Department of Theatre: DEI Task Force, Final Report (June 2021)
In the summer of 2020, a group of BIPOC students and alumni of the UT Theatre Department wrote a series of letters calling on the faculty and staff to recognize and hold themselves accountable for the ways in which the program had failed to create an equitable and inclusive environment for all its members, especially its members of color. In response to these letters the faculty created a standing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee, and separately a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Task Force, a group made up of people from both inside and outside the Department who were familiar with its history and operation and who could look at the department with a fresh eye. The Task Force met monthly September through April, with subcommittee meetings in between; they posted a mid-year report on the Department website in December, and held two public meetings in April – one with faculty and staff and the other with students – where the Task Force presented an end of year report and took questions and comments from those in attendance.
In Fall 2020, Task Force members assessed the climate of the Theatre Department, identified areas of concern and pathways for improvement, and broke into subcommittees focused around three primary action areas: safety policies and practices, community partnerships, and recruitment and retention. Many of the subcommittees’ thoughtful and extensive recommendations, attached below, have already been acted on, while many more will be integrated into the Department’s operations over the 2021-22 academic year.
Making systemic change takes concerted and ongoing effort, but the members of UT’s Theatre Department and its producing venue, the Clarence Brown Theatre, are committed to that change. From classroom practices to season selection processes, from faculty and staff hiring to student support and communication, every aspect is under review. From artistic philosophy to educational methodology, the Theatre Department is striving to improve.
The Task Force will take a hiatus during the 2021-22 academic year as the Theatre Department searches for a new Department Head/Artistic Director and begins to implement the Task Force’s numerous suggestions. We recognize, though, that the Task Force had started to play a critical role in providing student representatives and non-Theatre faculty, staff, and administrators as additional mentors and mediators, and will make sure that people continue in these roles. The Task Force as such will reconvene in Fall of 2022 to review the Department’s progress and advise the new leadership.
Recommendations from the Task Force
More detail can be found in the Subcommittees’ Reports on the Task Force’s shared drive.
The Safety Policies and Practices Subcommittee recommendations included the following:
- Assure that all members of the Theatre Department and its producing arm, the Clarence Brown Theatre, are both familiar with the resources that can help them find support and community at UT and know how to access them.
- Clearly publicize the process for reporting incidences of bias or harassment.
- Provide students and guest artists with names of people, both within the Theatre program and outside it, that they can go to if they have concerns (e.g., a campus diversity representative speaks at the first rehearsal of each production).
- Provide increased opportunity for peer-to-peer communication and support.
- Begin the process of reviewing all written department policies to assure the use of inclusive language and equitable access for all members of the community.
The Community Partnerships Subcommittee identified three particular communities that the department can and should reach out to and work with over the coming year:
- The local theatre and artistic community. Our relationship with local groups can be strengthened by improving communication between our organizations, by supporting our faculty and staff who wish to volunteer their time and talents with these organizations, and by ensuring that students are able to strengthen and deepen their theatrical education by working with outside artistic organizations.
- The learning community, which includes student organizations and cultural centers on campus as well as K-12 schools. Our relationship with these groups can be strengthened by improving access to our productions, and by creating specific programs/content to address their educational needs.
- The non-profit community. We can create systems to support our faculty, staff, students, and advisory board members who volunteer their time to local organizations, as well as develop our audience by inviting individuals and groups in the community who are new to theatre or have not seen theatre as a safe space.
The Recruitment and Retention Subcommittee looked at student, faculty, and staff, as well as the upcoming search for a new Department Head/Artistic Director. Their work included:
- Developing language for the Department Head/Artistic Director job search that will attract a wide range of applicants, including BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people.
- Brainstorming places to post and distribute job ads to attract more candidates of color.
- Identifying new ways for students outside who are not Theatre majors to engage with the Department.
- Expanding relationships with local and regional high schools to enhance access to theatre camps, classes and productions.
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/