A student at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco was
expelled last fall for writing a gratuitously violent fictional
story from a serial killer’s point of view for his creative writing
class, according to school officials.
According to his teacher, Jan Richman, the story featured
incest, sexual torture, dismemberment, pedophilia and extreme gore.
Richman distributed the story to her Narrative Storytelling class
before reading it and went to a higher-up for advice on what action
To her surprise, word of the story quickly spread to the
university’s president and the school’s director of security called
the San Francisco Police Dept.
The student was interrogated and the police concluded that there
was no evidence that he had engaged in any criminal behavior.
Within a week, the student was expelled and sent home to
The school’s action has many students questioning when it is
appropriate to put a lid on artistic freedom.
“It seems that even though we have the right to freedom of
speech, and I’m not an advocate for censorship of true art, I do,
as a feminist, as a woman, as a mom, have concerns about
misogynistic torture porn [and] erotica,” said Mills junior Tessa
Robinette, a creative writing student.
“I think it is questionable to have a story that graphic,” said
Mills creative writing student Holly McGraw, a junior. “However,
many movies and good novels have a storyline quite similar, only
not many contain a first person account.”
The student’s parents blamed Richman for assigning the class to
read “Girl With Curious Hair” by David Foster, which was not
authorized by the administration. His parents maintain that the
story encouraged his violent narrative.
According to Richman, the vice-president and president of the
school were unhappy with her decision to assign the story and
consequently, she was not hired for the next semester.
The student was a fan of Bret Easton Ellis’ “American Psycho”
and had turned in a violent short animation for a previous class
following his teacher’s showing of “Seven,” a graphic movie about a
The university has received criticism for failing to provide
students with a school psychologist. In an interview with the San
Francisco Chronicle, Alan Kaufman, a teacher at the Academy said
that the school is based on a system of “corporate greed.”
“It doesn’t even give the bare minimum to students in terms of
psychiatric counseling or social services,” Kaufman said in an
article published in the Chronicle. “It just treats kids like
credit cards, like clients, basically. There is no artistic
While teaching at another school, Mills English professor Elmaz
Abinader was alerted by police that a possible serial rapist was a
student in her class.
“I wasn’t given the name of the student, so I looked through the
work and tried to guess who it was,” said Abinader. “I couldn’t
figure it out. So very often the work one produces doesn’t reflect
one’s concerns or flaws.”
Cornelia Nixon, professor of Creative Writing at Mills
encountered her share of disturbing stories written by students in
workshops at other schools.
“I dealt with the authors of those pieces by letting them hear
the universally negative reactions of their classmates, including
often their [fellow] male classmates, and that was usually enough
to curb the tendency in future submissions,” said Nixon. “I have
only ever taken academic disciplinary action against students in
the case of flagrant plagiarism, and even those cases have resulted
only in probation, not expulsion.”