Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Update: March 10, 2009

On Wednesday morning we sent out an email to POC student groups and several faculty of color within the University inviting them to the town hall meeting on Friday. The text as follows:


We are a group of Dance students of Color at UMN-TC. For the past month, we have been anonymously installing a protest project in the Barbara Barker Center for Dance building. We have been putting up articles, quotes and pictures relating to racism and privilege, starting in the back stairwell, and spreading out over a number of days, to the second and main floors, as well as the classroom and studio on the third floor. We have been documenting the protest at our blog here: http://thisbyus.blogspot.com

Thus far, there has been no mention of this protest outside of the Theatre Arts and Dance department. A mandatory Dance Program town hall has been scheduled by the director of the dance program for this Friday the 13th, from 1:30pm to 3:30pm.

The tension surrounding this Town Hall, and the questions about our identities have been significantly raised since Monday night, when we posted our open letter to the dance program on the walls of the building. The full text of the letter can be found here: http://thisbyus.blogspot.com/2009/03/part-9-march-9-2009.html

The faculty have raised concerns about the safety of the building as though our actions indicated a threat more urgent than packaging tape on paintwork; as a result, we feel that the town hall will end up focused around the question of our identities, the validity of our methods and the tone of our protest, rather than around the issue of the failure of the University to dismantle institutional racism and educate about White privilege.

Given the deeply personal relationships and power dynamics between us and the students and faculty who will be at the Town Hall, we do not anticipate feeling particularly comfortable or safe during the event.

What we would be grateful for, more than anything else, would be the presence of other people like us--people who are concerned and interested in the University's commitment to safe spaces for racially diverse students.

We would love it if you could come to the Town Hall, if only to, by your bodily presence, help us feel less isolated and alone. We are sure that the discussion, however it proceeds, will be interesting to you, and we are pretty sure that just by being there you will help change the dynamics in the room.

We invite you to at the very least, come and see the white walls that we have claimed for ourselves, covered in the voices and images of people like us.

A map to the Barbara Barker Center for Dance can be found here: http://www1.umn.edu/twincities/maps/BarkerCtr/dance-map.html

Please forward this to other list-serves and to students and faculty whom you feel might find it of interest.



1 comment:

  1. i think this protest is a very forward, but it walks a delicate line between advocating for difficult, uncomfortable, unprecedented change--of U.S. culture as reflected in the institution of acedemia--and depreciating authority, perhaps unconstructively.

    Is determining that there is legitimacy to the grievance of Racism in the department is the first step towards establishing a basis for the mutual acceptance of all the stakeholders of THIS protest use of white wall-space?

    It's a moral question more than an issue of facilities management whether this use of this white wall-space should be permitted. There is the point that covering so much clear glass near the main entrances is more obstructive and obtrusive than simply utilizing empty white-space to convey important information. But the bigger question apart from covering glass is whether it is a morally legitimate use of white wall-space, and matters of logistics should only be considered afterwards. The answer to this bigger moral question has broader implications that could pose a direct threat the University both in the dance and theater departs and beyond to the entirety of the University institution.

    Because if that white wall-space is being legitimately used to raise otherwise unresolved grievances about Racism, and day-to-day conduct and treatment of people, in the social interactions that make up our educational community, then the same Racism grievance(s) would certainly occur in other areas of the University; if anything more so outside the West Bank artistic types of departments. Its likely that University PR executives would worry that this kind of "anti-establishment" protest tactic could spread throughout other buildings and departments in the University, as one person made reference to in a previous comment. So one important concern is that the University administration may want to suppress the statement THIS makes not for any right reasons but for immoral reasons of expedience. They want their business school they just put so much money into to look good when important business school people visit it; they don't want the important visitors to see blatant direct accusations to the University of political incorrectness being posted in highly visible and potentially obtrusive fashion. And if the higher-up executives decide on the strategy of suppression, they would pass the word down to dance department administrators of excuses why THIS cannot be permitted.

    In my opinion the answer to the first question--of whether there are legitimate grounds for the kind of grievance THIS raises--is yes. Then THIS brings the conversation to uncharted waters in that never before have so many people, and so many white people, been pushed so forcefully to examine some of the privileges and perceptions associated around Race. Many individuals come to consider these subjects in more voluntary ways, but i've never seen this kind of subject pushed so directly onto any group of individual people.

    I think one important element to the discussion has to be a consideration of how Racism plays out in daily practice. Because you can talk about all the benchmark indicators, and all the statistics, and all the important achievements, but I believe the core way Racism is allowed to perpetuate is through habitual and oftentimes somewhat subconscious daily practices.

    There was a statement earlier in THIS that went something to the effect of, "Your body is always saying something." because there are subtle ways that we affirm or deny and accept or reject, and oftentimes these messages that may be very insignificant alone but taken cumulatively, all those subtle messages sent by all those people over the course of a day or a life can really have a hurtful impact on a person.

    Maybe we as white people through habitual repetition come to take some things for granted, like in terms of social hierarchy. One gender-related example that I have observed is how sometimes in a group conversation a man and a woman will both attempt to take the floor and speak at the same time, and more often than not the woman tends to defer to the man and let him speak first. I don't know if it happens that way in the dance department, but in my life elsewhere I have observed this trend.

    So that's a gender-related example of how we come to learn to take certain assumptions for granted such that we don't even notice any social inequality about it. Or maybe inequity is a better word, to elucidate the distinction between equality and equivalency, or "We are all the same" compared to "We are all equally good and acceptable(but maybe not the same)".

    And this kind of social inequity which THIS addresses is nothing new as can be evidenced by history or social statistics such as arrest records, but to try to nail down the manifestations of this institional or "broader structural" dynamic in concrete social interactions between individuals who are real people, again, is as far as i know unprecedented.

    One important thing is finding a useful vocabulary to understand these subjects, and since this conversation is unprecedented it may require creative answers. Those creative answers may be found through conversations between different people, in which from their different perspectives they come to find some common terms by which they can all share an understanding of the way(s) institutional racism plays out in day-to-day practice and real-life social interactions.

    Thats very vague but vague theory might be just as important as attention to day-to-day practices if the group of individuals that form the community involved in this discussion are to successfully achieve any evolution or advancement of praxis in the way our culture treats race/class/gender and Otherness if you will.