Live & Learn

A Guide to the Low Residency Art MFA by David Vanadia, MFA

My Goddard College MFA-IA Port Townsend Experience

· Comments (28)

I graduated from Goddard’s MFA in Interdisciplinary Arts program in Port Townsend, Washington in March of 2011. Goddard prides itself on being an inclusive institution. The Non-Discrimination Policy:

Goddard Non-Discrimination Policy

Goddard College does not discriminate on the basis of race, religion, color, national origin, marital/civil union status, age, gender, gender identity or expression, sexual orientation, veteran/uniformed service status, disability or other legally protected classification in any of its policies or procedures – including but not limited to those related to admission, employment, the provision of educational services, and the granting of financial aid – or in its services, facilities, privileges or benefits in compliance with and to the limits of applicable state and federal laws. All Goddard scheduled and sponsored programs and activities are open to men and women on an equal basis or on the basis of gender identity or expression. (source)

Spring Residency

During my spring 2010 residency, Goddard offered a student-led workshop that was described as being “specifically for women.” The workshop included information about Qigong, a subject that is integral to my art practice. Since the description on the schedule seemed to suggest that men were not welcome I asked the workshop leader, Roslyn, if I could attend. She said no. When I asked why she said, “Because you don’t have the right parts.”

I asked if I could just listen and explained that I was interested in Qigong and that her workshop was the only time during my education at Goddard that anyone offered a learning opportunity so directly related to my movement arts practice. Roslyn again told me that I was not welcome and particularly because I did not have the right parts. When I asked how she knew I didn’t have the right parts Roslyn told me that I could show up, pull my pants down, and the participants would decide if I had the right parts or not.

Another student, Johnny, overheard our discussion and asked, “What if a transgendered person wanted to attend the workshop?” Roslyn said they would not be welcome because they too did not have the right parts. Johnny asked, “What if they just wanted the experience?” Roslyn said it would be too bad. Her message was clear; a transgendered person was not welcome in her workshop and neither was I. Corey, a Goddard support staff member, was in the room and witnessed the entire conversation.

The next morning in the cafeteria, Corey told me that he thought it was good that I asked Roslyn about her workshop because she told him she didn’t expect to be questioned by anyone. Faculty member Laiwan was sitting next to Corey. She overheard our discussion and told us that women need their own space. Corey and I felt that Goddard was an inclusive educational institution but Laiwan felt that we should not have questioned the situation at all. Corey and I agreed that the topic was interesting and worth discussing.

Laiwan said it was not interesting, that there was no discussion, and that our questions had been asked and answered throughout time. She felt that the Goddard men should have held our own workshop to discuss how we have treated women throughout history. Laiwan ended the conversation by pointing at us and telling us that because we were straight, white males we should know better than to ask such questions. Then she walked off.

During the start of that same residency, I was standing near the ping-pong table when something touched my buttocks. I turned around to find faculty member Alrick smiling and tapping me with his ping-pong paddle. I thought he was indicating that I was too close to the table, moved several steps away, and continued my conversation with another student. The second time, Alrick repeatedly thrust his paddle into my buttocks in a mocking manner—in front of other students in the middle of the community room—and laughed as he did it. Shocked and surprised, I moved further away. Then he did it again. The third time it happened he had to walk ten feet to get to me. I wanted to react strongly but worried the community would misunderstand or blame me for lashing out. Instead I made a joke about feeling awkward and left the room. As I walked out my classmate asked, “Are you hiding?” I said I was being molested and so yes, I was leaving.

Later that night, after a college presentation, Alrick walked beside me as we exited and said he didn’t mean to pick a fight. He also mumbled something more; I believe he said, “sorry.”

After those incidents I went to Bonnie, the Program Director, and asked if I could have some private time to talk with her. She did not schedule a meeting but instead said she would come and find me when she had the time. Days passed. On the evening of the last day of residency I noticed Goddard employees Bonnie, Lori, Erin, Joyce, Michael, Laiwan, and Corey sitting at a table in the cafeteria. There were no students present and there was no time left in the schedule for private meetings—we were about to have the final night celebration and I was due to leave in a carpool early the next morning. I approached the table and asked if I could talk to Bonnie. She invited me to sit down. I said I felt more emotional than expected. She said she could see that. I said I was going to speak my mind and Bonnie encouraged me to do so. Everyone got quiet and listened intently.

