Theaters and performing venues across the world have been shuttered for the last fifteen months. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the reignition of the Black Lives Matter movement, the WeSeeYouWhiteAmericanTheater movement began. The movement, organized by BIPOC artists and producers across the country, seeks to rectify decades worth of systemic racism, tokenism, and exploitation of artists of color in the theater world.
Much closer to home, the Bates Department of Theater and Dance began conversations with faculty, students, and alumni to discuss how this same racism has manifested on the Bates campus. These conversations were facilitated by Dr. Noelle Chaddock, vice president for equity and inclusion. Students were candid about their experiences, their thoughts on where Bates could improve, and the issues that were in most desperate need of address.
These suggestions were compiled by the students and submitted to the faculty in July. Shortly thereafter, Lecturer in Theater Cliff Odle began working with a group of eight students to create a student committee to liaise between students and faculty to help improve diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and transparency within the department.
The Student-Teacher Advisory Council (STAC) was elected in November, and took office this semester. There are currently four members: Natalie Brewer ‘21, Michelle Desjarlais ‘22, Jacob Dimartini ‘22 and Kush Sharma ‘23. In future years, they hope to expand to six, representing all class years and ensuring balance between dancers and theater makers.
“The role of STAC recently has mainly been to encourage transparency between faculty and students … The position is also meant to be a way for student needs around these [DEI] goals to be properly communicated to the department in order to ensure that the proper actions are taken,” Dimartini, an actor, shared.
He added that he “ran for the position to establish a direct line of communication between faculty and students in order for faculty to better understand student needs and what proper next steps look like when making the department more inclusive, equitable, and transparent to the Bates community at large.”
Brewer, a dancer, concurred, “in my opinion [STAC] should create a space where students can voice their concerns about equity and inclusion throughout the department along with recommending and promoting changes that the overall student body believes should take place.”
Sharma, a director and actor, was driven by personal experiences in the department. He expressed his desire to make it a more open and welcoming space for international students like himself. Meanwhile Desjarlais, another dancer, expressed her desire to help STAC “become a reliable group of people that foster a safe space for every artist.”
STAC’s first “assignment” is to assist in the hiring process of a new theater professor. Charles A. Dana Professor of Theater Martin Andrucki will retire at the end of the year after more than forty-five years at Bates; he is the last founding member of Bates’s theater department still at Bates. (His final production “Class Notes,” which he wrote and directed, is available to stream through May 7). Students have expressed their desire to have a BIPOC professor and update the theater studies curriculum, which Andrucki teaches, to include more plays about and by BIPOC and LGBT+ characters and playwrights, respectively.
As the department has seen this year, hiring a non-white professor is not a magic wand. Neither is creating STAC. They are both simply pieces of the puzzle ensuring that even at the college level, theater and dance can become the welcoming, inclusive spaces they should be.
Dimartini explained, “The role of STAC in the future will not be to limit student and faculty productions, but to ensure that these three [DEI] goals are being pursued within the community and that faculty is transparent about the actions that they are taking.”
Students in theater and dance have the unique opportunity to work directly alongside faculty on a daily basis, in a half-academic, half-professional capacity. Navigating power differentials can be tricky, but it is necessary to put the work in place and have bodies to hold others accountable.
With an expected fully in-person season next year for the clubs and the department, STAC moves everyone one step closer towards making theater and dance at Bates (and beyond) the welcoming, inclusive spaces they have always claimed to be.