Students are boycotting the theatre programme at a South Carolina university, after an incident where non-white students’ names were written on a whiteboard touched off a wider discussion of race in the department.
The aspiring playwrights and actors of Coastal Carolina University’s theatre department didn’t attend classes on Monday in protest.
"We are telling ourselves that we have each other when they don’t have us," theatre student Kelis Herriot told WPDE. "Until we are met with the same respect that we give our professors, we do not owe them that."
The outrage began when students arrived in class to find the names of non-white students listed on a white board and categorised by race.
The University’s artist-in-residence Dr Susan Finque had been working with two Black students after one class, she explained to reporters, hearing out their concerns about feeling isolated at the school.
The list was left up on the board, prompting confusion and outrage, for which Ms Finque apologised.
Students also saw an email chain where another professor, Dr Robert Earnest, seemed to dismiss the whole incident, writing, "I don’t think it’s a big deal ... I’m just sad people get their feelings hurt so easily. And they are going into theatre?”
He also apologised.
"I just sent a letter of apology to the DEI [Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion] committee,” he told WPDE. “My comments were not directed at BIPOC students. Evidently, there was an issue of a list of students that was posted that caused some confusion. I then made an insensitive comment asking them to move on from it. I had no idea it would blow up like this."
The university says it is working to resolve the issue.
"The leadership of the University and of the Edwards College of Humanities and Fine Arts are aware of the complaints that some of our theatre students have communicated,” it said in a statement. “We are working to establish the most appropriate path for resolving their concerns.”
Last summer, amid nationwide Black Lives Matter protests, more than 600 alumni of CCU signed a petition calling on the theatre department to be more inclusive of people of colour and hire a more diverse faculty.
“An overall lack of respect for the BIPOC students – there’s an overall culture of dismissing them and treating them as less than,” Miquela Rivers told WBTW at the time. “To treat students who have entrusted you with their education and believe that you’re going to provide them with a safe place to grow and be vulnerable and to not see this as absolutely imperative is abhorrently concerning.”
In the petition, students described being called by the wrong name, being confused with other students of colour, and the use of loaded terms like “sassy,” “urban,” and “ghetto” in class discussion.
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