Further allegations of discrimination at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland have surfaced, amid claims that the college routinely failed to address students’ concerns when they were raised.
Following a recent open letter calling on the Glasgow conservatoire to publicly acknowledge students’ complaints of “systemic abuse”, the school has confirmed that an external review will begin later this month for which a confidential email address has been created for staff and students to contribute.
The fresh claims of mistreatment at RCS go back more than a decade, and include accusations of disability discrimination. They also allege that staff had discouraged students from making their concerns public.
Last month, a group of alumni and students revealed that they had complained to RCS about “grave discrimination” on its Contemporary Performance Practice course earlier this year.
Despite the complaint being upheld, the students involved argued that “there continues to be no accountability”, accusing RCS of failing to act as well as detailing further claims.
Following this, several others have come forward to claim they too faced discrimination while studying at RCS and criticised the way the school dealt with concerns raised.
The actor and writer Athena Stevens enrolled on RCS’ BA Acting course in 2007 but left just one term later after she says she was subjected to a “single term of humiliation”.
Stevens was born with athetoid cerebral palsy and said she was assured by staff at RCS that it would be able to offer teaching that would meet her needs. However, she claimed little effort was made to ensure that she received adequate training.
She said she felt discriminated against on a regular basis by staff and fellow students, and was often asked to “sit on the side” during classes while able-bodied students continued on.
Stevens spoke at length to senior management staff and individual teachers to come up with strategies to improve her experience but said, despite promising that issues would be dealt with, no action was taken.
Stevens told The Stage that the experience led her to “nearly quit acting”.
“It was humiliating to have worked so hard on a dream to go to drama school for two years only to have to give up because the school didn’t want to face their discrimination,” she said.
Another former student, Billy Gollner studied on the MA Musical Theatre programme in 2017/18.
He and eight other students on the one-year course submitted a formal complaint, arguing that RCS had failed to deliver the quality and standard of service that it had advertised.
In the complaint, seen by The Stage, the students argued that four out of five core faculty staff members had either left or were absent for significant periods of time during the course.
The complaint, submitted in 2018 near the end of the academic year, was not upheld, and the school said that despite “unavoidable and unforeseeable administrative challenge” it did not believe that it had failed to fulfil its commitment. However, the school did concede there had been lapses in organisation and communication around the course.
Gollner said that when he and other students had first raised concerns, a senior staff member had warned them against making their grievances public because “it could adversely impact [their] careers”.
Separately, Gollner told The Stage that he had raised concerns about potentially homophobic and racist remarks being made by staff during teaching, but said these were brushed off.
“Every time that we tried to bring something up we were silenced and pushed away… What we were getting was really not what you would expect for that level of an institution,” he said.
Gollner added: “A career in the arts is already a bit of a gamble, there is no promise you are going to be successful, but choosing a school that markets itself as number three in the world should not be a gamble.”
At the time Gollner joined, RCS had been ranked third in the world for performing arts education in the QS World Rankings.
It is currently ranked at 19.
The Stage is also aware of two other former students who each made complaints to RCS about their experiences at the school, both of whom said they were dealt with poorly and had been downplayed by staff.
A statement from RCS said: “The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland is focused on being a safe, inclusive and positive learning and working environment for all staff and students and is currently undertaking an external review which includes appraising our complaints procedures to ensure the staff and student communities are well-served. We are committed to learning from this and implementing any key recommendations made.”
Following last month’s open letter, which demanded a public apology and for the school to introduce anti-oppression training, RCS is now undertaking an external review into its complaints procedure, which will also “address cultural issues raised by some students centred around the CPP programme”.
The review will be co-led by equality specialist Danielle Chavrimootoo and former principal of Birmingham Conservatoire, George Caird.
Submissions can be made via the dedicated and confidential email address – email@example.com – which the school said is password protected and only accessible by the review team.
They will also carry out interview and focus group sessions later this month, while the review’s findings and recommendations are expected to be published in January.