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Syracuse U. drama students allege ‘pervasive institutional racism,’ make demands

It seems the culture of racism is so pernicious in Syracuse University’s Drama Department that some 500 students and alumni have signed on to a petition demanding action be taken against it.

According to The Daily Orange, petition organizer Courtney Green said she and her peers collected “39 testimonials” about racist incidents.

Fellow organizer Djuna Knight, a SU Drama alumna, said “It is a culture there. It is not just incidents of racism — (the department) is steeped in racism, in a really real way.”

The petition says black students “have been repeatedly manipulated, tokenized, discriminated against, and ultimately traumatized by their experiences at SU Drama.” Quoted complaints (along with associated commentary) include:

“A casting director might ask you to do that line again, and more urban.” – A white professor to multiple Black students, perpetuating coded language rather than preparing them to refuse the request with professionalism.

“Let’s ask the ‘Black-tors’ in the class what they think.” – A non-Black professor during a class.

“No respectable person would have those nails on TV.” – To a Black female student during an office hour meeting.

“A white professor said the n-word to a group of white students and no one said a word, no one reported it.”

The signatories then make numerous demands such as

— An investigation and swift removal of faculty who are guilty of initiating and encouraging racial micro and macro aggressions, cultural appropriation, and verbal abuse against BlPOC [black, people of color] students.

— Any faculty member who is removed for engaging in any of the aforementioned actions will be replaced by a BIPOC hire. The overall numbers for BIPOC faculty must be 50% of the Department of Drama faculty by 2025.

— Abolishing the phrase “colorblind casting” from the department’s vernacular.

— Faculty will undergo Implicit Bias, Equity and Diversity training.

— Any and all forms of media that perpetuate racist stereotypes can no longer be used for promotional purposes for the Department of Drama.

— A formal apology on behalf of the Department of Drama to its past and current BIPOC students.

Other demands include scholarships for BlPOC students (which, technically, Syracuse could offer as it’s a private entity), establishment of an “anti-racist curriculum and syllabus review” system, and the stoppage of any department performance where “one or more students decline casting” or “later drop out” due to a racist incident.

The head of the SU Drama Department, Ralph Zito, did not directly address specific accusations. Nevertheless, he did apologize for any “actions and/or inactions that have added to [students’] pain,” and promised “full advocacy in behalf of swift and meaningful action.”

Read the Daily Orange article and full petition.

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IMAGE: Andrew Gwozdziewycz / Flickr.com

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