the dean. How do you feel about these allegations?

We honestly have no idea how Mr. Hřebejk came to this. We only informed the school management about our existence, and that only after a few months of activity. Neither the dean nor anyone else from the school management interfered in our decisions or corrected them in any way. In the same way, the management did not participate in our questionnaire survey. We have been forming since the summer of 2021 in an attempt to respond to an environment in which we have seen problems for a long time. We wanted to find out what experiences other students have and give feedback to the school. We decided to follow up on the initiative at DAMU, with which we have cooperated from the beginning. As we have already said*y, it is important for us that our initiative is independent of the school institution, apolitical, purely student and accessible to all who need it.

The article is in Czech

Tags: relationships teachers students problematic male female students FAMU initiative dont endure

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