Wednesday, February 10, 2010

This by Us: One Year Later

One year ago, on February 10th, 2009, we began to post a series of words and photos on the walls of the Barbara Barker Center for Dance. We were a pseudonymous group of Dance students of Color, and our actions were a protest against the lack of safe space for students of Color in the program and the failure of the faculty to provide the resources needed for anti-racist activism and alliance.

We covered the white walls and clear glass of the building with poetry, essays, blog posts, news articles, quotations and photographs, documenting our actions and communications on a public blog ( We chose each text or image because it spoke to us about resisting bigotry and institutionalized prejudice and about forming alliances with people whose oppressions both coincide with and differ from our own. Our protest physically transformed the Barker Center into a site of discussion where it was impossible to ignore what we were saying.

Among our many specifically themed postings was the one to mark Black History Month, for which we covered up the photos of the exclusively White dancers in Classroom 301 with photos of extraordinary Black American dancers and choreographers. On April 1st, 2009, we posted a list of specific suggestions that the Dance Program could implement. One item on that list was the suggestion that the photo collection of White dancers in Classroom 301 be replaced with a more racially diverse panorama — as we ourselves temporarily implemented during the protest. This small symbolic gesture had been discussed within the Program for four preceding years, but was never undertaken.

On April 5th, a group of all White students and alumni tore down our entire protest. The Dance Program administration officially described this silencing action as a "change" while issuing encouragement to students to express themselves at Peer Advisor-led meetings. The Dance administration likewise did nothing to engage the changes we had been trying to bring to the building.

Today, the dancing bodies on the walls of Classroom 301 are still all White.

This lack of response to our protest is characteristic of the Dance Program's attitude towards it, which evolved from appropriative pride, to annoyed indifference, to offended outrage, to active suppression. We held meetings with the Ombudsman’s office and the Office for Equity and Diversity to try to negotiate with the Department of Theater Arts and Dance administration. These meetings were ultimately fruitless. The Dance Program refused to examine its hostile, defensive and disingenuous response to the protest, much less accept any of our criticisms of its policies and politics.

This attitude was exacerbated by the bureaucratic indifference of the University administration at large. The problems we critiqued during our protest are endemic to the University of Minnesota and systemic through the highest levels of administration -- indifference, self-aggrandizement partnered with suppression and dismissal of criticism, defensive and face-saving solutions that do not address problems with the required complexity and rigor, a willingness to perpetuate and protect hierarchies of power, and above all, the construction of an educational institute that values students as consumers first and knowledge as relevant only to gaining power.

While we found individuals in the Department of Theater Arts and Dance, the College of Liberal Arts, and the Office for Equity and Diversity and its various service units who were well-intentioned and concerned about our well-being, they were unwilling or unable to take effective actions that would enable us to trust the official mechanisms provided for student protection.

Given this environment we have experienced, should we have expected our protest to bring about change? The change we desired was initially sparked by a painful discussion about students' racialized experiences with casting in the annual University Dance Theater concert. It is revealing that the semester following this discussion, the faculty and administration held auditions for a dance piece explicitly about transracial adoption without clarifying the casting policy for it beforehand.

A year later, the dance administration and faculty remain completely silent about our protest. Clearly those teachers who talk about the power of historiography in their classrooms are aware of the consequences of erasing history from their narratives, and find it easier to ignore our protest than to acknowledge that it happened, or to address the unresolved criticism of their actions and inactions.

A year later, our anger, born from a concerned engagement with our school and our teachers, has dwindled into disappointment and disengagement. While the overreaching issues of racism, institutional privilege, and abuse of authority remain embedded within the Dance Program in specific and the University of Minnesota at large; this educational institute has proven to be an unsupportive environment within which to point problems out, much less begin to change them.
We mourn that our protest could not effect the change we needed; that fear and arrogance led to its silencing and erasure. We indict the Dance Program for squandering an opportunity for growth by their defensive posturing and empty gestures. Most of all, we regret that our fellow and future students of Color will not have the opportunity to know that they are not alone in the isolation and alienation they may feel.