I told Laiwan that I was offended by what she said to me, that I had been banned from a workshop based on my sex, explained that a male from Goddard had touched me inappropriately and that it made me uncomfortable, and added that I had felt discriminated against in previous semesters by my advisors for being a white male whose artistic studies included business and Chinese martial arts. I did not name Alrick because he was not present. Also, the faculty revered Alrick and I feared that my story about him would reflect poorly on me—that they would label me a racist.

Laiwan responded by saying that she was happy those things were happening to me. She told me that my grief was nothing (she held her finger tips close together) compared to the oppression others have suffered throughout history (she held her hands far apart). She said that I was just having a reaction and added, “Some people live with this sort of thing every day.” I was visually frustrated, excused myself, and left the table.

The next morning after breakfast, Bonnie asked to talk with me in private. She explained that I was inappropriate the night before. I realized that I had brought up an issue in front of people who were not directly involved and could see why faculty and staff might have felt uncomfortable. That morning, before closing circle, I apologized to everyone who was at the table for exposing them to my issues (except for Michael who I apologized to via email the next day).

Laiwan accepted my apology but said what I did was not okay. Erin said she didn’t mind but wished that I hadn’t done it front of “certain support staff.” Lori gave me a silent hug as Joyce watched and smiled. I never heard back from Michael. I also apologized to Roslyn for giving her shit. She replied, “You can give me shit anytime.” With the exception of Alrick, nobody apologized to me.

I wished that I never said a word, tried to put it all behind me, and went home.

Spring Semester

Four days later I got an email that was sent to the entire Port Townsend student body. It came from Dean Lucinda and included an email correspondence with Laiwan that explained how occurrences on both campuses warranted the dissemination of the 94-page Diversity and Difference Toolkit. (A paper noose had been found on the east coast campus but I could only wonder what happened on the west coast.) The toolkit contained scholarly articles about white male privilege and behavioral advice for white guys. I read the entire document, which suggested that I discuss the contents of the toolkit with others.

I emailed students and staff and invited them to talk with me about the toolkit. Two students responded and said they planned to read it. They never did. Bonnie encouraged me to post a thread on G-Net because she wanted students to be enticed to use the new online system. She did not respond when I suggested that she post her thoughts about the Toolkit in the online thread I had created. I emailed Laiwan directly and invited her to discuss the document. She never responded. I gave up.

Fall Residency

Prior to the fall 2010 semester, Bonnie invited me to co-host a discussion at the residency about the Diversity and Difference Toolkit. I declined her offer. (The Toolkit instructs that white guys should turn down leadership positions so women or people of color can take the role.) Bonnie reacted by questioning my integrity, which led to a mutually frustrating email exchange. In our dialogue, Bonnie revealed that she thought I was the author of several negative anonymous residency feedback comments—because they came from a male. She was mistaken and did not apologize about her accusation. Instead she offered unsolicited advice about my communication style. Meanwhile, Bonnie could not recall anything I had said at the table in the cafeteria during the prior residency but could recall that the subject seemed very important to me. She offered me a 30-minute telephone slot but, due to her tone and previous reaction, I didn’t feel safe to share my story with her again.

During the Fall 2010 residency, I attended the Diversity and Difference Toolkit discussion. Towards the end of the session it seemed that students were on the verge of voicing previously undisclosed issues and concerns about the MFA-IA program. I pressed for a second meeting, which my classmates also wanted. Bonnie authorized it. The second meeting was highly anticipated and students talked it up on campus beforehand. We said that we were going to speak our minds about college issues that had us feeling disgruntled. Students became emotional when discussing their concerns in private.

At the second meeting some people expressed social insecurities but none of the students stated publicly what they had privately claimed that they would say. Folks who were passionately vocal hours earlier remained silent during the meeting. With all of the faculty and staff present, the circle was intimidating. I too was going to stay quiet but felt it would have been hypocritical if I did. I took a chance and told about how I had been barred from attending a workshop because of my sex, that a faculty member had mocked me by repeatedly thrusting a ping-pong paddle into my buttocks in front of others in the community room, that another faculty member took pleasure in my discomfort, and said that it made me feel bad. In an attempt to get my message heard, I remained calm and did not name names. I ended by saying that I cared very much about the Goddard community and wanted the school to be a place that embodies its mission statement.

