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Emily Johnson, an Indigenous choreographer, has accused Jedidiah Wheeler, executive director of Montclair State University’s Office of Arts and Cultural Programming, of behavior she called “abusive.” Johnson detailed her experiences with Wheeler in a Medium post and letter to the National Endowment for the Arts.

The ACP office had approached Johnson through Wheeler about a collaboration and residency with Peak Performances, a contemporary art series at MSU. After the two had developed a business relationship and come to understand that they would be working together, Johnson and her business manager presented Wheeler with some requirements for a contract. These included a land acknowledgment from Peak Performances, a rental fund for the Lenape people (who first inhabited the land now occupied by MSU) and that the office and the university engage in a process of “decolonization.”

Johnson said that Wheeler’s reaction to being presented with the demands on a conference call was aggressive and belittled her work and heritage.

“Jedidiah responded immediately and violently. His yelling relayed that he ‘calls the shots.’ That we are going to have ‘a problem’ if I continue to ‘come in here’ and make ‘demands.’ He screamed, ‘I don’t even know what this word, “decolonisation” means.’ He yelled, continued yelling, and did not stop yelling until he hung up on us,” she wrote. “I understand the abusive, punishing, and unethical behavior I have witnessed and experienced from Jedidiah Wheeler and Peak Performances to be part of a field wide system that continues to root itself in extractive capitalism and white supremacy.”

Johnson said the incident made her remember experiences of being raped and facing down men with assault rifles.

“I want the Office of the Provost to determine what apology and monetary remuneration will be offered. I want Montclair State University to commit to anti-racist and decolonial processes and trainings and to set up a reparations and real rent fund for Lenape people and to commit to Land Back,” she wrote.

Johnson said in the letter that she will be forgoing her work on a project that was set to be funded with an NEA grant.

The university published a response to Johnson’s letter Feb. 4.

“Mr. Wheeler and his office repeatedly informed Ms. Johnson and [her manager] that ACP lacked the authority to agree to such demands, which extend far beyond the scope of its function as an office that produces a performing arts series, and repeatedly explained that ACP is only one of many hundreds of units and programs in the university and cannot make policy for the whole institution,” the statement said. “The university does not formulate and adopt important policy decisions by means of a contract with a particular performing artist.”

The university acknowledged that Wheeler’s conduct may have been aggressive.

“Mr. Wheeler acknowledges that he spoke forcefully and in frustration at one point during a difficult contract negotiation session, which came after repeated unsuccessful efforts to help Ms. Johnson and her manager understand the reasons that their demands could not be met,” it said. “Mr. Wheeler did not use inappropriate language, and he never denigrated Ms. Johnson. Nevertheless, he regrets the ill feelings that resulted from the inability to reach agreement.”

Politico reported Friday that Montclair State professors are rallying around Johnson. Two former employees also characterized Wheeler’s conduct as “abusive” and his office a “toxic work environment.”