The U’s Theatre Students of Color Unite Against Racism

Photo+Courtesy+of+the+Department+of+Theatre

Photo Courtesy of the Department of Theatre

By Paige Lee, Arts Writer

*Note for copy editors: Paige Lee conducted interview w/ Danny Borba

Recently, a community of Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) students in the University of Utah’s theatre department released a statement in order to address the racism that has taken place within their department and to ask the department to make some necessary, overdue changes.

The community that these students have formed is called the BIPOC Artists for Awareness. They first posted on their Instagram page on July 4, stating that the goal was to share their stories and to bring awareness to the topic of racism. There were several stories posted to the account documenting the painful experiences of discrimination that the theatre students of color have encountered during their time at the U.

“While waiting in tab for a rehearsal, campus security came to lock a door that for some reason wouldn’t lock. I was sitting at a table near the door reading my script, getting ready for rehearsal. When campus security showed up, they didn’t even lock the door, and asked me for ID to prove I was supposed to be there,” said one student’s story on the page. “They claimed they had to check everyone’s [ID] just to be safe, but then they left and didn’t bother checking any ID from the white [Musical Theatre Program] kids who were down the hall.”

In addition to posting the stories of students, BIPOC Artists for Awareness also formulated several posts made to educate its followers on why certain actions and phrases are considered offensive or racist.

Action Taken by Students

On July 18, BIPOC Artists for Awareness released an official statement calling for changes to increase awareness among students, faculty and staff of the U’s theatre department. The statement urges for anti-racist training among faculty, elimination of offensive phrases, new approaches to casting and play selection and greater representation of BIPOC students and educators.

“Our industry and world is moving forward. It is up to you to catch up. We will no longer hide our stories and ourselves because they make you uncomfortable or scared. That is our right. We write this statement not out of hatred, but out of a deep and enduring love for this art form and our community,” the statement read. “We want to create. We want to create here with you. But we can no longer feel afraid every day. It is your obligation as educators to educate yourselves. We will hold you accountable. We look forward to your response and to continuing this conversation.”

Danny Borba, a U student and member of BIPOC Artists for Awareness said, “We want to be as transparent as possible. We don’t want to call out our department just to call it out. We just want to make it better.” Borba also noted how the Black Lives Matter movement helped bring attention to the issues that needed changing, “We were seeing an uprising of racial attention and we saw that in the theatre community as well, just how racist the field is,” said Borba.

The Theatre Department’s Response

The U’s theatre department took notice of the official statement released by its students and responded. The theatre department released its own statement acknowledging the needs of its BIPOC students, writing, “We will soon issue a mission statement that includes concrete actions and goals to advocate and embrace anti-racism, equity, inclusion, justice, diversity, and representation — not only as tenets of the University of Utah and the College of Fine Arts, but as necessary principles of the Department of Theatre.” Their statement continued, “In these and all future efforts we are determined to seek and honor student input, and we will commit to providing improved support for public and private communication.”

It is the hope of many that institutional and cultural changes will take place as mentioned in the theatre department’s statement. “I definitely hope that the conversation about race and ethnicity is not lost in the department and not lost in the future. I don’t want this to just be a trend,” said Borba. “We hope that [the students’ official statement] starts a conversation about what happens in other departments. Because if it’s happening in our department, it’s definitely happening in others.”

The community started by BIPOC theatre students has definitely started an important conversation that needs to be had. Although only time can tell what changes will be made, it is safe to say that the BIPOC Artists for Awareness will leave a big impact on the future at the U and the future of theatre.

 

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