But we celebrate our protest, because for a brief, wondrous period in our education, we turned the building in which we danced, dreamed and learned into a space reclaimed by our voices, our concerns and our bodies; resonant with a challenge too beautiful, too demanding and too large to ignore.

-- us, February 10th, 2010 (

Note: We are currently (as of February 11, 2010) still in the process of distributing print versions of the above letter to University administration and placing stacks for students in University buildings. This blog post will later be fully updated with recipients and locations we have placed the print material.

An Annotated Timeline of THIS protest may be found here.

Housekeeping: A Note to Our Blog Readers

Dear Blog Readers,

Our blog is currently in the process of being brought up to date.

We have updates up to May 19, 2009 - at that point last year we no longer had the energy to continue a conversation with the University which had proven to be largely unproductive. However, as the Dance and University administration in general has not and will not fulfill the task of making their processes transparent and widely accessible, we must do it here. The upkeep of the standards of documentation and reportage as in keeping with our editorial policies will take some time. Please be patient. You may email us with any specific questions, concerns, or suggestions.

Please continue to check back. We have kept largely comprehensive documentation on this blog, and are working on filling what holes exist.


Note: This entry may be edited later to reflect and include the new material as it is added.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Response: June 18, 2009

Today an email from Dr. Rusty Barceló was distributed by the dance office specialist to the dancemajors email listserv only:

Date: Thu, 18 Jun 2009 08:41:36 -0500

From: Jessica Crary
Cc: Ananya Chatterjea ,

Subject: [Dancemajors] From Dr. Rusty Barceló

Dear Dance Program Students,

Over the past few weeks, the Office for Equity and Diversity staff have had the opportunity to meet with various groups and individuals to discuss the THIS protest in the Dance Program. We also would like the opportunity to meet with a broader range of students in the Dance Program to gain your perspectives about any aspect of the protest and/or the Program.

I would like to invite you to participate in a meeting set for Friday, June 26, 2009 from 11:30 am - 1:00 pm in room 432 Morrill Hall. For those of you unable to attend in person, we are making it possible for you to participate via a conference call. Please contact Celest Miller by Wednesday, June 24th at 612-626-9836 or to set up a conference call connection.

We are aware that the timing of this is not ideal and not many students are on campus right now. However, we believe it is important to gain as many voices as possible in order to determine future directions. I hope that you will be able to participate on some level.

Dr. Rusty Barceló
Vice President and Vice Provost
Office for Equity and Diversity

Friday, May 15, 2009

Response: May 15, 2009

We received an email from the Office for Equity and Diversity, with the following text of the letter that was distributed today on all the dance (dance, dance majors, dance musicians, dance faculty, dance staff) and theater listservs. We will be commenting in our continually updated annotated timeline soon.

Sub: memo from VP Barceló and Dean Parente
Date: May 15, 2009 10:32AM

May 15, 2009

To: Students, staff, and faculty of U of M’s Dance Program and members of the larger community, both locally and nationally

From: Nancy “Rusty” Barceló
Vice President and Vice Provost, Office for Equity and Diversity

James A. Parente, Jr.
Dean, College of Liberal Arts

We are aware that broad-based grave concern exists for a positive resolution to the ongoing protest initiated by a coalition of students within the Dance Program at the University of Minnesota. We are also aware that there is concern that a lack of timely, decisive response has fueled suspicion that the issues raised are not being taken seriously and that a strategy of riding out the criticism until the end of the semester is being deployed by university administrators.