Out of all the people who confessed their concerns during that meeting I was the only one who was rebuked. Roslyn accused me of thinking only of myself, said I focus on the negative, and claimed that she didn’t let me into her workshop because she wanted her female friends to feel safe. That’s when Marc, the PT Student Service Specialist, said we were out of time and ended the meeting.

I offered to stay and talk with anyone who was interested to discuss the issue. The majority of people left. Laiwan left. Roslyn left. Bonnie, Ju-Pong, and several students stayed.

At the start of the after-meeting, Bonnie set the tone by expressing in front of everyone that she was “stepping out of her role as Program Director” so she could tell me that—upon discovering what it was about—she was incensed by my story. She looked directly at me and blurted, “You’re so privileged!”

Faculty member Ju-Pong told me that by not mentioning names I had made Laiwan “invisible.” How she knew Laiwan was involved I do not know. Ju-Pong felt that Roslyn preventing me from attending her workshop based on my sex was not discriminatory. Ju-Pong also said there are several definitions of discrimination and that my definition was different than Goddard’s definition. Fifteen minutes into it, Bonnie announced that the meeting was over.

Afterwards, Bonnie and I spoke privately and she admitted that she should have followed up with me sooner. After that, Lori suggested Laiwan and I have a mediated conversation. I agreed but was warned that it might not make a difference because Laiwan was “pretty set in her ways.” Days passed. On the last day of residency Bonnie emailed me and explained that Lawian declined to meet with me because she was concerned about taking energy away from my portfolio semester and wished me luck with my writing.

During that same residency, Bonnie asked what it was that I do (as an artist) and acted confused that I identified as a storyteller. “But everyone’s a storyteller,” she rebuffed. She also informed me that I was going to have to “really explain” myself in my portfolio. Petra was my primary reader and my portfolio semester advisor. Separately, Petra also told me that I’d need to “really explain” myself because she was unfamiliar with my work. She wanted to understand my “obsession with money” and warned me several times that there’s a danger in working with an advisor who I hadn’t worked with before. She repeatedly asked what I was and suggested the titles “agent provocateur” and “trickster.” I rejected those monikers because they had negative connotations.

Also during that residency, a fellow student came to me in the community room but stopped talking mid-sentence when Bonnie entered. After Bonnie left my classmate said quietly that she and other students felt I had raised valid points and that they supported my speaking out—yet she relayed this information to me in secret.

Fall Semester

My first G5 portfolio packet contained a short draft. Petra said it didn’t look anything like a portfolio, which was true. My grandfather passed away and my writing was stinted in the first few weeks. My second packet contained 125 pages complete with red text at the start of each section written directly to Petra, pointing out specifics and asking her questions. Her response did not address anything I wrote, advised me to “stop seeking external validation,” and suggested I could take an extension semester if I was feeling pressured.

My third packet included a full draft sent to Petra and Michael, my second reader. I revealed and explained myself as per Bonnie and Petra’s advice. Unfortunately my efforts did not meet their graduation requirements. Both advisors dismissed my prior work, questioned if my art was indeed art, and told me they didn’t like my (previously credit worthy) reading list. Michael said my already approved artwork from my first semester didn’t belong in my portfolio. Petra consulted with Bonnie who advised that I might need an extension semester, or quite possibly another full semester, to make new artwork in addition to an extension semester.

In the final weeks of my five-semester education they were telling me that I might not graduate for another 8 to 16 months!

Michael apologized and said he knew how frustrated I must have felt. Petra told me to take deep breaths and not to take it personally. Naturally I had questions but neither of my advisors wanted to be bothered. Michael was in Thailand and Petra was in Australia. Petra refused to answer my inquiries because she felt it would take up too much time and instead deferred me to Michael’s previously written comments. Michael thankfully did give response—more than my primary advisor—although many of his answers were vague and dismissive. For instance, when I asked why they didn’t accept my explanation of Tai Chi Chuan as a legitimate art form (I had to justify every part of my interdisciplinary art practice) Michael replied, “I understand your frustration, but for whatever reason, neither of us felt it was a convincing argument.”

