Berklee & Boston Conservatory at Berklee Students Against Sexual Assault

As a first semester student at Berklee College of Music located in Boston, Massachusetts on November 8th, 2017, when The Boston Globe published an article that addressed Berklee quietly letting faculty who committed sexual abuse go, encouraging the victims to stay quiet about their assaults, I was concerned for my community. After the article was published, the students of Berklee and the Boston Conservatory at Berklee came together to create change and help better their school.

On November 13th, 2017 there was a silent, nonviolent protest at Berklee which turned into an open forum with Roger Brown, addressing the change needed at the college. At the beginning of the open forum members of the student body presented a list of demands that they wanted implemented by the beginning of the Spring 2018 semester. Although Roger Brown could not agree to every demand on the spot, Brown agreed to getting a plan of action out to the students by the end of the Fall 2017 semester, for the coming year. A three hour long conversation then took place where students bravely opened up about their experiences of sexual assault and sexual harassment on campus, their disappointment in the administration and what they think should change to insure safety and equality for all students on campus. 

After attending the open forum I was inspired to interview my peers at Berklee College of Music about everything that has transpired regarding the sexual misconduct at Berklee. Not only was I made proud to know these people as my peers but I felt very uplifted and hopeful because of everyone's answers. 

Sarah Khatami has her self-titled EP available on all platforms now!

Sarah Khatami has her self-titled EP available on all platforms now!

The first interview is with Sarah Khatami, a junior songwriting major at the college.

JULIA: What do you think is the strongest societal pressure and why?

SARAH: Society itself puts a huge amount of pressure on people.

JULIA: Have you ever personally conformed to societal expectations? If so, how did you feel doing so and what do you think influenced that?

SARAH: Yes, as a Muslim-Iranian woman, I have felt the need to hide the religious and cultural sides of me in order to feel more accepted by my peers. It was difficult to do this, and I believe that the lack of representation in media and in the world is what influenced it.

JULIA: What stereotypes have you been boxed into, and how does that make you feel?

SARAH: Muslims are often boxed into the stereotype of looking a certain way (many people think that all Muslim men have long beards and turbans, and Muslim women are completely covered from head to toe), because I do not conform to this stereotype, it is often difficult for me to figure out how I identify. I am either too Westernized for my Muslim peers, or I am too Muslim for my non-Muslim peers.

JULIA: If you could educate a man on women, what would you tell him?    

SARAH: I would tell him that every woman is different. What one woman may find liberating, another woman might find oppressive. I would tell him not to make false assumptions about certain women based on what they specifically find liberating or oppressive.

JULIA: Why do you think people have the idea that what a woman wears determines consent? What do you think will change their mindset?

SARAH: People have this idea because society and the media brainwash us to believe that women who wear tight-fitting/sexy outfits are “sluts.” The only thing that will change their mindset is if they realize that women dress for themselves, not for others.

JULIA: In society, what do you hope to change, wish to change?

SARAH: I hope to change the stereotype that practicing Muslim women who wear the hijab are “oppressed.” People who make this assumption about Muslim women do not know enough about the religion and are openly being ignorant and racist. Many Muslim women are also victims of sexual assault, and I think that bringing to light the true meaning of Islam and the hijab will hopefully bring down the percentage sexual assault attacks against Muslim women.


JULIA: What year and major are you?

SARAH: I am in my Junior year; and am a Songwriting major

JULIA: When you read the Boston Globe article, what was your first reaction?

SARAH: Unfortunately, my first reaction was that I was unsurprised. With everything going on in the news and on social media in regards to sexual assault, I knew it was only a matter of time before Berklee’s ugly truth came to light.

JULIA: At Berklee, have you ever faced sexual harassment? (Can be a yes/no response) Yes.

JULIA: I saw you attended the silent protest and lived streamed it, by live streaming the event(s) did that enhance the experience for you? Were people reaching out to you over social media?

SARAH: The livestream made the experience more accessible to those who either couldn’t make it for school related, or personal reasons. A couple people were reaching out to me over social media thanking me for livestreaming and being a part of the protest.

