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About

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion/Anti-Racist Roadmap

PRELIMINARY DEI/ANTI-RACIST ROADMAP — Progress report
July 2021

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

Recruiting

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

Pay Equity

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

Season Selection

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

Next Steps

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.