My first encounter with cultural difference occurred when my family moved from rural Missouri to northeastern Pennsylvania my senior year of high school. To my surprise, the food was different, customs and colloquialisms were different, and people’s values were different. That collision with cultural diversity, albeit still a fairly white and privileged one, propelled my interest in culture and fostered a need for what adrienne maree brown calls “biodiversity.” Now, nearly thirty years later, having lived and trained all over the world, my favorite city is Istanbul, and my time at Odin Teatret, living, training, and performing with artists from thirty different countries, was a defining period of my life. What I experienced at Odin was the kind of environment that I want to create for and with my students: spaces where all voices are heard, all cultures and experiences are valued, and diversity is the norm not the exception. My time at Odin solidified my commitment to honoring diversity and advancing equity, inclusion, and access in my classrooms/production spaces.
Engaging in Service and Community Action
My commitment to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Access
In addition to expanding the canon in my classes, I was inspired to further action after reading bell hooks’ Teaching to Transgress. hooks writes that simply adding an author of Color to the syllabus does not make you an EDI advocate. She writes that you must also have conversations about race, gender, and class in order to really advance diversity, equity, and inclusion. From my privileged position these conversations are challenging for me, but bell was right! Consequently, I am a member of the Advocacy, Allyship, and Access committee in my department that is committed to advancing EDI and although we had brought in artists of Color (including Nicole Brewer) and touched on issues of race and diversity, we were not sitting with the students to share our thoughts and build a plan of action. Inspired by Teaching to Transgress, I proposed a conversation series in which students and faculty discuss bell’s ideas around creating a truly multicultural classroom and ask the hard question: what is keeping us from moving forward? The series was approved and over the course of this academic year we will have some complex conversations around diversity, equity, and inclusion in our department and end the year with an idea jam session in which we make an action plan for things to implement next year. After consulting with university and local diversity and equity personnel, we began the series this September with an Empathetic Discourse session and recently had our first two community conversation working from bell’s writing.
Creating Spaces for Change
October 26, 2022
November 2, 2022
Building an Action Plan
Discuss expectations and hopes for the series and pages 27-34 of Teaching to Transgress.
Discuss pages 35-40 of Teaching to Transgress
Discuss pages 40-44 of Teaching to Transgress
Reflect on previous conversations in order to create a list of hopes, a list of executable actions, and begin a plan to implement change.
Representation in and access to course content and materials
As a white, cis-female, heterosexual woman I have lived a privileged life. Much of my education was focused on white, male, Eurocentric narratives. Apart from teaching Noh and The Suzuki Method, most of my teaching centered on what I had already been taught—the same white male, Eurocentric narratives. However, over the last five years I have begun to decolonize my classroom and intentionally include the work of female and global majority artists. In Fundamentals of Acting, students read Anna Deavere Smith’s Letters to a Young Artist, perform plays from Susan-Lori Parks’ 365 Days/365 Plays, and engage in Jeungsook Yoo’s Korean Approach to Actor Training. In my Period Acting courses, which are problematically Eurocentric, I incorporate essays from Sharrell D. Luckett and Tia M. Shaffer’s Black Acting Methods and my research and training in Japanese Noh performance. Ultimately, I want students to see themselves represented in the artists we study. To ensure students can afford these readings I make sure to keep costs low and order books that allow students to rent texts as often as possible, provide digital copies when ethical, and work with the library to access digital texts when available.
I continue to deepen and widen my knowledge by attending workshops and engaging in trainings on Anti-Racism, Creating Change, Inclusive Casting practices, and Consent in Academia. From these trainings, I am now aware that I must continue to look at my positionality in addition to my privilege. I am now aware that in the interest of exploring the works of diverse artists I must be careful not to appropriate or tokenize members of the global majority in my teaching, research, and theatre making. I now approach others, my work, and myself with more patience and humility as we ALL try to navigate our way through a world that rewards sameness. I remind myself and my students that to be treated with respect and dignity is our birthright. Ultimately, I foster diversity and inclusion by trying to walk the path with students, meeting them where they are, and listening to where they want to go.