When I asked Petra for more actionable advice beyond her, “At the heart you need to reveal yourself, reveal your work, and reveal your intention. If you can do that you will have transformed yourself in art practice,” she told me I could contact Bonnie if I didn’t like her communication style. When I asked why my artwork had been credit-worthy up until that point she told me, “I can’t really answer about your previous work, David, as I’ve never worked with you before.” When I referenced the red text written to her in my portfolio draft she said she never noticed it and added, “Ah well, nothing much we can do about that at this point.” When I asked for specific examples of the kind of revealing she prescribed, she told me to go to Port Townsend and read some portfolios. I did read portfolios. In fact, my classmate Kristin and I exchanged portfolios.

Kristin was a G5 as well. Her primary advisor was Michael and her second reader was Petra. The very criteria that Michael said were not up to par in my portfolio were non-existent in Kristin’s final work.

Kristin read my portfolio and advised me to be more mysterious. She said I explained too much. She described how she specifically ignored the degree criteria and instead went for something more cryptic. “Goddard loves that stuff,” she told me. For her it was true; Michael and Petra praised her portfolio! In fact, she was officially allowed to bend the rules with regard to layout and line-height while Petra denied my request to print at 1.5 spacing instead of double.

With my advisors telling me that my previously accepted artwork had no business being in my portfolio and my previously credited reading list was suddenly deemed unacceptable—and all of this with four weeks left in what I thought was my last semester—I literally had a hyperventilating-on-the-bathroom-floor nervous breakdown.

Determined to pass, I reached out to Goddard students. They invested in and helped me far more than my advisors. Classmates felt that I was being punished for speaking out. Some graduates had been through similar treatment but got caught later in the semester and were forced to take an expensive and time-consuming extension. In the final four weeks I wrote 24/7, revamped my entire portfolio (as Michael suggested) and submitted what was mainly an argument and justification for my 2.5 years at Goddard College.

Meanwhile, I contacted Marc to discuss my concerns. He felt that I was carrying incompleteness from past interactions with Bonnie into my relationship with Petra and suggested I talk to Bonnie. I agreed and we set up a phone meeting with Marc as the moderator. In an effort to balance the sexes, I asked Lori to participate. She did. During that call I retold my story and named names. Bonnie reacted as if she was hearing my tale for the very first time. She expressed confusion and concern because she had prepared to present information about Petra and my portfolio semester. She said she could see why I was upset but told me that my portfolio semester had nothing to do with things that had happened prior. I disagreed.

When I asked her to explain the role of my white privilege in the situation Bonnie could not answer. When I asked why she publicly called me privileged at the residency she said, “Because you are.”

That phone call was the first time Bonnie or Lori heard it was Alrick who goaded me with the ping-pong paddle. Marc accused me of waiting a long time to tell my story but I pointed out that I went right to Bonnie when the incidents first happened. With regard to the Diversity and Difference Toolkit, Bonnie explained that it was not an official Goddard document but was instead just Laiwan’s opinion.

I asked how students were to distinguish between a faculty member’s individual behavior and their professional, College-representing behavior during residency. Bonnie could not understand my question and told me that I have a confusing communicating style. I asked for a written statement of where she stood as a representative of Goddard and also requested that students be made clear about College policy. Because I had been publicly reproached, I wanted my classmates to know that what happened to me was wrong and that students should not be afraid to stand up for themselves. I wanted Goddard to officially stand by its rules and state to students that it’s against college policy to reject someone from a workshop based on their sex, that it’s insensitive to take pleasure in an individuals’ discomfort based on their sex, color, or orientation, and that it’s inappropriate for faculty to prod a student’s butt with a ping-pong paddle.

In Bonnie’s official response she said it was a student who banned me from the workshop, not the college. She added, “Had the matter been brought immediately to the attention of appropriate faculty and academic staff, an alternative outcome might have been possible.” She never mentioned addressing the students.

With regard to Alrick, I was told that she didn’t know it was him at the time and therefore couldn’t do anything about it but would follow up with him, that I could choose to send in a written account of the incident to be included in his ongoing performance evaluation, and that I could go to Dean Lucinda if I was unsatisfied. Since it was Dean Lucinda who sent out the Diversity and Difference Toolkit, it seemed to me that shutting up would be the best thing for improving my odds of graduating.