JULIA: On the day of the protest and open forum, how did you feel before it? How did you feel after it?

SARAH: I felt nervous before it because none of us knew how it was going to go, or if the administration would be understanding of what we were concerned about. Afterwards, I felt extremely emotionally exhausted, yet somewhat hopeful.

JULIA: Tell me about the club you are the president of, what kind of work do you do and how are you planning to keep talking about this problem to make sure it is always a concern talked about?

SARAH: The club I run is called Justice Circle. Our mission statement is to give a voice to the oppressed. In all of our meetings and events, we strive to serve this purpose. We discuss basically every single social justice issue and brainstorm ways that we can help and be better activists in our communities. When the sexual assault allegations came out, we had a whole meeting dedicated to it and allowed students to express their feelings in a safe environment around peers, not faculty. We have also been collaborating with SAAVE in their efforts to help survivors, and recently, I met with Simone Pilon, the head of the liberal arts department at Berklee, to discuss incorporating some sort of education about consent, sexual assault, and microaggressions into LENS (first-year seminar class). You can read more about Justice Circle here.

JULIA: What do you think should change at Berklee?

SARAH: I think one of Berklee’s biggest issues is the male to female ratio. I have been in many settings at Berklee where I’ve been the only female in the room. It is uncomfortable to say the least. It also doesn’t do the music industry justice, seeing as there are so many women in this industry who need to be represented.

JULIA: What would you tell Rodger Brown to change, to insure the safety and equality of all students?

SARAH: At the meetings I’ve had with Roger Brown and the rest of the student club leaders, I’ve mentioned the male to female ratio problem, the fact that incoming students don’t have a good enough sexual assault/consent/microaggression education, and the fact that many student club leaders don’t communicate with each other, therefore there is a huge disconnect within the student body. He has been very understanding and open to my ideas about accepting more females and women of color into the school, altering the LENS courses, and starting a student club leader alliance in order to encourage communication. I have faith that Roger Brown will follow through with all of this, because if not, he and his administration would be letting down a lot of students again.

Now onto the second interview, with Jenni Rudolph a 3rd semester student at Berklee who is majoring in songwriting with a minor in Recording and Production for Musicians.


JULIA: What do you think is the strongest societal pressure and why?

JENNI: That is a big question. As a young teenage girl, the pressure to be attractive hit me hard. I was socially conditioned to adjust my style of fashion, makeup, my mannerisms, and my speech to try and be appealing. I have always felt like a very feminine person inside, but when I was growing up I felt very out of touch with my appearance. No matter what I wore, I felt like I was never attractive enough, and to my poor teenage brain, that translated as not being woman enough.

Now that I am a college student, the pressure I feel the strongest now is the pressure to be “chill.” To be calm, to not care too much. To have casual opinions and not speak my mind too loudly. To let other people walk all over me and just shrug it off so I seem laidback and not a “b****”. To be talented, but not too talented, because that’s just intimidating. To be emotionally easy to deal with. To be “not like those other girls.” Which is ridiculous… what does that even mean? You can’t generalize an entire gender.


JULIA: Have you ever personally conformed to societal expectations? If so, how did you feel doing so and what do you think influenced that?

JENNI: In high school I dated a guy I wasn’t attracted to, because I felt there was something wrong with me for never having dated anyone. The relationship didn’t end well because we were not compatible on any level, but I overlooked that for six months because I enjoyed the validation of being “wanted.” Movies and TV shows had taught me that no girl is complete without a boyfriend, and I thought that a boy being interested in me was proof that I could be a normal girl. However, it left me feeling very unfulfilled and worried that I may never be compatible with anyone. I don’t regret the experience, because now I have learned that I am worth more than a mediocre high school fling and I can be my complete brilliant self without male validation.


JULIA: What stereotypes have you been boxed into, and how does that make you feel?

