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2017-18 Issue V Editors' Picks Local

#MeToo in Connecticut: The Long Wharf Theater Faces Claims of Sexual Assault

In January 2018, Me Too reached our turf, here in New Haven. The Long Wharf Theatre, a nonprofit regional theater on Sargent Drive, came under fire for its artistic director’s longtime sexual misconduct.

On Jan. 22, The New York Times published an exposé detailing Kim Rubinstein’s long-term harassment and assault at the hands of Gordon Edelstein, the artistic director of Long Wharf Theatre. He allegedly began groping her just two months after Rubinstein began her job in 2003, and his unsolicited sexual advancements continued and escalated until she left the theater in 2007.

Rubinstein listed unwanted kisses with tongue, groping, and masturbating in front of her in her office. She filed complaints to theater management in 2006. She is one of four women that have formally filed complaints against Edelstein for sexual harassment and abuse since he took his position there in 2002, and one of several more that have informally shared stories of Edelstein’s misconduct.

In response to Rubinstein’s formal complaint, Edelstein and Rubinstein were directed to a counselor and the rest of the staff was directed to harassment training.  In response to the New York Times exposé, Edelstein was put on administrative leave on Jan. 22 effective immediately, and the theater’s board of trustees fired him on Jan. 23 effective immediately following a board meeting. The Long Wharf Theatre, an unassuming flat-lying building with two stages within, is a well-known regional theater for successfully sending several of its productions to Broadway and Off-Broadway. So the shock of the Long Wharf Theatre story echoed through New Haven and into New York City.

“For me and for a lot of my friends who are creatives and artists and dramateurs in New Haven, it was I think very much seen as a crisis in the arts community,” Lucy Gellman, editor of The Arts Paper, said in an interview with the Politic regarding the Long Wharf allegations.

And based on the pattern of accusations that have surfaced since last October, it seems the arts world is indeed facing a crisis as a star-studded list of producers, directors, actors, television show hosts, comedians have come under fire for sexual harassment and assault.

The Arts Paper is a magazine centered on arts in the New Haven community that publishes in print monthly and digitally every day. After working in arts nonprofits for over ten years and reporting for the arts in New Haven since January 2014, Gellman says that though sexual misconduct in the workplace occurs in every field, there are numerous reasons the arts may be more susceptible to it.

“Partly, that’s because I think somewhere along the line, people forgot that being an artist is a job, and it does not, in fact, thrive on chaos.” Gellman said. “Somewhere along the way, people developed this thought that it’s okay for a supervisor, often male, to maybe be a little bit harsh or a little bit eccentric and to use turns of phrase that maybe make people in the office uncomfortable.”

As more stories of sexual assault and harassment in the workplace have been coming to light in recent months, women have noted that women have come to expect sexually inappropriate behavior to a certain extent — a tolerance they should not have had to build up in the first place. Gellman notes that for a long time, women rolled their eyes and thought, “Well, that’s the way it is,” she said. Edelstein’s story imitates the pattern of Weinstein’s story in that their long-term sexual harassment and assault of younger women in their field was an “open secret” — many knew it was happening, and many turned a blind eye because that was just the way it was.

Gellman also pointed to the structure of creative communities, in which there are a lot of female participants until the top, where mostly men exert creative control. Since a nonprofit model is widely employed in the arts, administrative processes and positions that would be routine for corporations — such as having a director of human resources or scheduling sexual harassment and assault trainings — are too often overlooked. Thus, when women suffer harassment or assault by men at the top of the nonprofit structure, management is ill-equipped to correct the situation.

“I work right now at an organization where three of us are full-time and two are part-time, and we have an intern and a contract reporter,” Gellman said. “We have no director of HR, so God forbid should something happen, there’s no one to talk to. We have a board, but the board is mostly men.”

