#TakeTheNoteSUDrama: Students & Alumni Demand VPA’s Department of Drama Address “pervasive institutional racism”
By Erin Lyons
Over 200 current students and alumni from Syracuse University’s Visual and Performing Art’s Department of Drama have signed a letter calling for the department to address and correct its “pervasive institutional racism”. The letter alleges that students of color, and especially Black students, have repeatedly and systemically been “manipulated, tokenized, discriminated against, and ultimately traumatized by their experiences at SU Drama.”
The students and alumni are also demanding that the Department of Drama immediately take certain actions in order to address racism:
- Investigating and removing faculty who are guilty of “initiating and encouraging racial micro and macro aggressions, cultural appropriation, and verbal abuse against BIPOC students”
- Increasing the number of BIPOC faculty members to 50% of the Department of Drama by 2025
- Replacing any faculty members found guilty during investigations with a BIPOC hire
- Hiring an “Accountability and Student Experience Representative”. The hire must be external and an “outsider” in order to encourage “true neutrality and accountability.
- Hiring an Intimacy Director – a professional trained to supervise scenes involving nudity, sexual content, intimacy, etc.
- Removing the phrase “colorblind casting” from department language
- Reorganizing the Senior Showcase to include every senior, which is an annual performance that features some graduating seniors in musical numbers and scenes
- No longer using promotional media that perpetuate racist stereotypes
- Issuing a formal apology addressed to BIPOC students and alumni
In the letter, the students and alumni have set a 72-hour deadline for the Department of Drama to respond. They said they “cannot in good faith recommend this school to prospective students until changes are made” and added that any recommended actions “will take some time”.
A shorter version of the letter has been shared over 100 times on Instagram under the hashtag #TakeTheNoteSUDrama on June 15th. A longer version with 275 signatures details additional recommendations made by Drama alumni and students in order to diversify the department and support BIPOC students by the Fall 2020 semester. These suggested practices are:
- Make a commitment to diversifying the student body through providing “greater accessibility to prospective students from marginalized communities to apply and audition”
- Establish financial aid and scholarships for BIPOC students
- Implementing an “anti-racist curriculum and syllabus review system” at the start of every semester designed to “ensure a range of diversity in the theatrical material being assigned across all majors”
- Requiring faculty to be transparent about their grading process and structure
- Creating appropriate policies for Black students’ hair and make-up, and requiring that hairdresser employed by the Department of Drama be “educated in styling all types of hair textures”
- Mandating that the “The selection and casting of department productions will be made on the basis of best practices to serve the student body as a whole, regardless of the artistic ambition of the faculty or guest director”
- Requiring that all candidates for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Representative (EDI) will be interviewed and undergo an application process before they can be approved to run for the position
- Shows must be immediately put on hold and investigated by the EDI Representative and the Accountability and Student Experience Representative if a student declines casting or drops out due to a race-related incident
- Include a wider selection of BIPOC playwright works as Sophomore Evaluation options
- Host more masterclasses with BIPOC theatre professionals from outside Syracuse University
- Institute effective forums for BIPOC students to share their experiences and voice their concerns about racism and discrimination within the department.
According to alumna Courtney Rikki Green, one of the organizers, the full version of the #TakeTheNoteSUDrama letter has been sent to Ralph Zito, the Department of Drama Chair. The letter has also been sent to Syracuse University Chancellor Kent Syverud and VPA Dean Michael S. Tick.
“If any of these demands cannot be met due to legal restrictions, we are open to discussing alternate solutions,” alumni and students said in the letter. “However, they cannot and will not be written off entirely. We expect a good faith effort to be put into addressing the underlying concerns behind each demand.”
CitrusTV has reached out to Syracuse University and to the College of Visual and Performing Arts. We will update this article once they respond.