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” Barcel√≥
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.