Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion/Anti-Racist Roadmap
Revamping Our Awards
The Anti-Racism/EDI Committee (consisting of Prof. Elisa Gonzales, Department Chair Chris Baker, and Costume Shop Manager Felicia Malachite) worked this year to make the end-of-year scholarship awards selection process more equitable and transparent for our students.
As such, students were invited to nominate their peers for awards, and had the opportunity to self-nominate as well. Students, faculty, and staff made nominations through an electronic survey, and students received access to scoring rubrics for each award so they could see how nominations would be considered by the Departmental Awards Committee. The committee also wanted to celebrate the work of all our students, and every student nominated for an award was publicly acknowledged by the Department after the end-of-year awards ceremony. These changes to the awards process are a work-in-progress, but the committee members were encouraged and uplifted by the high number of students who submitted nominations for their student peers in the department.
As a Department, we carried forward our effort to encourage more student feedback by opening a "Season Suggestion Box" that allowed students to weigh in with their thoughts about our season, offering both specific plays as well as broader thoughts about the priorities for the season. Students let us know that they continue to value bringing underrepresented voices to our stages and that they want more comedy and name-recognition. We selected Shakespeare's Twelfth Night in part based on their recommendation.
We also offered an opportunity for folks to weigh in about the Fringe Fest '23.
This year, we did not have an Anti-Racism Committee. Instead, that work moved out into the department as a whole, as various stakeholders worked to take information learned in the committee and put it into practice.
The Undergraduate Program
Some of the most important changes that came to our undergraduate program this year were enacted in part because we hope they will help us achieve Anti-Racism goals and eliminate gatekeeping in general. The committee that met to revise our major originally considered the possibility of doing away with the minor, fearing that it was siphoning off potential majors. We decided against this as a department, however, because we noted that it was bringing in students of color who might be hesitant about majoring, as well as first-generation and low-income students whose families might be counseling them toward a more career-oriented course of study. As for the changes to the major and minor themselves, which are highlighted elsewhere in the 2021-2022 Year in Review, we hope that by centering a course about work by contemporary playwrights of color, students become both more aware about a large swathe of theater-making that is often marginalized and excited about engaging with this work. We also loosened some of the requirements of the major. We know that students of all backgrounds, including many students of color, are carrying double-majors, working at least one job, and/or dealing with time and financial constraints. Giving them a more flexible major will, we hope, both draw in students who might not otherwise have joined the major, as well as giving all of our students greater opportunities to explore courses within the department that they might not have felt they had time for in the past.
Asking for feedback
When our consultant, Trenda Loftin, surveyed our community in spring 2021 as part of our Anti-Racist work, she identified places where students experienced gatekeeping around race, LGBTQ status, and other marginalized identities, and counseled us to increase opportunities for students to weigh in on the running of processes, and to work on greater transparency about those processes. We recognized that sometimes, faculty and staff make assumptions on what we think students feel or know, and that sometimes things need to be explicitly expressed. Accordingly, in our season selection process this year, we invited students to respond to a survey asking them about their season production priorities.
- While we weren’t able to meet every wish expressed in the survey responses, we were able to address a number:
- We took care, when selecting our work, to find instances to celebrate joy, and to not ask our actors of color to perform trauma for a white audience.
- We have shows that celebrate the LGBTQ community, which includes many of our students.
- We have shows with name-recognition: Sondheim’s Into the Woods and Sarah Ruhl’s adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando.
- We have a bona-fide musical.
- We have work by women and by writers of marginalized and underrepresented communities.
- We tried to be more transparent about the process, sharing anonymized responses from the survey, as well as how we intended to use it, with our community at the start of the selection process, along with a rough explanation of the process.
Then we shared with them our eventual season slate, which included justifications for each choice. We followed the success of that survey with another, asking for feedback of the Fringe Fest ‘22 process. Students’ feedback there will affect how we move forward witrh the festival we put on in 2023.
Facilitator: Trenda Loftin
Committee Members: Yao Chen, Harley Erdman, Elisa Gonzales, Anna-Maria Goossens, Jemma Kepner, Celena Lopes, Carolyn Parker-Fairbain, Helen Rahman
Where we are
Over the past year, the Department of Theater committed itself to making significant strides to address its shortcomings in the area of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.
Specific efforts in the area over the past two years have included the following:
- Kent Alexander and the workshops he led for faculty and staff in February 2020 on the subjects of race and privilege, as well as for his work to moderate a community meeting that addressed student concerns in June 2020
- Nicole Brewer and the workshops she led for faculty and staff during the 2020-2021 school year on the subjects of building an Anti-Racist theater practice
- Design faculty brought in a Jerrilyn Lanier to lead a make-up and hair workshop for performers of color to address a gap in our current expertise
- Most significant to this document, the Department has formed an Anti-Racism Committee. With the guidance of facilitator Trenda Loftin, this committee began work on an Anti-Racist Roadmap which will guide the department in redressing existing wrongs and create a more equitable and diverse path forward.
This work is on-going and unfinished; we selected the term “Roadmap,” because we understand that we are making progress but have further to go.
This progress report is not the final Roadmap but is an accounting of the progress made so far.