JENNI: I’m half Chinese and half Russian Jewish, so stereotypes always come with a side of confusion. My Chinese side in particular is subject to fetishization and other Asian stereotypes. I have always been pretty much a straight A student, and because of that, I used to constantly receive comments about being an Asian nerd. However, because I’m also half Jewish, I didn’t feel Asian enough to be welcomed into the Asian cliques at school, which meant I had to deal with those remarks on my own, without an understanding support system. 

There are so many “Asian female” stereotypes that I’ve had to deal with over the years, that were only made more complicated by me being mixed. Adolescence was one giant puzzle: trying to figure out if my half-Asian heritage made me sexy or nerdy. I grew up being ashamed of my ethnic makeup which only further contributed to my insecurities about my appearance.

Now that I attend a music college, I encounter stereotypes that have less to do with my ethnicity and more to do with being a female music student, a female vocalist, and a female songwriter. People are often surprised by my musicality and knowledge of theory, my stage presence, my knowledge of recording and production, and my ability to write songs that aren’t about boys. Surprise! Women are multi dimensional beings with a lot to say and the voice with which to say it.


JULIA: If you could educate a man on women, what would you tell him?


JENNI: We are just as capable as men. And if my words don’t convince you, look at my accomplishments.


JULIA: Why do you think people have the idea that what a woman wears determines consent? What do you think will change their mindset?


JENNI: In our society, a woman’s value has always been chain-linked to her clothing. People will find any reason to judge a victim and justify their trauma. Some people will listen to a woman’s clothing more than her own words. Although changing people’s mindsets is a difficult endeavor, I feel it’s always worth pointing out that this can happen to someone regardless of what they are wearing - people wearing all different styles and amounts of clothing have experienced this.


JULIA: As a woman, what do you hope to change, wish to change?


JENNI: I hope to use my voice as a songwriter to change the way that women are viewed. I want to show young girls that being a “strong woman” doesn’t mean being absolutely fearless, being immune to doubt and emotional vulnerability, and constantly proving everyone wrong.

Rather, being a strong woman is working through your doubts and fears, growing into a smarter, kinder human, being open-minded, learning from the people around you, and using your strengths to help others.



JULIA: As a Berklee student when you read the article, what was your first reaction?


JENNI: I was not surprised. “I guess this is an issue even at Berklee.” Berklee is just like any other college.


JULIA: At Berklee, have you ever faced sexual harassment? (Can be a yes/no response and no elaboration if you prefer)


JENNI: Specifically at Berklee, I fortunately have not experienced sexual harassment. However, I am always on edge in case I do, especially since so many of my close friends have. The number of my close friends who are victims of sexual harassment, assault, stalking, or rape can’t even be counted on two hands. I didn’t entirely believe the “1 in every 5 women in college” statistic until so many of my friends confided in me and I realized it truly is an epidemic, and this terrifies me.


JULIA: Do you believe Berklee will change for the better?


JENNI: Absolutely. I wouldn’t stay at Berklee if I didn’t believe this. I’m not sure how much or how fast change will occur, but I do know that the recent sexual assault protesting was the most significant instance of students taking meaningful action that I have witnessed so far at Berklee.


JULIA: What would you tell Roger Brown to change to insure the safety and equality of all students?


JENNI: Listen to us. Believe us. See the value in all of us, and trust that if we are respected and protected, we will thrive and so will Berklee. And most importantly, actually follow our motto, “Esse quam videri” (to be, not seem to be) and follow through with your promises.


Sky Stahlmann, a first year at Berklee. She is majoring in professional music with a focus in CWP and songwriting



JULIA: What do you think is the strongest societal pressure and why?

Sky: The strongest societal pressure? Um, well everyone’s experience is going to be different based on what they value. I mean for me, it’s always conforming. The pressure to conform. I always grew up this analogy that the world is going to push you into its own mold and it's your job to not let it. So I think the world is going to pressure people from every which way different. I’m actually a person of extreme faith, inwardly. I don’t push it on people, I talk about it but not in a pushing on people type of way, it’s very personal to me but I’ve felt a lot of pressure to not talk about it. I’m an avid fighter for a lot of things and I feel the ‘shut up’ pressure a lot. Probably another thing is kind of the pressure to conform to the monotonous ‘get a job’ don’t take the risky job, especially as a musician I’ve been told to look for the ‘real’ job. Those two are the biggest I am affected by, the pressure to conform and the pressure to not take risks.