According to Gellman, this combination — the structure of arts organizations in which men dominate the top, insufficient management resources, and the misguided emphasis on the value of chaos in the arts — creates a culture that tends to be more tolerant of sexual misconduct.

Recent allegations of sexual assault and harassment have also spurred outreach and activism beyond the arts, in the field of journalism.

In response to the cascade of Me Too stories that followed accusations against Weinstein back in October 2017, Gellman published an op-ed on Nov. 17 expressing her own connection to Me Too and calling for women in New Haven to submit their stories to The Arts Paper anonymously via Google Forms in order to broaden local press coverage and discussion.

According to Gellman’s aspirations, female actresses will read the written stories aloud to be broadcasted over the radio and in podcasts. Her goal is to collect 20 stories. She has received a few so far, but she believes that despite the anonymity ensured by Google Forms, women are still hesitant to make their stories known for fear of having their identities revealed as well, which could put their jobs or social reputations in peril.

The project was the result of Gellman and a friend of hers brainstorming the best methods for women in the community to share their stories, and the project is even more urgent for them now following the allegations from Long Wharf Theatre.

In celebration of International Women’s Day on March 8th, the second annual Nasty Women Art Exhibition will open at the Institute Library on Chapel Street. This year, the exhibition will have an additional tagline: The Silence-Breakers. At that event, Gellman and her colleagues will be sitting in a room with just a recorder to collect stories from those who wish to share. Gellman hopes that collecting community members’ stories in audio will make the sharing experience more accessible, as asking people to share in spoken form has a lower barrier to entry than asking for a written submission.

The Arts Paper is not the only New Haven publication making attempts to reach out to the local community following the spread of the Me Too campaign.

Paul Bass ’82, editor of the New Haven Independent, along with Babz Rawls-Ivy, Markeshia Ricks, Joe Ugly, and Michelle Turner, hosts a radio show called Pundit Fridays on Fridays mornings. On Jan. 26, the hosts discussed whether Long Wharf Theatre should put a woman of color at its helm at this point.

“I, totally on the record, think yes, there is extraordinary opportunity there,” Gellman said to The Politic. “And if you look at the talent pool, there is no reason they need to go with another white guy. There is just absolutely no reason because there are women who can lead this organization with immense vision.”

In addition to hosting Pundit Friday, Rawls-Ivy is the editor of the Inner-City Newspaper, a local publication whose mission is to share news about Connecticut’s African American communities. According to Rawls-Ivy, the voices of women of color need to be amplified in the development of the Me Too movement in New Haven, especially because women of color have been discussing the root causes behind the movement for years already.

“Often times, the voices of black women around sexual harassment and sexual exploitation are not elevated in the same ways that white women’s are,” Rawls-Ivy said in an interview with the Politic. “And historically that’s true. White women have always enjoyed a certain kind of privilege around having their femininity protected in ways that black women have not.”

Rawls-Ivy sees this trend exemplified even in the discussion and media attention surrounding the origins of the Me Too movement. Tarana Burke, a black American civil rights activist, started the Me Too movement in 2007 when she founded a nonprofit called Just Be Inc. to help victims of sexual assault and harassment, predominantly serving women of color.

But on October 15, 2017, white actress Alyssa Milano took to Twitter to urge women that had suffered sexual assault or harassment to tweet “#metoo” to put the magnitude of the problem on display. Milano’s tweet launched the Me Too movement to a global scale, as the hashtag was tweeted 2.3 million times and posted 77 million times on Facebook within the first month. Numerous women of color pointed out the fact that Burke’s longtime work and advocacy for victims of sexual assault and harassment had never received attention or support from prominent white feminists until a white woman popularized the campaign.

“Tarana Burke started this ten years ago, you know? And still, still, she’s lost in the conversation,” Rawls-Ivy said. “What has happened is Alyssa Milano becomes the face, and you know, I dig Alyssa Milano, she gets credit where credit is due. But the press looks at her. Tarana Burke wasn’t even invited to be on the cover. And this is her hashtag, her movement. So it’s those kinds of things we are not stranger to. This is not news to us.”