We write to let you know that this is not the case at any level of administration. To be sure, the issues being raised are enormously complex, sensitive, and painful for all involved. None of these are easily addressed or dismissed, and a real solution involves a sustained commitment to working on these issues together. The artistic, political, pedagogical and intellectual work of the Dance Program, and the dedication and commitment of several faculty members to such work, has helped to nurture and create a space where this kind of difficult student-led dialogue can begin. The Dance Program, the College of Liberal Arts, and the Office of Equity and Diversity are working towards a collaborative process that demonstrates commitment from all sides and which takes into account not only the institutional issues that need to be addressed (curricular reform, review of processes, department and institutional environment) but also the deeply emotional wounds experienced by all sides. The wounds that have resulted from the articulation of grievances not only speak to the recent incidences that gave rise to the protest, but they are also, unfortunately, part of the social legacy we all have inherited. In order to reform how we do our work to create a safe, nurturing, and inclusive environment committed to excellence, we need an integrated approach that takes into account all constituents’ needs and concerns. This is no easy task. We need patience and input from all parties involved so we can achieve meaningful and sustainable outcomes. We urge all parties to refrain from making hasty judgments or personalized attacks that might generate injury and pain, thereby undermining the possibilities for productively advancing this dialogue. If we can do this together, the protest and the institutional response can serve as a model for institutional reform.

In order to take steps in this direction, we announce some immediate first steps below. More importantly, we are committed to approaching the upcoming town hall meeting as a workshop that will identify a sustained process for addressing comprehensively all impediments to a healthy community and learning environment, one that is supportive and nurturing of inclusivity and diversity of opinion on complex social issues, including the inherent power dynamics embedded in an educational setting. The steps below are only first steps and not designed to address the range of issues raised by the protest. We ask that all parties involved approach the town hall in a reflective and thoughtful manner that can lead towards pragmatic solutions. While we understand that it may be difficult to refrain from personalizing the issues, we believe it is healthier to approach these challenges from a structural perspective that can lead to sustained change.

Here are actions raised by students, faculty and staff that we propose to act on immediately:
  • Provide space for expressions of dissent within the department
  • Initiate a process and establish a committee to re-think imagery/symbols on the walls of Barker to signify a commitment to a multi-ethnic dance heritage
  • Establish staffed temporary safe zones within the department for students, faculty, staff and community members to express dissent, grievances, and dissatisfaction without fear of recrimination
  • Invite the Student Conflict Resolution Center to continue to act as mediator
  • Provide program advisors with a regularly updated, comprehensive list of CLA courses that typically have diverse racial/ethnic enrollment
  • Provide department faculty with information and training about University policies on student confidentiality and privacy
  • Make small-grant funds available to support the Peers and Student Dance Coalition to hold student-only meetings to discuss issues
  • Continue to make students aware, on a regular basis, of campus resources to address eating disorders, depression, and other difficulties, etc.
  • Make students aware of all the ways they can communicate grievances about the department and/or faculty
  • Continue to have active student representation on faculty hiring committees
  • Make available to students the departmental organizational chart and roles of the faculty and staff
  • Disseminate agendas in advance of town hall meetings; establish a system for requesting agenda items and disseminate minutes to students, faculty, and staff after town hall meetings
  • Share casting policies and timelines in writing with students before auditions
  • Make a public statement in writing regarding the steps that the department is taking to build and sustain an ongoing dialogue about its policies and practices
  • Communicate publicly about the next steps to be addressed after the May 19 workshop.

If you are a University of Minnesota community member that believes you have experienced problems that need to be addressed the following resources are available to you:

  • Administration of the Department of Theatre Arts and Dance and Dance Program
  • Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action
  • Student Conflict Resolution Center
  • Office for Conflict Resolution
  • Office of the Dean, College of Liberal Arts

We very much appreciate your willingness to participate in working collectively with us to address the necessary changes to ensure a mutually supportive and inclusive environment in the Dance Program.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Response: May 7, 2009

We received an email from a concerned dance student (who wished to remain anonymous) to inform us that they witnessed the dance program specialist removing the protest postings on the glass walls of the Barker even before the building officially opened. On multiple occasions the program specialist has confirmed this verbally as well, explaining that she is doing her job by enforcing the university policy on indoor posting.

Since the wholescale removal of the protest on April 5, protest postings have been removed five times, each time before or within minutes of the building officially opening at 8am. To date, there is still no administrative acknowledgment of any involvement in the removal of the protest materials.