After the conference call I had a private phone discussion with Lori, the Student Affairs Coordinator. She listened to my story and made the assessment that nobody involved handled the situation well. She simply agreed with me when I described Petra as condescending. Lori said it sounded like I had “my own little run-in with racism,” that where Roslyn comes from it might be okay to tell someone to show up and pull down his or her pants, and that if I only knew Alrick like she knew him then I would understand what a good person he was. She also said she’d talk with Alrick and get back to me. Neither Bonnie nor Lori ever followed up with me about the conversations they said they’d have with Alrick. The Goddard redress procedure was moot—I was complaining to the people I was complaining about. What’s more, Lori has a relationship with Alrick outside of the college.

Soon after, Petra and Michael passed my final portfolio submission and I graduated with my classmates. 

Post Graduation

After graduation, I tried to gather my classmates to collectively share our stories and program suggestions with the president of the college in a positive fashion. They expressed fear and refused. After much deliberation, I wrote to President Vacarr of Goddard College to tell this story and request a partial tuition refund. That was August of 2011, six months after I graduated.

Four months after receiving my letter, Goddard replied and told me my request would not be considered because it was, “...outside of the published timeline and procedures stipulated in the Graduate Student Handbook for academic appeals and student grievances of a non-academic complaint.”

While they were sorry I was disgruntled, they continued to wish me the best in my life-long learning goals and hoped that my student experience, degree and continuing alumni connection all serve me well in my current and future pursuits.


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Comments

1. Deanna Pindell

I believe that nearly all of us, students, have had difficulties with a faculty member at some time ... I attribute that to the nature of this intimate mentorship program. Those difficulties are painful, but it is up to us to gain the lessons learned. The entire basis of a low-residency program is that one gets out what one puts in.

Rosylyn’s workshops on female sexuality are about female gyno-physicality in a culturally female identity. It would have been completely counterproductive for a heterosexually-identified XY male to be present as witness. She may not have handled the situation elegantly, but I am stunned that you still feel like you have a right to be offended.

The world is messy, identity is messy, we all have to practice some forgiveness, especially those in positions of privilege.

2. Vanadia

Thanks for responding, Deanna.

After Alrick stuck a ping pong paddle in your butt, how did you feel when the people in power made it clear they didn’t like you, delighted in your discomfort, and said you deserved it because you were a straight, white, female?

“Touching the Feminine Creative Source” was one of two exclusive Goddard sponsored events happening on campus that residency; there was another workshop about mothers and daughters held in an undisclosed location in one of the officer row homes. I wanted to participate in (not watch) Roslyn’s workshop—described as breathing and movement exercises—to learn the material she was presenting. I didn’t question the other event.

It never crossed my mind to offer an exclusive workshop at Goddard and, if I had, would the program director have helped me craft language for the catalog to insinuate that certain people shouldn’t attend? That’s just what Bonnie did when she admittedly helped write Roslyn’s workshop description to *imply* that men were not welcome.

It’s important that future students know it is okay for them to expect Goddard College to live up to its own standards of inclusivity. Based on the social justice policies established and advertised by the school, tuition-paying students can attend any Goddard sponsored workshop. No student should have to ask permission or be treated poorly in retaliation just for inquiring.

What’s more, students should not be forced to endure a hostile education environment nor should they feel like the only option they have is to quit the program after having invested so much time and money.

About forgiveness.

3. Gwenn

I’m David’s partner, and, as such, I have a unique perspective on what happened to him at Goddard.

When David called me from the residency to tell me about the crazy things that were happening, he did not frame those things in terms of sexual harassment.  I had to tell him that what Alrick and Roslyn had done were in fact sexual harassment, and that what Laiwan, Bonnie, and the rest of the staff and faculty had done was to support and encourage the unlawful behavior. 

Goddard has a moral and a legal responsibility to see that sexual harassment does not occur on its campuses and it has failed miserably to do so.

4. Alaina

I am seriously appalled. Discrimination is discrimination. To call someone privileged because of skin color and sex is obscene. To not listen to David’s concerns because “staff” felt the complaints of a “white man” are not valid is disturbing. I find David’s story a compelling example of how people reclassify discrimination. I’ve heard this behavior called reverse racism. What the hell is that? Racism is the discrimination of another person based on color. Sexism is the discrimination based on sex.  What I find most disturbing is that all of these progressive thinkers put a student in a box and classified him as “other”. And if you think that ALL white men are privileged you would be wrong and you know it.

5. Denise Auld

David, I say this with all the compassion in my heart: The past is done, time to move on, go get counseling NOW so you can be free from this.

Gwenn, If you love your man, and I know you do, call suicide prevention and get advice now.

