Disruptive Innovation in Predominately White Academic Theatre

In truth, I have always grappled with seeing myself as a traditional academic. Many theatre faculty artists with MFAs struggle with this feeling. The artistic compromise one often feels when researching and producing scholarship is not where I, as a tenure-track professor, felt most conflicted. I wish that were the basic fundamental struggle. From well-intentioned colleagues casting African-American students in stereotyped roles and in roles that were unequivocally Eurocentric to strategizing mainstage season lineups that did not include African-American playwrights (i.e., stories about black people for other black people), the largest obstacle was the level of resistance to provide a safe space for black student artists to grow into their own authenticity through theatre.  

Since being on tenure-track, cultivating resilience as a minority and being an unofficial diversity officer has been the nature of the job. White people’s need of me to help them understand my culture, my aesthetic, i.e., myself, was flattering for a while, I admit. It even got me believing that maybe I was “at home.” Was I “at home” because white people needed me for their own survival and vibrancy? Was being a minority and a diversity champion my assigned territory?

When I ask myself how did I get here? How did I find my way into a profession where I am constantly finding ways to survive? How did I, an HBCU graduate, end up in a workspace where there is such resistance to having serious conversations about diversity and inclusion? Where there is exclusion of one’s experience and survival is nearly impossible because you—because I—essentially don’t count, I ask myself again, is this how being “at home” is supposed to feel?

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