We have updated our annotated timeline on the May 7 entry with our responses relating to this.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Response: May 5, 2009

The following email was sent from Carl Flink's email and cosigned by Carl Flink and Dr. Ananya Chatterjea to theater, dance, and faculty/staff listservs, and cc'd to Josh Casper, Dr. Louis Mendoza, Dr. Rickey Hall, Dr. Barceló, Dr. Jim Parente, Dr. Richa Nagar, and Dr. Ananya Chatterjea:

Sub: Update on May 19 Town Hall Meeting on Equity and Difference
Date: May 5, 2009 10:43 AM

Dear All:

The department faculty, CLA and OED understand that May 19 from 10-noon is not an optimal time for students, staff or faculty to meet but dates during the last week of classes also presented serious scheduling problems. We are going to go forward with the May 19 meeting. It is important for everyone to understand that this is simply a next step in this dialogue and that it will be followed by more steps laid out in an action plan for the department that this town hall meeting will help develop.

In order to facilitate as many voices from students, staff and faculty being heard in this process Josh Casper from the University Student Conflict Resolution Center will gather suggested agenda items and future action steps via e-mail at He will redact any personal information from e-mails if the sender desires to remain anonymous. Josh has also graciously offered to meet in person with anyone who wants to provide input for the May 19 meeting, but is uncomfortable sending it through e-mail. So Josh can collate everything in preparation for the meeting, please send your comments by Monday, May 18 at 9 a.m. Comments and suggestions can also be sent directly to Ananya ( and me (Carl Flink at We are also willing to meet with anyone who would like to talk in person.

In order to facilitate further posting of any documents related to these dialogues by US or anyone else who desires to do so on this subject and in order to to comply with University indoor posting procedure, a space will be created in both the Rarig Center and Barker Center for postings on an official bulletin board. Postings should have a date on them and be removed by the distributer of the posting seven days after posting date. For more information on the University procedure on indoor posting please go to the following link:

As stated in our previous e-mail about the May 19 town hall meeting:

Vice Provost Barcelo has also generously offered to meet directly with dance program full-time faculty, affiliate faculty members and students to identify specific issues these groups face and would like addressed. These meetings will be planned in the next three weeks or in fall semester if that timing makes more sense.

We look forward to seeing you on May 19 and working with you all in the coming months on these critical and sensitive issues. Because of our students, staff and faculty, we think our department is uniquely positioned to make great progress on these very important matters.


Carl & Ananya

Click here to read full text and see images.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Part 16: May 4, 2009

An Open Petition to The Chair and Director of the Dance Program

From Part 16 - May 4, 2009

We ask you to demonstrate your stated commitment to ‘issues of equity, social justice and difference’ and your previously stated support of the THIS protest by undertaking the following actions before May 8--the last day of classes:
  • Immediately cease to remove any of the THIS protest postings on the walls of the Barker.
  • Repost the THIS second open letter with its list of demands, Dr. Barceló's communication with the protesters, and this petition on the walls of the Barker.
  • Make a public and official statement supporting the use of the Barker walls as a site of communication, in light of your previously stated support of the protest.
  • Invite the Office for Equity and Diversity and the Student Conflict Resolution Center into the Barker to be able to meet with as many students and affiliate faculty as possible, in order to get everyone’s input on the record.
  • Immediately distribute to the dance and theatre list-serves and make hard copies available of (1) the suggestions generated at the Town Hall meeting which was held on March 13th, 2009 (2) the suggestions generated at the Peers organized meeting, (3) the THIS second open letter.
  • Publicly and officially support the MCAE (Multicultural Centre for Academic Excellence) organized students of Color department support group, and acknowledge the need for it.
  • Invite an external commission to assess students' perception of institutional hostility towards criticism, and faculty abuse of positional power—this should include the situations that lead to the THIS protest.
The Student Conflict Resolution Center and the Office for Equity and Diversity have demonstrated their commitment towards working with the protesters to resolve the issues the protest has raised by responding directly to letters, respecting pseudonymity, and not denying grievances. As the leadership of the dance program, we demand the same commitment from you.

