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TTU students, alumni release call to action on reports of racism in School of Theatre and Dance, university responds

Texas Tech University placed class rings in the east Bell Tower as the Saddle Tramps rang the...
Texas Tech University placed class rings in the east Bell Tower as the Saddle Tramps rang the Victory Bells. (Source: KCBD)
Updated: Aug. 12, 2020 at 8:21 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Officials with Texas Tech University have responded to a call to action by students and alumni of the university’s School of Theatre and Dance, demanding policy changes after reports of racism.

On June 30, more than 160 students signed a call to action for Texas Tech and the J.T. and Margaret Talkington College of Visual and Performing Arts School of Theatre and Dance, saying the school has “historically lacked diversity in faculty, staff, and season selection which has resulted in displays of tokenism, racist depictions of BIPOC individuals on stage, and the further perpetuation of systemic racism, among other problematic behaviors.”

BIPOC is an acronym for Black, Indigenous, and/or People of Color. The call to action claims undergraduate and graduate students have requested the hiring of BIPOC individuals and more stories about and/or by BIPOC individuals, but say these requests have been ignored, negligence that they say has “contributed to the trauma of numerous students.”

Demands from the call to action include a public apology from the School of Theatre and Dance, an investigation into the “hiring committee’s failure to recruit BIPOC faculty,” a diversity inclusion plan with the intent to hire and seek out BIPOC faculty and staff over the course of 10 years with a goal of at least 50% BIPOC faculty, staff, and guest artists by 2031, and mandatory microaggression and diversity training for all faculty, staff, and students.

One signee of the call to action, Dr. Teddy A. Rodriguez-Velez, penned an open letter to his former graduate advisor in July, recounting claims of racist experiences with the School of Theatre and Dance.

In the letter, Dr. Rodriguez-Velez says he was told by his former graduate advisor that his “English was not good enough” to be a doctoral student. He also includes that this graduate advisor served as associate chair of the department “and failed 14 times to bring in BIPOC professors in the last 8 years.”

According to the letter, Dr. Rodriguez-Velez studies inclusion, diversity and equity in the theatre education and in media, and freelances as a multiculturalism and inclusion consultant.

The School of Theatre and Dance’s Interim Dean, Genevieve Durham DeCesaro, released a statement responding to the call to action, recognizing “a need to acknowledge and confront former and current practices and policies in the arts.”

The University’s statement says a working group of faculty and staff meeting since July has, “identified steps that the School of Theatre and Dance can take to examine its curricula and policies and has also communicated directly with representatives of the group issuing the Call to Action,” adding that the Talkington College of Visual and Performing Arts is now in a leadership transition, and the College will “fund arts initiatives that research and give voice to student experiences with racism and other forms of oppression on our campus.”

You can read the full response from Texas Tech University below:

On June 30th, a group of current and former Texas Tech University students submitted a Call to Action document describing a culture of systemic racism in Texas Tech University’s J.T. and Margaret Talkington College of Visual and Performing Arts and the School of Theatre and Dance. In response to that Call to Action and also in recognition of a need to acknowledge and confront former and current practices and policies in the arts, the university, including the President, and college administration issued a statement including the following:

We hear the call and we are prepared to listen and work together to ensure we have a college environment that is welcoming and supportive of all voices.

It is a priority of the present and incoming administration in the J.T. and Margaret Talkington College of Visual and Performing Arts to examine historical practices in the units that have a role or impact – accidental, purposeful, inherent or not – in the structures that privilege one community over others. This call to action brings forward valid and urgent concerns and is our first step on a path to change. We, the university and college administration, are committed to walking this path with you. We know this will require strength, perseverance, and adaptability. We are grateful for the students and alumni who have called attention to these issues while simultaneously sharing their willingness to work with us on solutions.

Since that statement was issued, action has been taken. A working group in the School of Theatre and Dance convened in the first days of July and has met frequently since then. This working group presently includes faculty and staff members and will expand to students as they begin their fall semesters. The working group has identified steps that the School of Theatre and Dance can take to examine its curricula and policies and has also communicated directly with representatives of the group issuing the Call to Action. Additionally, the J.T. and Margaret Talkington College of Visual and Performing Arts, currently in a leadership transition, will fund arts initiatives that research and give voice to student experiences with racism and other forms of oppression on our campus. Further, we are partners with the university’s Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion and work diligently with that unit to recruit faculty members of color across Theatre and Dance and the schools of Music and Art.

The Call to Action issued by our current and former students is important. The J.T. and Margaret Talkington College of Visual and Performing Arts and the School of Theatre and Dance are committed to change. Actions we have already taken that are described above will be followed by more comprehensive plans that include strategic goals over the coming semester and extending beyond to five- and ten-year goals for addressing and eliminating racism and other forms of systemic oppression from who we are and what we do. I look forward to meeting with students at the start of the fall term to continue this critical work.

Sincerely,

Genevieve Durham DeCesaro

Interim Dean Designate

J.T. and Margaret Talkington College of Visual and Performing Arts

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