JULIA: Have you ever personally conformed to societal expectations? If so, how did you feel doing so and what do you think influenced that?

Sky: No, not really. I don’t think I ever have because I did grow up with a really great family who always supported doing your own thing. Growing up, I was kind of a tomboy, I have a lot of siblings, I have seven kids in my family but I always felt kind of bad being a tomboy when I was younger, I liked girly things but I was awkward about girly things and then my mom was like, “femininity is what you make of it. If you don’t wanna wear dresses that doesn't make you any less of a girl then the girl who does like to wear dresses.” And I was like, “you know what you’re right.” I’ve really gone against the grain in a lot of ways in my life, and in my opinion, if a person can’t handle it or doesn’t like it then see you later. At a very young age, I just learned to say f*** it.


JULIA: What stereotypes have you been boxed into, and how does that make you feel?

    Sky: Probably one of them is the stereotypical female vocalist, and that I’m dumb and which I can be but I know where the areas are that I’m “dumb” and I’m working on it. I mean yeah, I’m a vocalist but I also play bass and piano so it’s like what? Just because you’re a vocalist doesn’t make you any less smart than another musician. Also because of the beliefs that I have, people like to stereotype me. I’m trying to find the right word, like almost like a bigot in that sense, like people like to be like, oh obviously because of your faith, clearly you’re a homophobe, clearly you’re misogynistic and I’m like, at what point did I ever say that? People need to back up and not go there, people don’t know me at all and they give me a lot of s*** for my faith. I am Christian but the thing that people don't understand is I always grew up with the phrase, what does love look like. Even friendships and going into those relationships and just loving them to death, so i mean a lot of people take a strong faith the wrong way but one day I hope they can see that love and acceptance for everyone is what I value and that certain stereotypes don’t fit me. Get to know me, don’t stereotype me.  


JULIA: If you could educate a man on women, what would you tell him?

SKY: That’s like a whole course! I would educate them on how we pick up on the little things, like how the small things matter to us. Also, on a whole, the one thing I could just say is that we’re going to shatter your expectations. Walk in and get rid of your biases, treat someone like a person that they are.

JULIA: Why do you think people have the idea that what a woman wears determines consent?

SKY: Obvious as you and I know, just because a woman’s dressed revealing doesn’t mean that you have a right to have your way with them. Just because a dude is wearing a revealing shirt that shows his abs or his muscles doesn’t mean I have a right to push myself on him. He can walk around shirtless and I have no right to do anything to him. So like, it’s the same with women, unless they give you verbal, coherent consent, the answer is no.

JULIA: What do you think will change their mindset?

SKY: A lot of people’s minds will change but on the whole, I don’t think that’s ever going to go away. I don’t think bad things or bad people are ever going to stop happening. So, I think there are precautions that need to be taught to people and taken against bad people like to be safe there are things like underwear women can wear that can’t be cut through, I think its smart for women to protect themselves because bad people aren’t going to go away. I don’t think the whole clothing issue is going to stop a person from destroying someone’s life. A person can be wearing super conservative clothing and still be targeted. The whole clothing thing is actually ridiculous to me because it’s not a relevant factor. Women get raped in anything, it doesn't matter what they wear. The only thing that’s going to make that argument go away is not giving it the time of day. The real question is how do we keep people safe in the long term because you can’t control others, especially people who set out to do bad things in their own selfishness. You can only educate people and you can’t make them choose to do the right thing unless they want to.

JULIA: In society, what do you hope to change, wish to change?

Sky: Since I was a kid, I knew I wanted to go into the music industry because I wanted to change the stigma that surrounds musicians. Like, I hate the 27 club, I hate that. I don’t think it’s fair that so many musicians are being killed because of mental illness. For me, a huge passion is helping people find where they fit in the world, everybody’s path is different but everybody has a place in the world. I think of it like, the world’s a clock and even the smallest parts and gears, without them, the clock stops turning. So like a person might feel small but they are equally important to keep the world turning. So if everyone could find where they fit the world would be a better place. Once you know what you want to do with your life, your life is instantly better.

