Thursday, April 16, 2009

Part 13: April 16, 2009

From Part 13 - April 16, 2009


Tonight, we posted in the first floor lobby an open letter to the Office of Equity and Diversity, along with an Annotated Timeline of Dance Program Responses.

Note: The next morning, these postings had already been removed from the glass walls of the Barker as of 8:15am Friday, April 17. The building opens at 8am. No one has claimed responsibility for removing them.

Open Letter to The Office of Equity and Diversity


Dr. Nancy “Rusty” Barcel√≥
Vice President and Vice Provost for Equity and Diversity
University of Minnesota

We are the group of students who have for the past nine weeks been protesting the university Dance Program’s inability to provide safe space for its students of color. We organized and installed the protest project entitled THIS, which was spread throughout the Barbara Barker Center for Dance until it was ripped down by people who were not involved in our protest. You can find documentation of this protest at our blog: http://thisbyus.blogspot.com

We are writing to you because our department has proven incapable of leadership during the reactions precipitated by our protest. Josh Casper, an ombudsman at the Student Conflict Resolution Center, has informed us that the Office of Equity and Diversity is concerned with our protest, and has offered any assistance it can provide to the dance program. As students, we are therefore asking you to step in and provide help regardless of the dance program's official indifference or disinclination towards your involvement.

Since March 23rd, we have been working with the ombudsman to try to negotiate with the dance program administration. The department refused to take action, saying they needed a list of demands. We then posted our second open letter with requested demands on April 1st. Since then, nothing has succeeded in persuading the department to make a response to those demands, even the simplest ones intended merely to prove good faith engagement.

On the night of April 5th, our protest was ripped down by some White students not involved in the protest, including the president of the Student Dance Coalition, and two employees of Dr. Chatterjea’s dance company, respectively a student and an alumna of the dance program.

The only official reaction to this removal of our protest materials has been in an email, signed by Carl Flink and Dr. Ananya Chatterjea, describing the destruction as "the changes made by another group of individuals to the THIS materials at the Barker last night that we were unaware of until earlier this morning."

We are attaching a summary of the official responses (and lack thereof) to our protest, in order to provide examples of what we think has been handled badly. We have documentation of more specific instances of unethical behavior by the administration, but in order to protect student privacy, we have shared this only with the ombudsman. Should we feel your office would benefit from and can be trusted with this information, we would be happy to work with the ombudsman to negotiate your access to it.

Dr. Barcel√≥, for speaking up in criticism of oppressive practices and demanding our right to the equitable and just educational environment entitled to us, we have been made to feel even more isolated, unwanted, and suppressed by the dance program we are supposedly a part of. Our concerns have been co-opted when convenient, and ignored or derided when not. Our words have been misrepresented, silenced, and torn up and thrown away. Our protest has been manipulated as an opportunity for White students and faculty to demonstrate their alliance with faculty of color by supporting "anti-racist" activism that treats actual students of color—us—as the problem. Our sense of safety and security inside our community has been eradicated by these demonstrations of indifference, apathy, and hostility, as well as outright threats.

We continue to maintain that we want change from our leadership; we do not ask for their punishment or removal. We want them to understand the mistakes they have made and are making, so they can learn not to repeat them. We want them to behave professionally, respectfully, and equitably—characteristics that are not much in display right now.

We have lost so much faith in our leadership that inviting the Office of Equity and Diversity to intervene feels like a tremendous risk. We can no longer trust those in authority to match their anti-racist claims with genuinely helpful action. We can only hope that you will find this situation as unacceptable as we do, and choose to intervene in a way that will help us as well as the other students and faculty in the dance program.

You may respond to us via email, or with a comment on our blog, or through Mr. Casper. But most importantly, please respond to us on the walls of the Barker Center, so that students in the dance program can see without any additional effort or inconvenience how the Office of Equity and Diversity responds to an open letter explicitly asking for their intervention and assistance. We would like proof that the larger university is not as indifferent to our concerns as the dance program has proven to be, and we hope to see that proof in your response.

--us, April 16, 2009 (http://thisbyus.blogspot.com)

The Annotated Timeline of Dance Program Responses can be found here.

From Part 13 - April 16, 2009