6. Gwenn

@Denise: I have been witness to the emotional and physical damage that Goddard College has caused my partner for years now, and I promise that I am taking good care of him.  When you have been victimized by a corrupt institution, fighting for justice for yourself and for the future is important to the healing process.

7. lori

Having been present for most of the incident discussed, I have the perspective of reality. It’s interesting how the verbal assault at the dinner table is missing, how conversations are misquoted, and how “inclusivity” is a one-way street. This situation exemplifies privilege and entitlement, and deflecting blame away from one’s own work that doesn’t meet degree standards. This behavior is making me sick, and I would hope that students at the graduate level would hear multiple perspectives of a situation before jumping to conclusions. I consider myself a very patient and gracious person, but things happened in this incident that made me never want to see this student again, I was so offended and angered by his inconsiderate behavior toward others. That these lies continue to be told, to deflect attention away from the real issue here, is slanderous and full of malice.

8. Gwenn

@Lori: Look up Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.

9. lori

So done with this.

10. deanna

Gwenn.
Just so that you know, Lori is very well-educated about issues of discrimination on the basis of gender, race, etc. She is also extremely well-respected among a diverse range of communities for said knowledge and her intuitive grasp of implementation. I’d imagine that she can recite Title IX if she needs to.

It sounds to me personally like David is gunning for a lawsuit. Just FYI, there will be ample witnesses with opposing points of view, it won’t be an easy endeavor if he is considering this. I hope that I am wrong in this, as I believe that David’s rhetorics are only hurting everyone, including himself, without leading to any resolution.

Yes, Alrick was probably harrassing, (I don’t know because I didn’t witness that) and he is no longer employed at Goddard, so the school has met that legal standard.

I also urge you to do more research about the exemptions for gender-specific activities within title IX and other discrimination law. Men could be legally not allowed into a workshop such as Roslyn’s for the same reasons that men are not allowed to use women’s lockerooms.

If you’ve read the FB page for our cohort, you’ll note that many of David’s former friends and allies are disengaging from him, and you’ll read the reasons written there.

seeking peace, D

11. Denise Auld

Gwenn, Your response is co-dependent and not what David needs. Blaming is not a healthy response to any event in life if you are to fully recover and move on. You can be his support, but not his therapist.

12. Gwenn

@Deanna: According to your logic, just because some Goddard people don’t like what David is saying, he’s wrong and should be silent.  Your worldview is not like mine.

David wanted a conversation about all that happened from the very first moment it happened.  That was all he wanted.  What he got was sexual harassment, name-calling, stonewalling, and intimidation tactics.  And that’s all he’s still getting from a small and vocal portion of the Goddard community.

I’m far more interested in those Goddard students who aren’t weighing in on this.  I can’t help but think they may be too intimidated to speak up for fear that they may say the “wrong” thing and find themselves victim to the same punishment that David has suffered.

Goddard College broke some good laws—laws that well deserve to be respected.  If you think that’s okay, we will never come to an agreement of any kind.

As for peace, that’s a privileged space, and one that requires equality.

13. Gwenn

@Denise: With my comment i #6, I was trying to tactfully tell you that I am aware of David’s current emotional state even though I don’t have access to the Goddard PT Facebook page.  I appreciate your trying to notify me about it, but I promise you that I am taking care of him.

14. Whit

gwenn, you are right about one thing. i am intimidated, but not by goddard - by david. i’m sure i’m not the only one who fears david posting some bullshit about me. there is also the argument about fueling insanity - by continuing to engage in this conversation. and with that - i’m done.

15. lori

Just for the record, Alrick has no recollection of this alleged “harassment”, and even more than that, knows that he would never do something like that to anyone. The lies and exaggerations in this story really need to stop. Those of us who were there have the “unique perspective” of the truth - of who was the harasser and instigator in this series of events - not hearsay over the phone. This is slander, and grounds for a lawsuit for defamation. All further comments, in any forum, are being directed to legal counsel.

16. Vanadia

Dear Goddard,

Your request for me to stop (sharing on the ‘Live and Learn’ section of my website the story of my unique perspective of my graduate school experience, included here for educational and discussion purposes only) has arrived outside of my academic obedience timeframe.

