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DEI Task Force 12-2020 update

Theatre Task Force on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Progress Report: December 2020

The Task Force has been working hard to assist and support the Theatre Department and the CBT in the long process of systemic change towards a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive community. We have identified three primary areas that need to be addressed and have established subcommittees to delve more deeply into each one.

Subcommittee on Safety policies and protocols. This committee is gathering data on what safety measures, protocols, and policies already exist to protect BIPOC students, staff, and faculty, and models of others that could be added to help. This subcommittee is working on:

  • Creating and publicizing a clear system for reporting incidences of discrimination.
  • Improving transparency around incidences of discrimination that occur, within the limits set by federal and university requirements.
  • Creating easy access to UTK processes for filing a discrimination complaint through a page on the UT Theatre website.
  • Identifying the existing practices and policies that are intended to create safe and equitable environments and putting all those practices into a single electronic and paper resource.
  • Identifying areas where the department does not have established practices and policies.
  • Creating a system for regular and ongoing dialogue between the students (especially the undergraduate students) and the department.

Subcommittee on Community Partnerships: This committee is discussing how to engage with BIPOC theatre people in our community, to make their voices, experiences, knowledge, skills available to and supported by the Department. This subcommittee is working on:

  • Connecting with the leadership of Carpetbag Theatre to discuss how to improve the relationship that currently exists between Carpetbag and the Clarence Brown.
  • Connecting with local high school theatre programs to discuss building a mentorship program between UT students and their programs.
  • Working to create a more complete and welcoming audition process for community members.
  • Reaching out to production-related community organizations, such as “sew-it-and-sell-it” to find ways the CBT could support their mission.

Subcommittee on Recruitment and Retention: This committee is working on improving recruitment and retention of faculty, staff, and students. This subcommittee is working on:

  • Making guidelines for future faculty and staff hiring, with a specific focus on the upcoming department head search.
  • Establishing “Student Success Teams” for new theatre majors, including a representative from the Career Development center as well as an academic advisor and a department mentor.
  • Researching curriculum additions/changes that would appeal to BIPOC students, and provide additional performance opportunities for undergraduate students.
  • Formalizing a mentorship program within the department in which graduate and upperclass students would mentor new theatre majors.
  • Exploring how theatre students in the Pellissippi Bridge Program could be more included in the department.

In addition to the work the subcommittees have been doing, the taskforce has worked with the DEI Committee to ensure that annual tenure-line faculty, non-tenure-line faculty, and staff evaluations will in the future include a conversation about DEI work. While this is not a university category that can be graded, the conversation and a short paragraph describing the information will convey the unit’s prioritization of DEI work and training, value and reward such work, and hopefully therefore encourage more of such training and work in the year ahead.

We have also made progress on a land acknowledgement statement but have prioritized other agenda items for a time because the University is in the process of creating its own land acknowledgement statement. We will return to this issue once their statement is available.

The public letter announcing the formation of the DEI Committee and Task Force and their missions is available here: https://theatre.utk.edu/dei-committee-and-task-force/

A listing of all the members of the DEI Committee and Task Force, along with their contact information is available here: https://theatre.utk.edu/diversity-inclusion/dei-committee-taskforce/

The Task Force will be continuing their work throughout the upcoming winter break and the spring semester. The next update on our activities will be released in February.