According to Rawls-Ivy, members of black sororities, fraternities, clubs, and women’s groups have already been having conversations about sexual harassment and assault since long before social media caught onto the Me Too campaign. The New Haven Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc., Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., and Zeta Phi Beta Sorority Inc. are among those local organizations that have been engaged in sexual misconduct issues for a long time.

Rawls-Ivy recognizes that Me Too, though popular and impactful, is a social media fad of sorts, and that it will likely be replaced by new trends soon. The Inner-City Newspaper has been running stories on topics that affect women of color — including sexual exploitation, rape culture, and harassment in the workplace — since it was established 27 years ago, according to Rawls-Ivy, who joined the paper’s staff in its second year, and she is sure that for people of color in New Haven and for the Inner-City Newspaper, the conversations around issues of the Me Too campaign will not go away.

“I think any time that you can raise awareness about something using modern tools, it’s a good thing,” Rawls-Ivy said. “Do I appreciate the celebrity of this? Yes and No. Yes, in that they are calling attention. No, in the sense that those up at the top will get the services and access to resources that they need. My concern is always for ordinary working women who are working at bars and restaurants and as administrative assistants, custodians, nurses — we’ll lose sight of those everyday, ordinary folks because we’re so focused on celebrity. So my hope is that with celebrity, awareness will also raise the rest of everybody else.”

New Haven, in Rawls-Ivy’s view, easily lends itself to social justice movements due to its politically active climate.

“New Haven is my town. It is the place where art and intellect meet, and that speaks to me on a lot of levels,” Rawls-Ivy said. “This is an easy city to move around in. If you want to get politically active, this is a good city to do it. If you want to launch some initiative, this is a good city to do it. New Haven is a hot bed — has always been — for political action and activity. So the Me Too movement has to get in there just like every other social justice initiative in this city.”

And local college students have begun to engage in the process of carving out a place for the Me Too movement in this city.

According to Karina Krul, a University of New Haven junior and editor for student life of university’s newspaper, the Charger Bulletin, the student newspaper increased coverage of issues and events pertaining to sexual misconduct in fall 2017 as allegations surfaced across the country and UNH students began sharing Me Too stories on social media. In response to the coverage, UNH student organizations have hosted various events to raise awareness, and the administration has taken steps to increase support and resources for students.

For example, the administration began hosting Title IX round tables — something Yale University also recently launched — where students can ask questions and converse with administrators about sexual misconduct policies and the outlets available to students who have experienced harassment or assault. The university’s victimology club, a student organization that focuses on victims’ rights and advocacy, put on an event titled “Faces of Domestic Violence,” where students shared stories. Greek life organizations on campus have also become engaged, with the UNH chapter of Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity hosting a discussion about the relationship between sexual assault and Greek life, and all of the Greek life organizations on campus coming together in the university’s theater to sign the “It’s On Us” campaign.

But according to Krul, since UNH has a smaller student body and smaller campus than an institution like Yale, students often turn to the external community to find events and discussions in which they can participate.

“I think it’s been especially important at the University of New Haven, because we’re so small, to find groups in the neighborhood that are doing the same thing and see how students are getting involved outside of campus,” Krul said in an interview with the Politic. “It’s nice to find events outside that bring in more people and more perspectives.”

Me Too will continue to grow in New Haven on college campuses, in the arts, in journalism. And those groups in the city will continue brainstorming ways to create more spaces for discussion, to include more voices in the conversation.

“Long Wharf is in a point of transition right now. So I saw the show on Friday last week, and there was no mention, no pre-show message, no pop-up on the website, no post-show discussion of Me Too,” Gellman said. “So I think they’re still navigating what they want their response to be.”

And New Haven will keep navigating what its response will be as a city, in the midst of a Me Too movement that rages on globally.

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