On May 15, 2018, Allison Dunavant filed a lawsuit naming the University of South Carolina, art professor David Voros and Harris Pastides as the defendants. The suit alleges that Voros made sexual advances toward Dunavant during a trip abroad, that he forced her to work for her meals in unsanitary and unreasonable conditions and that her attempts to take the typical route for harassment complaints was met with hostility from all sides.
If you’ve never heard of the lawsuit, here is the beginning of Daily Gamecock coverage, which includes a link to the full claim. If you have, you might have these student activists to thank.
The two senior activists I interviewed preferred anonymity, requesting to be identified only as “undergraduates representing more schools than just SVAD.” They have been working quietly and diligently to spread awareness about Allison Dunavant’s case through information campaigns, art installations and, now, a direct letter to the School of Visual Art and Design (SVAD).
At first, the group didn’t take a public stance on the lawsuit. They only wanted to spread information, since most of the initial lawsuit coverage happened over the summer and left many students in the dark about the events alleged and the professor’s role in it.
“We [printed and distributed] the lawsuit and news articles, things you can easily find yourself online, but nobody knew to look. We didn’t want to create any slant – we just wanted the information out there and then students could form their own opinions about what’s happening and have a dialogue.”
For a time, the students printed hundreds of copies of news articles covering the suit, spreading them around classroom buildings, especially McMaster, the primary classroom and administrative building for SVAD. However, the students aren’t just printing previously published news articles anymore, in part because of the response from administration to their efforts. USCPD was called repeatedly by the administration to address the vandalism without news coverage.
“Some of the shift came from seeing USCPD there, time after time; if they’re just going to take this down, what are we doing but running through the motions?”
They take issue with the label of “vandals” since they’ve said the impromptu installations have caused no damage to the premises. In the case of the vandalism covered by the Daily Gamecock on Twitter, the messages – which are quotes directly from the lawsuit – were written on painter’s tape and placed on classroom building walls.
The activists' goal was for students to interact with the language and content of the lawsuit directly, rather than just hearing it secondhand.
A full schedule of each executed public activism can be found below:
- October 17 - lawsuit and articles from The State and WIS posted at SVAD
- October 25 - lawsuit and articles posted in Humanities Classroom Building, Gambrell, and Darla Moore
- November 8 - lawsuit and articles posted in SVAD before Pastides “goodbye tour”
- January 14 - 1) banner with lawsuit title hung over main office in SVAD; 2) “Allison Dunavant” written on red tissue paper over windows facing main office
- March 18 - 1) "Students Keep Safe," "Boycott Voros," and other messages written in chalk in front of SVAD and on dry erase boards, 2) courses taught by Voros in 2019 floated by balloons, 3) quotes from the lawsuit written on painters' tape on columns in McMaster
- March 26 - official letter to SVAD director, administrators, faculty and staff, and students distributed
The students also discussed their plans to write letters addressed directly to all university officials, Board of Trustee members, and deans of every college, asking them to “do their part to ensure that abusers don’t remain in employment positions.”
Part of their specific concern is for art students who interact with Voros or need to take classes he teaches. “While we haven’t seen it firsthand, we hear that he is a volatile person… he’s prone to emotional outbursts, including flinging things across the room.” In their letter, they ask that students refuse to register for his courses, or to complain to Director Kissel if the courses are a requirement. In the language of the letter, “It is our right to be protected from abusers.”
And that’s the activists’ true goal - removing all abusers from positions of power, not just Voros. While the lawsuit provides an important starting point for conversation, the activists asserted that there were more instances of protecting professors at the expense of students. “We know there are instances of students complaining to the main office about harassment, and them just getting turned away. One was actually asked, ‘Did you ask them to stop it?’ The lawsuit is only the most public instance of [administration] not stepping up when it comes to protecting students.”
For those students who have been following the Allison Dunavant case and the activism surrounding it, the activists ask for more dialogue and actionable support. Use the hashtags #StudentsKeepSafe and #BoycottVoros, start conversations with friends, classmates, and mentors about the protection of abusers, and above all, write letters to your administrators.
“If you’re with us, that’s enough of a reason to write,” one of them said. Putting appropriate pressure on administrators, deans, and faculty to address the lawsuit and other instances of abuse on campus is the best avenue for affecting change.
“Without someone pushing from below, nothing’s going to happen at the top.”
The activists’ full letter addressed to SVAD can be found here.