In response to the Case Western Reserve University Department of Theater’s incredibly disappointing and insufficient statement on diversity and inclusion, we, a coalition of current students and alumni of color with the support of our peers, believe that this department can and must do better. The department believes “that words matter, and they are arguably the essential tool of the Theater.” We argue that theater is predicated on action. Words without action or communication or intent are meaningless to the Theater we strive to create. The statement reflects a failure of imagination regarding the meaningful changes at both the cultural and structural level in this department that are both possible and necessary to cultivate a diverse and inclusive theatrical community.
Students of color within the Eldred Theater Department have been tokenized, manipulated, excluded and discriminated against for too long. It is imperative that all faculty in the department understand that while all of the toxic power structures that currently exist within the department cause all students to suffer, it is students of color who suffer the most. We ask that you lend your hearts and open your minds to re-thinking how this department can better serve ALL of its students. Now is the time to make these changes so that current and future students can experience a more inclusive and tolerant educational environment.
We ask that the department commits to taking the following steps in order to address and prevent existing racial biases from continuing to disadvantage students of color in their education. Frequent updates regarding their implementation are expected:
Require all faculty and staff to receive Diversity Awareness Training from the Office for Inclusion, Diversity and Equal Opportunity before 2021.
Investigate and report on past incidents in which Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) students have been subjected to racial micro and macro aggressions by faculty, resulting in disciplinary action, including but not limited to the swift removal of guilty faculty.
Replace any faculty member terminated due to the aforementioned offenses with a person of color.
Hire at least one BIPOC tenure-track faculty member within the next five years with the goal of no less than 30 percent of the faculty being people of color by 2030.
Include student-elected undergraduates on the show selection committee.
In the current absence of any POC faculty, this is a necessary step in diversifying those involved in the decision-making process.
Create more opportunities for students to learn from artists of color, especially BIPOC, by inviting them into the building in the form of directors, designers, creatives, actors, speakers, lecturers, mentors and more.
Diversify curricular readings and mainstage show selections to more accurately reflect the diversity we want to see in the world of theater by including plays by women, LGBT+ writers and writers of color.
Actively advertise productions and auditions to CWRU students of diverse backgrounds.
For instance, through many of the campus offices centered around diversity, such as the LGBT+ Center and the Office of Multicultural Affairs, in addition to student groups such as the Black Student Union, La Alianza and others recognized by the Undergraduate Diversity Collective.
Recruit prospective students of color by diversifying the high schools at which the department recruits, starting in the Cleveland area.
Respect religious observances by considering and accommodating students who choose to practice without penalizing them.
Combat favoritism and bias by inviting all students within the department to formally declare areas of interest within the department so that all interested students can have access to the same information, mentoring, and resources.
Eliminate the phrase “colorblind” casting from the department vernacular in favor of color-conscious casting.
We ask that the department immediately participates in the creation of a faculty-student-alumni task force with the goal of decentralizing power and amending toxic power structures by implementing the following systems:
Create a clear company hierarchy that is applicable to all departmental productions.
Provide students with a clear reporting path to an independent third-party in the case of misconduct by faculty or guest artists in the classroom or production setting.
Condemn the “department first” attitude and policy that is forced upon students in favor of a student-first attitude and policy. An educational department that prioritizes its own projects over the students’ learning experiences is inherently broken.
Recognize and adhere to maximum caps on production hours per week/day for all areas of production.
Provide faculty meeting agendas or post-summaries to the entire department.
Make intimacy coaching available for all productions in order to ensure a safe working environment for everyone involved.
Support the work done in student groups with the understanding that these are essential “labs” in which students can expand their artistic skills, leadership abilities and creative interests.
Consider student design capstones in show selection, as capstone work is especially important to the portfolios of those pursuing continued education or careers in design.
Supplement course offerings for students outside of the acting concentration with events such as workshops, lectures and masterclasses with working professionals.
Provide non-acting (design, production and directing) students with more experiential opportunities within the department in preparation for the capstone.
