Former Theatre students of the Professional Theatre Programme at Dawson College are reacting to a statement by the college that says, following an investigation, a teacher will no longer work at the institution.
There have been more than 10 allegations of harassment and sexual harassment by students against long-time theatre teacher Winston Sutton.
The school made the announcement in a release Friday, signed by Director General Richard Filion saying: “To those who have been hurt, I would like to offer a sincere and heartfelt apology. Your complaints and messages are already leading to changes and are serving as a foundation for the way we move forward.”
A spokesperson for the college refused to say if Sutton was fired.
Read more: Former Dawson College student denounces harassment in theatre program as faculty members step down
Kayleigh Choiniere, one of the former students, said she’s still trying to process the statement, because students had been complaining for years.
“I don’t know exactly how I feel yet, to be honest,” she said .
However, two things stand out for her in the statement.
“The apology and the acknowledgment that hurt had happened,” she told Global News.
Choiniere alleges that while she was a student in the college’s theatre programme from 2009 to 2012, Sutton touched her in ways that made her feel uncomfortable and asked questions about her relationships with men.
Tara Amsel, another former student from 1998, also alleges that Sutton touched her in a way that she says was inappropriate. Amsel noted, though, that the problem goes far beyond one teacher in the programme.
“I don’t think this was a Winston problem,” she said. “I think this was a cultural problem in the school.”
Choiniere agrees, saying the teaching methods encouraged teachers to abuse their power.
“(They) manipulate you and they tell you you are unworthy and they teach you to forget that you have boundaries,” she said.
That kind of treatment is also common at other theatre schools, the two former students point out, and it carries over into the industry where actors often face the same kind of abuses.
In the statement, Andréa Cole, Dawson’s dean of Creative and Applied Arts wrote: “Together, with the wider theatre community, our goals will include the development of concrete plans for renewed educational engagement with current social issues, as well as the promotion of safe and open communication for all, no matter the venue.”
Rahul Varma, artistic director for Teesri Duniya Theatre, agrees that the industry has a role to play in creating partnerships with institutions to ensure students are safe and prepared for professional life.
“And if that link is disturbed while the students are in their educational (milieu), of course they will be very suspicious,” Varma said.
He also acknowledged that harassment of various kinds do occur in the professional theatre world, as it does in other professional spheres. It’s why his company is currently producing a play with testimonies from sexual abuse survivors, to help confront the issue.
Sutton’s former students say they are now waiting to see if the college will follow through to make changes.
None of the current allegations against Sutton by former Dawson pupils have been proven in court.