The faculty of the Bienen School of Music takes issues regarding sexual harassment very seriously, and the University has established a strong policy on the subject. During applied music lessons, ensembles and opera rehearsals pedagogical concerns often dictate that some amount of physical contact will take place between the teacher and the student. Singing or playing an instrument is a physical activity, and there are centuries of pedagogical history involving some amount of physical contact in such contexts as part of the educational process. These guidelines propose to remove some of the apprehension that may arise in the studio and to clarify the appropriate procedures. At the same time, the School of Music and its faculty are firmly committed to fostering and maintaining an environment that is free from sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination and harassment that are prohibited by Northwestern University policy, including the Policy on Institutional Equity and the Interim Policy on Title IX Sexual Harassment.
If the pedagogical need for physical contact arises, the teacher will first ask permission to touch the student. The teacher will explain beforehand exactly what will be done and why. That way the student can understand the actions being proposed and have the opportunity to grant permission. Specifically, such physical contact might include placing a hand on the student’s back, sides, or abdomen to confirm proper breathing, placing a hand on the face or jaw to assess facial tensions, or placing hands on the shoulders to establish appropriate posture.
We realize that everyone has different comfort levels for physical contact, and it is impossible to predict what those levels are for each person. Some professors believe they are more effective and efficient using physical contact as a part of their teaching, while others might not incorporate physical contact into their pedagogy.
If students have questions or concerns about such physical contact, it is important that they do not hesitate to inform their professors in the first instance if they feel comfortable doing so. Alternatively, students always have the option of raising such concerns with the Dean’s office or with the Office of Equity. Students may also wish to do one or more of the following if they feel comfortable doing so:
- Let the professor know that they are uncomfortable and ask the professor to discontinue the physical contact.
- If it is difficult to verbalize this, write the professor an email or note that deals with such concerns.
- Ask to have another person present in the studio during the lesson, such as an accompanist or friend.
- If students still feel uneasy or need assistance or clarification, they should talk to the program coordinator, the department chair, or the assistant dean.
As noted above, however, students always have the option of reporting concerns directly to the Dean’s office or to the Office of Equity. Asking questions or expressing concerns, or making a complaint of harassment or discrimination, will not affect a student’s grade; nor will students otherwise be retaliated against for raising questions or concerns or for submitting a complaint of harassment or discrimination.