-- us, May 4, 2009 (

Note: Supporters of this petition and the protest can comment here.
They can also forward their comments and letters to
Carl Flink (
Dr. Ananya Chatterjea (
Josh Casper (
The protesters (

Note: This posting had already been taken down the next morning before 8am, when the building officially opens. This is the fifth set of materials that has been immediately removed since our protest was ripped down in its entirety. No one has publicly claimed responsibility.

From Part 16 - May 4, 2009

To view complete album, click on icon below or go to:

Part 16 - May 4, 2009

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Part 15: April 30, 2009

We posted on the glass walls of the first floor lobby in the Barker the following response to the second town hall announcement, and addressed it to Dr. Barceló.

Note: This posting had already been taken down as of 8:09AM the next morning. The building officially opens at 8am. This is the fourth set of materials that has been immediately removed since our protest was ripped down in its entirety. No one has publicly claimed responsibility.

From Part 15 - April 30, 2009

Dr. Nancy "Rusty" Barceló
Vice President and Vice Provost for Equity and Diversity
University of Minnesota

Dear Dr. Barceló:

We appreciated our first meeting with you, Dr. Louis Mendoza, and Dr. Rickey Hall on April 22, 2009. We felt that you acknowledged our voices and respected our concerns. As agreed upon in that meeting, we publicly posted your reply to our open letter, along with our response, so that our peers would know how communicative the Office for Equity and Diversity proved to have been (this material was immediately removed—twice from the walls of the Barker and once from Rarig. See blog for documentation).

In a jointly signed email sent to the theatre list serve today, Carl Flink and Dr. Ananya Chatterjea said that they had "a very positive and constructive conversation" with the Office for Equity and Diversity, along with CLA Dean Dr. Jim Parente and CLA Associate Dean of Faculty Affairs Dr. Richa Nagar. We are very glad that your input persuaded our department to start addressing the issues raised by our protest, and we join the chair and director in thanking the OED for your much-needed experience, expertise and resources.

While we were happy to hear the announcement of a second town hall meeting, we are very concerned about the date of this meeting. To hold it on May 19--11 days after the last day of classes in the dance program--makes it even more inaccessible than the poorly attended Spring Break meeting on March 17. We have always called for the largest possible number of voices and opinions to be involved in any decision making process in the program. The voices of the graduating seniors are essential in this conversation, given their centrality to both the Dance Revolutions experience and their cumulative knowledge of the past four years in the program. We feel that many seniors will find it both inconvenient and unnecessary to attend a meeting held two days after their formal commencement. Many of our peers will already have taken up summer jobs or be traveling by this date.

Since no official meetings can be held during finals week, we would urge you to therefore try and find a way to have this meeting before classes are over. Since the dance program and larger departmental discussions are to be separated anyway, perhaps these could be two distinct meetings, planned to match the individual dance and theatre schedules. We realize the inconvenience this will cause to all administrators involved; however, the first town hall meeting on March 13 was announced only five days in advance, and we feel that the last meeting that some students will attend deserves a similar sense of urgency.

If there is no way possible for this rescheduling to happen, then we would strongly recommend that the OED along with the Student Conflict Resolution Center set up office hours in the Barker to allow as many student and affiliate faculty input to be on the record as possible.

We have some concerns about the agenda for this meeting, as well as suggestions for immediate action that the program can take beforehand. We would be happy to meet with you to discuss these further; we will limit ourselves now to saying that the first step that Carl Flink and Dr. Ananya Chatterjea can take to "demonstrate the department's commitment to a collaborative approach that involves all stakeholders" is to actively support everyone's voices remaining on the walls. We have been struggling to keep this conversation public so that students remain included and are able to form their own opinions of our protest. We look forward to your continued demonstration of these shared values.

--us, April 30, 2009 (

Josh Casper
Dr. Louis Mendoza
Dr. Rickey Hall
dance list serve
theatre list serve

From Part 15 - April 30, 2009

to view the full album, click on the photo icon below or go to:

Part 15 - April 30, 2009

Response: April 30, 2009

The following email was sent out to the dance and theatre listservs, from Carl Flink's email, co-signed by both Carl Flink and Dr. Ananya Chatterjea.

