Bill Frakes, the award-winning Sports Illustrated photographer, will not return to his position as adjunct professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln College of Journalism and Mass Communications, after university administrators concluded he violated its policy prohibiting sexual harassment and “created a hostile environment” for a female student. University spokesperson Steve Smith told PDN last week, “Visiting Professor Bill Frakes’ appointment was to run through the fall 2017 semester. However, Prof. Frakes is not teaching any courses at Nebraska this fall. Because such personnel matters are confidential, I am unable to comment further.”
Frakes told PDN he is appealing the university’s finding, but declined to discuss it in detail. “The final hearing has not taken place. The university has directed the process be confidential, and I intend to honor that request,” he told PDN, reading from a prepared statement.
The university’s Office of Institutional Equity and Compliance (IEC) concluded in July that Frakes had violated the University’s sexual harassment policies by “making unwanted comments…regarding female students’ bodies and clothing,” and by instilling fear that he could “negatively influence” the student’s career. The IEC reached the conclusion on the basis of interviews with a student who filed a complaint against Frakes, and other students who were witnesses. The IEC said in July that it would share its conclusion with the university to “appropriately address the matter, issue sanctions and take appropriate corrective action.”
Calla Kessler, the journalism student who filed the complaint, tells PDN that she felt “obligated” to come forward. Before deciding to press ahead with the complaint, she consulted a closed social media group for women journalists. “I had no idea the incredible outpouring of support I’d get,” she says, including from women who have experienced harassment in other settings or situations. “It’s not an isolated issue. It’s clearly a problem.”
She notes, “I don’t want anyone to feel silenced out of fear because I know that feeling and I know how stifling it can be, but it’s a huge relief to get it off your shoulders.”
According to notes made during the OIEC’s investigation, and sent anonymously to PDN, Frakes was alleged to have commented on the appearance of female students’ appearance but not the appearance of male students; scrolled through photos of “scantily clad” women on his phone while driving with female students in his car; referred to female editors he worked with as “bitches” but “did not speak negatively about male editors in the same tone”; and told students he was not a person “to ‘piss off’ and he could ‘end their careers.’”
Frakes has previously taught at the University of Miami, the University of Florida, the University of Kansas, and at several workshops.
Kessler says she and other students decided to talk to an associate dean in May. After listening to their allegations, the dean “was obligated to notify the school’s Title IX office,” which investigates discrimination, Kessler says. After talking to other journalists, she chose to go forward with the Title IX investigation. “I felt I had enough support to undergo this grueling process.” She adds that she was optimistic her allegations would be believed. “I dove into collecting testimony. I never gave people any room to not believe me.
In PDN’s September issue, we report on the problem of sexual harassment in the photo industry. Photographer Melissa Golden notes that the industry is talking more about the issue as a result of women sharing experiences, and the names of offenders, via social media.
Kessler says she had initially been conflicted about reporting Frakes because he had given her helpful professional advice “and he did help me with edits…I thought: Is this my trade-off? Because he’s helped me, and is this just part of working in this industry? That’s this twisted perception: that women in this industry are ingrained to think it’s part of the game, that being treated this way is just a stepping stone to success. That’s wrong.”
While sexism exists in all industries, Kessler notes that in the photography industry, “There are so many people vying for very few jobs, it creates a dynamic that’s unique to photojournalism. People are perceived to hold the magic key, dangling it in front of young aspiring photojournalists who are desperate to get a foot in the door. So I do think it’s more prevalent in photo than other industries.”
Kessler recently completed an internship at the Washington Post. This fall, she will intern at the Palm Beach Post, and expects to graduate from University of Nebraska-Lincoln in May 2018. “I’ve done a lot of growing in the past year through this situation. I look back on myself a year ago and I know that present-me would handle things differently rather than allowing myself to suffer and allow other students to suffer.”
She says many people in the photo industry have asked her how to address sexual harassment issues. “I’m imploring males in the industry to take action. Call your friends out. It can be uncomfortable,” she says. “You need to make an effort to take a stand against predatory behavior and that means calling people out, even on a small scale, about comments made by your friends. I want to add that call to action. It’s so easy to be a decent person.”
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