This may take the form of these students getting the first pick for practicum duties, being connected with shadowing opportunities at Eldred and with working artists in the Cleveland area, meaningfully assisting artists on department shows, etc.
Provide clear and supportive oversight for students performing technical or production roles within the department productions. Department productions should be viewed as educational experiences for all students, regardless of concentration.
Revise, standardize and publicize the curriculum and expectations for capstones in ALL of the offered concentrations.
Revise the Eldred Theater Handbook to reflect these changes, and make it more widely available to better serve as a tool for students.
These action items invite us to not only reflect on how present power structures stand in the way of students’ education, especially students of color, but to understand that many steps do not involve a monetary investment but instead involve a commitment to inclusion, trust and accountability. Without such a commitment, we cannot in good conscience recommend CWRU to future prospective students, and especially not to BIPOC students. We want to work with you to make CWRU’s Undergraduate Department of Theater something that we can all be proud of. This letter is the first step in an unending process of self-reflection and change. The moment is here. Join us in imagining something better, or, in other words, thinking beyond the possible. We expect a response to this letter and a concrete plan for further dialogue within 72 hours of delivery.
Camille Witt, ‘22 firstname.lastname@example.org
Nailah Mathews, ‘19 email@example.com
Ronnie Taylor Jr., ‘22 firstname.lastname@example.org
Mengyao “Alice” Li, ‘18 email@example.com
Michelle Reynes Berg, ‘19 firstname.lastname@example.org
C. Perrin, ‘16 email@example.com
Sarthak Shah, ‘22 firstname.lastname@example.org
Ellianna Wade, ‘23 email@example.com
With the support of:
Adam Benjamin, ’22
Alex Gordon, ’20
Amy Titus, ’21
Andrew Heckman, ’14
Andrew Lund, ’11
Andy Ogrinc, ’20
Angela Howell, ’23
Audrey Zhu, ’23
Bessie Bulman, ’18
Brandon McCourt, ’17
Britt Goodman, ’11
Celia Lupton, ’11
Chris Markham, ’21*
Dana Brown Griswold, ’04
Daniel Mottern, ’19
Devin Knott, ’21
Ellianna Wade, ’23
Emma Risley, ’21
Ethan Smilg, ’19
Frances Harrison, ’17
Giuliana Conte, ’20
Grace Ingham, ’23
Grace Mitri, ’14
Gustavo Marquez, ’22
Harper Case, ’20
Isaac Baker, ’22
Jack McDonald, ’20
Jack O’Brien, ’20
Jess Dickson, ’20
John Fentiman, ’09
Jonah Raider-Roth, ’18
Jordan Taylor, ’22
Joseph Fennimore, ’16
Joseph Tucker, ’22
Joshua Brown, ’98
Katja Yacker, ’17
Kegan Sulamoyo, ’20
Kelly Opalko, ’11
Lauren Harrison, ’21
Lauretta “Laura” Mosteller, ’18
Leah Neustadt, ’17
Lex Scott, ’22
Luke Dotson, ’20
Mariah Hamburg, ’23
Merit Glover, ’18
Michael D. Flohr, ’93
Monica Hammil, ’21
Nathan Waniorek, ’21
Neha Praseed, ’23
Nicole Coury, ’20
Olivia Taliaferro, ’17
Paul Jensen, ’21
Paulina Martz, ’20
Richard Pannullo, ’20
Ryan Arvizu, ’21
Ryan Materna, ’20
Samantha Chrin, ’19
Sara Bogomolny, ’16
Sara Young, ’20
Sarah Parr, ’20
Shmuel Berman (Samuel Berman), ’21
Sun-Mee Kasper, ’16
Talia Eshenbaugh, ’21
Tatjana Vujovic, ’20
Tim Perfect, ’97
Will Oldham, ’17
William Erickson, ’20
Zach Palumbo, ’17
Zachary Olivos, ’14
*Note: Chris Markham is currently The Observer’s Director of Print