JULIA: What year and major are you?

SKY: 2nd semester majoring in professional music focus in CWP and songwriting.


JULIA: When you read the Boston Globe article, what was your first reaction?

SKY: I can generally be a rather confused person on the whole, usually to anything my first reaction to something is mad confusion *laughs* so that’s what it was, I had to read it a couple times, I was like “What! What is going on? And then I read the email and I was like, what? I thought I was reading the wrong article. The first email didn’t relate at all to what happened. I was pissed. I have not been a victim of sexual assault, a lot of people I care about deeply have been. The college’s first email to us made it seem like they were acting without interest of their students involved and that was very frustrating to me. When I read everything over, I was like, “okay. This is not okay I can’t just sit by and let this happen.”


JULIA: At Berklee, have you ever faced sexual harassment? (Can be a yes/no response)

No. People I know have but I haven’t.


JULIA: What do you think should change at Berklee?

SKY: A lot of people are like, why haven’t we heard anything and what people don’t understand is that we can’t reveal anything that’s going to change yet because it’s not solidified yet, which would be breaking the trust of the administration. Something that I think needs to change is the communication between the students and administration. Genuinely, I have never met a man who cares more about his student body than RB. Genuinely, I’ve never met a man who cares more. I think if he was more aware of what was happening, none of this would’ve happened. The diversity office needs to be better staffed, which they are working on but that needs to change also, we need way clearer actions that come from the equity policy. The consequences need to be more set in stone. One of the things we were talking about is the different sanctions and difference in severity of the case. The sanctions need to be in best interest of the victim and the perpetrator. The perpetrator, yes, he did something wrong so there has to be a way there can be moving forward without interfering with the victim. One thing that I really believe in is the ability for rehabilitation. Yes, obviously someone needs to know when they did something wrong but if they can learn from that and become a better person and then make a difference themselves, that’s actually a better endgame and would create more positive change. The room for rehabilitation, with the victim’s best interest in light. Also, Berklee needs to be better educators on sexual assault and consent. The number one thing I think is resources for victims.


JULIA: Do you believe Berklee will change for the better?

SKY: oh yeah, they’ve been working nonstop. I don’t think I’ve seen an institution make a 360 turn so fast like Berklee did. Roger Brown, when he came to the institution thirteen years ago, there was literally no protection for students whatsoever. He built the equity policy they have today from absolute scratch so the problem is they genuinely didn’t know that what they were doing, wasn’t working. Now that they are aware change will ensue and most definitely make the school better.


JULIA: Can you tell me about your work surrounding Berklee and the sexual misconduct problem?

What exactly have you done?


SKY: I’ve helped with specifics for forming the working group, helped launch student groups, helped structure further discussion and education, I have also helped screen new people for the equity office.


JULIA: How did it feel to talk to Roger Brown about your and other students’ concerns? Were you frustrated? Reassured he will take action?

SKY: I was incredibly surprised at how passionate he was about fixing the issues on this campus. He was incredibly humble and open-minded and willing to take action in any way.

JULIA: What did you tell Rodger Brown to change, to ensure the safety and equality of all students?

SKY: There is a very long list and it is still in discussion. Mostly, I wanted to see a better conversation happen at the school that created a better understanding and culture on these current issues. Some other big key points were better policy implementation, better counseling services and more staff for the equity office.

JULIA: Moving forward, what do you need to see change and how will you make sure the Berklee community sees the change that has been promised to us, follow through?


SKY: I want to see a culture that is less afraid to speak up and stand up for this issue. Thankfully we are definitely moving into that as a society. At Berklee, I want to see the institution fully backing the policies and standards they set out to fulfill.


I am very happy that I got to interview these empowering women on such an important issue at our college. Berklee is on the road to changing for the better and I am so grateful to know people throughout our school and outside our community are dedicated to changing Berklee for the better.