A letter containing this content was sent to the Goddard College president in 2011 and caused no concern at that time, so it surprises me that you are feeling incomplete about it now. Had you expressed your discomfort with the contents of this story immediately after receiving the letter, an alternative outcome might have been possible.

I have done everything in my power to maintain accuracy in this narrative and am disappointed that Goddard feels that it did not graduate me into into its sense of reality. I believe that I have done all that I am able to do to reconcile the matter between us and that we have, indeed, attempted to resolve the matter respectfully.

If Goddard feels the matter has not been resolved to its satisfaction, I invite Goddard to examine its own exemplification of privilege and power then send its findings to my webmaster in green (hex code #336633) color using the Comic Sans font, 16 pt text, and double spaced. I hope this clarifies the procedure as related to your specific request.

Best of luck in your future endeavors.

Sincerely,
David Vanadia

17. Vanadia

The language in my previous comment was inspired by the letters I received from Goddard responding to my requests for change. If it seems crazy, well…

Nobody in this story was fired for harassment or discrimination, as Deanna (a Goddard volunteer and graduate) suggested.

Goddard made it clear to students that Alrick was not hired back because his film career demanded more time. He’s since been a guest at several Goddard residencies.

Goddard accuses me of exemplifying power and privilege for being a “straight, white, male,” then threatens me with legal action. In my experience, Goddard is more interested in protecting itself than the safety of its students.

18. Heywood

David: would you like some cheese and crackers with your whine?

19. former g1

typical goddard college bullshit….. i hate that place…. so glad i left there! you know the president resigned, right? she was hated by employees but claims she left for personal reasons. now the school is a million in debt and might go out of business.

20. JustLikeYou

Thanks for posting this David. I can’t verify all that you say, but the fact that you are able to post this with names and there is no lawsuit against you leads me to give you the benefit of a doubt.
As a middle aged white male looking at low-res MFA programs this is an eye opener. Goddard is highly rated and on my list to apply to, but this gives me sincere pause.

21. amy

I had a traumatizing experience at Goddard (VT) in the fall of 2011, which caused me to drop out of the program (it was my first residency). Simply put, it was a matter of racial discrimination based on my lack of color (I’m white)- resulting in workshop leaders effectively discounting my perspectives, opinions, and experiences because I’m among the “privileged”.  I still suffer from psychological effects of the trauma, and after several unsuccessful attempts to discuss my experience with faculty, have attempted to move on.  A social worker suggested I contact an attorney, but the thought of it is so overwhelming that I haven’t done anything. I’ve never been the same since that residency.

Goddard was indeed a life changing experience for me . . . but not in a good way.

22. Lori Margaret

I think we all could benefit from more workshops and discussions around white privilege in our daily lives, workplaces, educational settings, and ongling interactions with others. We clearly have a long way to go.

I’ve moved to another state and am no longer working for the college mentioned in this thread. But I couldn’t recommend the faculty, education or community more highly. 99% of students have an incredibly positive, life-transforming experience that elevates their work and craft, with the requisite amount of personal effort expended. That speaks volumes.

23. amy

My daughter will be graduating with her BA from Goddard next month. While she also witnessed white prejudice (and misandry- another problem I noticed) it didn’t affect her as directly as it did me. Overall, she had a satisfying experience, and positive experiences with her advisors.

24. Vanadia

@JustLikeYou, Best of luck with your studies! I am a firm believer in low residency education and hope you find a program that works for you.

@Amy, Sorry to hear you were also the recipient of such ignorance and thank you for commenting. The more of us that speak out, the stronger our collective voices become. We are not alone.

@Lori, in your last comment you reframed the issue to diminish Amy and I, claim to be removed from the situation, made a sales pitch for the college, quote an inaccurate and unsupported statistic to place Amy and I in the failing single percentile, then imply that our stories are our fault because we did not expend enough personal effort.

This is frustrating because Amy described a traumatic experience, which you dismissively ignored. I expended an exorbitant amount of effort and am proud of the work I did in graduate school, which clearly met the requirements since Goddard College awarded me an MFA-IA degree.

Please stop insinuating that I and others with stories like mine “did not do the work.” Please stop implying that we deserved to be mistreated by/at the school where we were paying thousands of dollars in tuition. Please stop ignoring the oppressive power dynamic created by college employees who regularly bully students into dropping out. And finally, please stop reframing the situation in order to mask your own incompleteness.

