Statement in response to recent press reports of historical sexual harassment at de Theaterschool

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Over the past week and a half, de Theaterschool in Amsterdam, now known as the Academy of Theatre and Dance, has appeared numerous times in the media in connection with allegations made by former students against the school’s former artistic director Jappe Claes regarding intimidating and undesirable sexual behaviour coupled with a culture in the school that made it possible for this to take place.

We would like to express our respect and admiration  for those who have had the courage to speak out, and we are deeply affected by the pain expressed in the testimonies. We are sincerely sorry for what happened to these students in this period, and we of course consider the behaviour that prompted these testimonies to be entirely unacceptable. Our position on these matters is unequivocal: intimate relationships between teachers and students, as well as between employees who are in a mutually interdependent relationship due to their study or work, are not acceptable and are therefore not permitted.

After several whistle blowers collected anonymous testimonies in 2013 regarding sexually intimidating and transgressional behaviour, the then recently revamped management of de Theaterschool immediately intervened and ended the institution’s employment relationship with Jappe Claes. In our decision-making on this matter, we were guided by the desire expressed by the individuals concerned to remain anonymous. They indicated that they did not want to be identified and we have respected that. As a consequence, we were not in a position to start an official investigation or press charges, and for the same reason we could not divulge the true reason for Claes’s departure in 2013. The management has been in constant contact with the whistle blowers who acted on behalf of the women concerned.

Two years ago, there was a great deal of attention for these events in the press and elsewhere, which also examined the culture of tolerance of such behaviour within de Theaterschool, particularly in the Drama & Contemporary Music Theatre (ATKA) department. It was clear then and it is clear now that a culture existed for several  years in which unacceptable behaviour was allowed to persist unchallenged. This should not have happened, and this was a failure on our part.

This failure  has been addressed. In recent years, we have extensively reviewed and improved our internal culture and regulations.

Internally this matter has been discussed extensively at the Academy of Theatre and Dance; we have listened and we have investigated. This subject has been and will remain part of an open discussion in which employees and teachers can speak out. In short, the Academy of Theatre and Dance is doing everything in its power to provide a truly transparent and safe learning environment, and we are continually working to establish and maintain a culture in which students and staff feel safe. We have provided courses and training sessions for staff and teachers. We have had meetings at which everyone was able to speak freely. And we held a two-day conference on power and powerlessness for teaching staff, at which a great deal of information and feelings were shared. The culture of the academy’s board is now more democratic and transparent. Confidential counsellors, deans, a psychologist and mentors are on the alert for any repetition of undesirable behaviour, and each year, this fact is explicitly brought to the attention of students and staff. 

We cannot overstate how important it is to us to have a safe and good working and study environment for all . This matter requires particular attention in the arts education environment, where physical and mental proximity is often integral to study and working processes. For this reason we have a strict policy and extensive regulations on integrity that are issued to every new employee before he/she accepts a job at the AHK. We will handle any new complaints, testimony or evidence  with the utmost sensitivity and  care.