Change can be hard, but so necessary.
This summer, a group of current students and alumni issued a Call to Action, challenging the School of Theatre & Dance and the College of Visual and Performing Arts to do better in creating a culture that welcomes and includes all our students, faculty, and staff of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, and other communities of color. The call demanded reparations and ongoing accountability; changes in institutional structure, leadership, and recruitment; and focused education and programming. The signers of the call wanted to see more diversity, more inclusion, more equity on several fronts. The call was distributed widely, not only to our School, but also to many of the university administrators in and outside of the College, and a second time to newspapers and television/radio stations.
As arts institutions around the country struggle with the impact of COVID-19 and reckon with the call for racial justice, this call for change was particularly meaningful.
We need to listen and reflect.
Listen and reflect.
It's more challenging than you think.
Listen and reflect on whether we have upheld the values we say we cherish.
Listen and reflect on how we each may have contributed to maintaining systems of power that have been harmful to others.
Listen and reflect because none of us is perfect and all of us can do more.
Listen and reflect on our personal path towards improvement.
Listen and reflect on the structural work we need to do to make our School a place where our entire community can thrive.
It's been a humbling experience. As Director of the School, I recognize that we must rise to the work that is before us. I charged two of our faculty members, Seth Warren-Crow and Jesse Jou, to put together an Anti-Racism Working Group (ARWG); many of our faculty and staff were committed to begin working this summer, knowing that any decisions made would be preliminary, that we needed the voices of those returning in the fall, and that we needed to connect with the students and alumni that sent us the Call to Action.
This working group, a permanent addition to our School's governing body, began exploring each demand. They gathered resources, met with members of the student and alumni group, connected with College and University leadership, and offered guidance to all faculty members about revisiting syllabi, creating policies of color-conscious casting, and elevating anti-racist pedagogies in the arts. Because of the importance of the demands, the ARWG began with the understanding that true, meaningful, and enduring change will be a long and challenging process.
To date, we have taken the following steps toward progress:
- Changes in season planning will ensure that a greater diversity of voices will appear on our stages going forward, while also facilitating important conversations about representation.
- Changes in production will ensure more equitable access for students, including revisions in rehearsal hours, technical rehearsals, and policies about intimacy direction/coordination.
- We are gathering proposals from providers of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) education to bring workshops and assessment to the faculty, staff, and students of our School as soon as possible. Instead of corporate-style training, we are searching for comprehensive programs that will help us achieve deep change, a true equity audit that examines the deep structure of our program and one which trains all faculty, staff, and students.
Our decision to move the current season online because of COVID-19 allowed us to revisit it to see how we could best align previously identified student needs described in the call. I am thrilled to announce that our spring semester will feature the plays Blown Youth by Dipika Guha (directed by Leah Johnson) and Sonnets for an Old Century by José Rivera (directed by April Langehennig). These gorgeous, deeply poetic plays by award-winning playwrights of color will be served well by the online format and the visions of these two artists, while creating exciting performance and design opportunities for a diverse range of students.
We begin the fall semester with myriad uncertainties. Some face-to-face classes. Some hybrid. Some online. A season of productions that is changing, adapting to and reflective of the world around us. Masked. Six feet apart. Concerned about health. Focused on helping students through these difficult times.
We are united in believing that change will benefit our community. We see the courage of those who spoke their truth to power. Rather than lean into the fear of the uncertain, I hope we will all lean into the promise of a better future, that we will all lean into openness, vulnerability, and perhaps even joy, as we also lean into our challenging but worthwhile work. There is no doubt we made and will make mistakes and missteps—we are all human beings, after all, engaged in this moment—but we will not let our imperfections prevent us from doing the things we must.
I am thankful to be on this journey with you and will continue, in this newsletter, to update you on progress made.