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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

October 23, 2020   |   Ithaca, NY

News

IC announces plans to address racism in theater department

Ithaca College has announced its plan to address two of Ithaca College Theatre Arts Black, Indigenous and People of Color (ICTA BIPOC)’s demands. The plans include increased education on bias reporting and training on race issues for the Department of Theatre Arts.

ICTA BIPOC is a group of students and alumni formed to call out racism in the Department of Theatre Arts. Kathryn Allison ’14, Hannah-Rose Guillory ’12, Donovan Lockett ’15 and Maggie Thompson ’15 formed ICTA BIPOC in June in response to racist and discriminatory incidents within the department. In a letter to the college made public July 31, ICTA BIPOC listed 10 demands with the goal of ending racist and discriminatory acts in the department. ICTA BIPOC gave the college until Oct. 1 to address the first two demands regarding reporting racist incidents and requiring Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) training for everyone in the department. The group outlined consequences for the college if these two demands were not met by this deadline, which included ending alumni donations to the college and publicly naming and calling for the resignation of faculty and staff who perpetuated racism and discrimination.

The college responded to the first two demands Sept. 25 in a letter written by Melanie Stein, dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, and Belisa González, associate professor in the Department of Sociology and director of the Center for the Study of Culture, Race and Ethnicity. This response resulted from biweekly meetings between the ICTA BIPOC leaders, Stein and González. The letter was distributed to students, staff and faculty in the Department of Theatre Arts and the ICTA BIPOC leaders.

On Sept. 10, the Department of Theatre Arts announced the appointment of two Equity, Diversity and Inclusion facilitators to work with faculty and staff in the department. The facilitators are Chrystyna Dail, associate professor in the Department of Theatre Arts, and Cynthia Henderson, professor in the Department of Theatre Arts.

Stein redirected questions about the college’s response to Dail and Henderson.

Demand 1

The first demand requested the Department of Theatre Arts create a committee of theater arts staff, students and faculty selected by the student body and members of the Bias Impact Resource Team to investigate reported racist and discriminatory acts.

In the college’s response to this demand, Stein and González wrote that internal committees like the one proposed by ICTA BIPOC are counterproductive and place more labor on faculty, staff and students of color. Some faculty members of color at the college have experienced cultural taxation — when faculty members of color feel obligated to serve the college’s diversity needs without receiving any recognition for this extra service.

The college already has a Bias Impact Reporting Form for all members of the college community to report acts of discrimination. There is a different reporting form for formal complaints. Instead of creating a new reporting system specific to the Department of Theatre Arts, the college plans to increase education for students on how to use the Bias Impact Reporting Form, Stein and González wrote in the letter.

Lockett said that she and the other ICTA BIPOC leaders did not know that internal committees have been unsuccessful in the past and that she is satisfied with the college’s modification to their demand.

“It was a compromise of sorts, and they helped us see that in order to get to the gist of what we’re actually accomplishing, we do need to open it up and just educate students on the systems that are in place for a reason within the college,” Lockett said. “I think part of the problem is because our experience in Dillingham [Center] is so secluded, students just have no idea that there are resources out there.”

The Department of Theatre Arts website will include information on the bias impact reporting process. Members of the Bias Impact Resource Team; the H&S dean’s office; the Center for Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Social Change (IDEAS); the Center for LGBTQ Education, Outreach and Services; and the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life will attend meetings with students in the department as well. The department will also create a guide on navigating the reporting process. This guide will be made in collaboration with the H&S dean’s office and Hierald Osorto, director of the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life and executive director of student equity and belonging.

Stein and González’s response also addressed the issue of following up on complaints. Students can report a formal complaint about a faculty member through the Office of Human Resources or work with the faculty member’s supervisor, according to the letter. For faculty in the Department of Theatre Arts, Stein is the supervisor. She is working with Osorto so she can connect with people requesting a follow-up on a complaint and take appropriate action, according to the letter. Complaints about students are handled through the Office of Student Conduct and Community Standards.