Work will continue, both in individual initiatives by faculty and staff, as well as in a retreat planned for August 2021, and with the resumption of committee work in the fall. Of note, also, is that in parallel with that committee’s work, a number of individual department members and other committees began or continued work that includes Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion focus.
Recognition of prior Anti-Racism work
In a number of instances, current work builds on what individual faculty, staff, and students set in motion previously.
We recognize in particular the following:
- Dr. Priscilla Page for the work to create and administer the Multicultural Theater Certificate, as well as her recruitment of BIPOC students to our program
- Department members who have pursued opportunities to welcome, recruit, and retain BIPOC students through outreach to local schools and organizations, as well as on-campus connections
- The faculty who created the courses and performance opportunities engaging with multicultural theater practice and performance opportunities for BIPOC students and performers, including Professors Judyie Al-Bilali, Gilbert McCauley, and Priscilla Page
- Students who brought concerns to the department through open letters, during community meetings and forums, and other means
Anti-Racism Committee and Roadmap
In fall 2020 the department formed an Anti-Racism Committee composed of faculty, staff, and students, with theater-maker and Anti-Racism Consultant Trenda Loftin to guide the work.
The committee drafted questions for a survey and Zoom focus groups intended to identify key issues within the department. All faculty, staff, students (graduate, undergraduate, minor, major, and theater-adjacent), as well as alumni, were invited to complete the survey in February. In February and March, Trenda moderated Zoom focus group with these constituent groups, including one for BIPOC students and one for BIPOC faculty and staff.
Once compiled, information, trends, concerns, etc., were shared by Trenda anonymously with the committee to ensure the confidentiality of the respondents who might fear reprisals.
Categories of issues identified as areas of concern are the focus of the Roadmap, as outlined below.
Transparency & Accountability
Many stakeholders expressed a need for greater transparency of department processes that impact diversity, equity, and inclusion.
- Communicate specifically around these issues.
- Shared information thus far includes an email about the survey and focus groups, as well as this progress report. Updates to come quarterly, and to be archived on the website.
- Keep better records and track our history to address a feeling of “going in circles” and lack of progress.
- Included in brief here but on-going and to come
- Compile communication and resources re: current and future DEI work, how to raise concerns, and how to access resources
- The handbook is being revised this summer to include these items, including which issues are addressed in-house and which need HFA or UMass support. Handbook will be online.
- Regular communication and review of processes and procedures
- To be encompassed in our quarterly updates
- Communicate and build across committees to find coming-together points: Where can the Anti-Racism Committee lighten the load or amplify other work?
- Still to come
The department needs to hire more faculty and staff or color and needs to recruit more students who are of color or otherwise under-represented.
- Support incoming faculty of color
- This year, the personnel committee created guidelines to mentor new faculty which named explicitly that faculty of color face unique challenges that must of accounted for.
Other supports are to be addressed in retreat and future committee
- Connect with current faculty who have experience on recruiting under-represented students and learn from and support their efforts
- Access the history of: Grad student Jen Onopa’s recruiting work in Springfield, instructor Marlow Bull’s theater conference and school visits around New England, and Professor Gilbert McCauley’s work with Upward Bound, which connected the department with students in western Massachusetts, including Springfield.
- Re-activate and potentially resource resumption of these networks
- Research campus-wide resources to support the work, including support at HFA (Dean) and UMass levels
Faculty have raised pay equity concerns with the committee.
- Address in-department and elevate where needed through proper channels
- These are confidential proceedings, but cases raised thus far are making their way through these channels
- Outline and communicate pay structure system with staff & faculty
There is a need for greater transparency so that stakeholders understand the process, have a bigger voice in the process, and can constructively address potential DEI issues in the process
- Identify the committee as early as possible to engage with questions
- Who would be directing? Is it honoring the story?
- Notice and name where white folks with goodwill center whiteness in antiracism/decision making
- Do people who lead the conversation actually have a stake in it
- To be addressed at the start of the school year
- Use the Lobbyist internal newsletter early in the process to increase transparency about the process with an FAQ about season selection, committee members, remove the secrecy (real and perceived) about themes, requirements, needs, and decision-making
- To come in fall after the committee is convened
- Create space for feedback
- To come in fall after the committee is convened
Curriculum and Production Process
We want to prepare students not just for theater of the past but theater of the future. Much of this work is being addressed by our undergraduate major committee, which is reviewing the structure and requirements for the major.
- Questions raised in the survey and Zoom sessions that should be considered in curriculum revision include:
- Industry hierarchies
- When white supremacy values are being upheld or we are asking someone to code switch or perform emotional labor
- Consider process-oriented vs product oriented and transactional vs transformational education
- How to grade fairly and carry grading innovation from the pandemic forward to address DEI issues
- Still to come
- How can the model of Rights of Spring be replicated to foster new collaborations and educationally valuable projects that forward underrepresented voices
- Still to come
- More transparency of faculty goals and priorities: profiles with values or intentions
- Update of website bios to be addressed in fall semester
In the coming year, the department will continue to come up with concrete steps to center Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in all its work, especially as we finalize plans for a new major, planned to launch Fall 2022. A fall 2021 retreat will be the next moment for these ongoing discussions.