Sub: Dialogues on Equity and Diversity
Date: April 30, 2009 4:40 PM

Dear TAD Department Faculty, Staff & Students:

On Tuesday morning, Ananya and I had a very positive and constructive conversation with Office for Equity and Diversity (OED) Vice President and Vice Provost Rusty Barcelo, Associate Vice Provost Louis Mendoza and Assistant Vice President Rickey Hall, as well as CLA Dean Jim Parenti and CLA Associate Dean of Faculty Affairs Richa Nagar. The discussion focused on next steps the dance program and our department might take in regards to the issues and suggestions raised by the THIS Protest and department students’ responses to it. We also discussed building on the department’s established and ongoing commitment and activities as a University leader on issues of equity, social justice and difference. We thank the leadership of OED and CLA for their commitment to supporting this process of reflection with their expertise, experience and possible resources if needed.

As the end of the semester is fast approaching and full to bursting with departmental activities, we understand the need to take concrete steps to demonstrate the department’s commitment to a collaborative approach that involves all stakeholders even as our time is somewhat limited. To advance this, we want to schedule some conversations that can help us identify a group of faculty, staff and students as a working group to develop an action plan for next fall and beyond.

After consultation with the OED staff, we will convene another department town hall meeting on Tuesday, May 19 from 10 – 12 p.m. Faculty, students and staffers from throughout the department are invited, however the meeting will be divided into two discussion groups: one will focus specifically on an action plan for the dance program, the second will focus on an action plan for the broader department. The purpose of two conversations is to provide a much needed space for the dance program community to convene to address its specific needs in this process while also facilitating a parallel and supporting dialogue for the department. These meetings will focus on where the program and department should go in the coming year and beyond. These meetings will be team-facilitated by department leaders and OED staff members.

We understand that May 19 is after the academic year has ended, but OED, CLA and we thought that it made more sense to schedule this meeting shortly after students, faculty and staff have completed the business of the academic year.

Vice Provost Barcelo has also generously offered to meet directly with dance program core faculty, affiliate faculty members and students to identify specific issues these groups face and would like addressed. These meetings will be planned in the next three weeks or in fall semester if that timing makes more sense.

We look forward to working with you all in the coming months on these critical and sensitive issues. Because of our students, staff and faculty, we think our department is uniquely positioned to make great progress on these very important matters.

Carl Flink
Chair, Theatre Arts & Dance

Ananya Chatterjea
Director of Dance

Click here to read full text and see images.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Response: April 24, 2009

We were sent an email from Josh Casper, the Ombudsman we have been in communication with, saying he'd been asked if we would be willing to post the the following announcement for a Students of Color meeting to our blog. Since we have been told it is a public announcement that has been sent to the peer advisers to distribute on the dance and theater list serves, we consider it an official university (but not dance program-driven) response, and publish it here as such.

To Students of Color in the Dance Program:

The Multicultural Center for Academic Excellence (MCAE) has been following with interest the “This” protest and its multifaceted range of issues. MCAE is prepared to assist in any constructive way.

We write today to offer a service stemming from one of the issues raised in the second open letter. In the letter it states, “Students of Color and other minority identities should be acknowledged as having to deal with a continual additional burden of being a minority in an unsafe system, and should be provided space where they can safely speak about their experiences, without the burden of assuaging anyone’s guilt, or educating anyone’s ignorance, or being held responsible for generating solutions.”

We would like to provide a space for students to speak to what has been occurring, their experiences, etc. An MCAE staff member will be facilitating a discussion for students of color on Tuesday, April 28th at 3:45 p.m. in 215 Blegen Hall. We know that not all students of color will be able to meet during this time and would be open to identifying additional opportunities if needed.

The meeting isn’t about MCAE supporting or not supporting the protesters. We are aware that some students of color are supportive of the protest and others are not. Instead, this meeting is about creating a space for students of color to talk about their experiences on a predominately white campus. If you have any questions or concerns please feel free to direct those to Josh Casper at

Click here to read full text and see images.