25. Lori Margaret

It’s so sad that this continues. I have an entirely complete view of the situation, having talked it through with everyone involved, on site. No sales pitch, no ignoring of trauma, no inaccurate statistics. Just a profound determination to continue working for equality, for minority students who are the real and ongoing recipients of bullying and marginalization, for the structural changes to our system of white privilege that allows one to claim oppression - with no idea what that really feels like, every day of one’s life. Again, all I have to say on this is that we have a lot of progress to make, educating the majority on “the other’s point of view.” It needs to be seen, felt, and understood - by all of us.

26. Vanadia

Lori claimed that, “99% of students have an incredibly positive, life-transforming experience.” In reality, Goddard College has a below average reported graduation rate of 50%.

The “work” at Goddard is the unpacking, understanding, and dismantling of white privilege. “Transformation” is the result of that work wherein a newly enlightened person becomes an ally to equality. That’s all good in and of itself. However, Goddard only imposes this unofficial curriculum on some students while overlooking others.

The work appears to be assigned as punishment for a perceived offense (a comment, question, action, or reaction), which leads many students to hide in silence despite Goddard’s constant prodding. Goddard doesn’t guide targeted students to or through transformation. It’s up to the student to figure out what Goddard requires in this regard and Goddard only seems to know what it wants when it sees it.

Sometimes Goddard imposes the work on a student after they already have an approved academic trajectory for their semester. Or worse, Goddard will assign the work in the last weeks of a student’s final semester, forcing the student to choose between a costly extension or dropping out. Goddard doesn’t seem to care how far along a student is in the program or how much they have invested. All of this translates into hardship for the student in the form of time, money, and emotional distress.

So Goddard has power over its students. Assigning a nebulous body of research, which the student’s success hinges upon—without the student knowing it was coming or what’s expected—is a form of oppression. As Lori has demonstrated, juxtaposing Goddard’s brand of bullying with systemic white privilege diminishes the individual and reframes Goddard’s behavior as a Robin Hood style penalty for students who Goddard feels deserve a hard lesson. Thus Goddard serves up its racism, sexism, and discrimination as a convoluted form of historical retribution. They justify their behavior by claiming that certain students need this experience in order to truly understand. They choose coercion over empathy and expect students to “trust the process.”

Goddard sure gives an added kick to experiential education and they’ll blame you if you give any kickback about receiving the unexpected lashing you end up paying them to administer. The disgruntled voices of those who have chosen to go public with their stories about the college all echo the similar theme of Goddard’s self righteous bullying, which appears to be systemic as it reaches out to students, employees, former faculty, and even neighbors in Vermont.

I am proud of my interdisciplinary art graduate degree and I believe in low residency education. I wish I could feel the same way about Goddard College.

27. amy

I don’t have to be oppressed “every day of my life” to experience oppression (referring to Lori’s comment), nor do I have to be black to experience racism. Insinuating that ‘colorless’ people can’t possibly understand suffering because they’re ‘privileged’ isn’t even about systematic white privilege- it’s about invalidating & discounting the lives, sufferings & experiences of an entire group of people based solely on their skin color (or in this case, lack of skin color.) I wonder, why is this only called racism when a white person does it, yet it’s justified when a ‘person of color’ does? Hmm.

Back to my residency at Goddard . . . having had my perspectives, opinions, and experiences trivialized & discounted because I’m colorless effectively shut me out of the discussion, and essentially rendered me invisible & silent. I was choked, gagged, and deserted.

Admittedly, a large part of my problem was that I trusted Goddard (and ‘the process’) and was emotionally vulnerable during the residency. I didn’t have my guard up, and wasn’t prepared for the verbal assault and lack of faculty support I experienced. There were several faculty members with clearly unresolved personal issues (esp. regarding race & men) whose emotions distorted their perceptions & understanding of people, resulting in a close-mindedness I never would’ve expected at a school which prides (and markets) itself for being progressive.

Unfortunately for me & my family, I suffered a breakdown on campus (after the last workshop, which served as the straw that broke the camel’s back), and I’ve never been the same since.  It felt like something in my brain snapped . . . and sadly, it still doesn’t work right. Life has been difficult for both me & my family since that day, and I still don’t know what (if anything) to do about it.

28. Colin

This is such typical Goddard whining (says a Goddard alum). Get off your fixation on first world problems and get concerned about something of import - that goes for both students and faculty. Geez.

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