Student groups are also discussing ways to address racism and discrimination at the college. The Student Governance Council and the Students of Color Coalition held a Stand for Justice webinar Oct. 6. A panel of seven speakers, which included Allison, Thompson and Lockett, discussed the need for more education on the bias reporting process.

Demand 2

The second demand asked the college to implement DEI training with a focus on microaggressions against Black people for students, faculty and staff in the Department of Theatre Arts.

In Stein and González’s letter, they explain that all incoming freshmen at the college are required to take an online DEI course as of Fall 2020. The Department of Theatre Arts will also implement a workshop for its students in the coming years that will expand on the content covered in the DEI course. This workshop is available for current students in the department on the second Friday of each month. The first meeting was held Oct. 9, and the meetings will continue throughout the rest of the semester.

These workshops will include information about bias impact reporting and DEI resources, and representatives from offices like the H&S dean’s office, the Center for IDEAS, the Center for LGBTQ Education, Outreach and Services, the Office of Spiritual Life and the Title IX office.

For faculty and staff joining the department, there will be a mandatory workshop similar to the one made for students. For current faculty and staff, the department has been offering a series of training this year on topics like microaggressions in the classroom and building an antiracist syllabus, according to the letter. This training is not mandatory, but Dail said faculty and staff have been willingly attending the training when they are able to. The department is also hosting a discussion series by Charles Duman, professor at Pennsylvania State University, for students, faculty and staff in the department. The discussion series is a three-part workshop beginning Oct. 20 that will focus on dismantling white supremacy in theater.

Moving Forward

The other demands in the ICTA BIPOC letter include hiring more faculty members of color, increasing opportunities for prospective students of color, casting racially and ethnically appropriate actors in productions, hiring diversity consultants to oversee productions, producing more shows by artists of color, having more diverse curricula and reviewing curricula with an antiracist and anti-discriminatory lens.

Lockett said the ICTA BIPOC leaders are continuing to meet with Stein and González to work on addressing the other demands. Some of the demands are not applicable right now because of the remote semester, but Lockett said that makes this a good time for the college to prepare to have these demands met when the college returns to in-person instruction.

Lockett said she is satisfied with the college’s response to the first two demands.

“I feel relieved that the timesensitive demands have been met, and we do, as a collective, feel that they have been met,” Lockett said.

Thompson said that having regular meetings with Stein and González helped ICTA BIPOC effectively collaborate with the college to address the demands.

“It’s been great to have sort of a two-way channel of transparency and communication in terms of how we can effect positive change at the school,” Thompson said. “We’re really grateful for their partnership and for their hard work and for listening and really working to enact our suggestions.”

The Department of Theatre Arts will send monthly updates on the progress of addressing the other demands to the ICTA BIPOC leaders and students, faculty and staff in the department, according to the letter.

The ICTA BIPOC leaders have been holding virtual office hours for students to voice concerns and give feedback on the progress being made. Thompson said students she has talked to have said the classroom environment has changed this semester because professors are talking more about social issues.

“It’s just really encouraging to hear that there are starting to be shifts in the culture of the department and that professors are starting to integrate discussions about what’s going on socially in our country right now,” Thompson said. “It’s just really encouraging to hear that the students that we’ve spoken to are really excited and feel energized by what they feel like is a newer and safer learning environment for them.”

Senior Alexander Paredes-Ruíz said there have been discussions about racism and ICTA BIPOC during weekly gatherings of theatre arts management students, but only after Paredes-Ruíz asked to discuss this topic multiple times. Paredes-Ruíz said theatre arts management faculty eventually had González and Dail lead discussions on racism in the department.

“It took a while, and it was kind of frustrating having to say it a couple times,” Paredes-Ruíz said. “There have been strides, but at the same time, it’s hard because it’s something that if faculty or someone’s not used to in their area of expertise, they may feel like, ‘I can’t talk about it.’ But I think there has been more of a move toward talking about things.”

Alyshia Korba can be reached at akorba@ithaca.edu