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  • Stepping Up: Reflections on the ATHE 2018 Plenary and Pedagogy Clinic
  • Monica White Ndounou (bio) and Nicole Hodges Persley (bio)

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”

—Alice Walker1

On August 4, 2018, Monica White Ndounou and Nicole Hodges Persley conducted the “Pedagogy Clinic: Implementing Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at Every Level” workshop as the second element of a two-part plenary session at the Association for Theatre in Higher Education (ATHE) conference. This introductory, experiential workshop was designed to develop individual strategies and institutional practices geared toward incorporating equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) initiatives into pedagogy, research, and practice. Participants were invited to submit questions in advance and/or bring questions related to syllabi, assignments/exercises, season-selection options, curricular and program design considerations, and any other relevant materials for onsite consultation regarding incorporating EDI into multiple areas of pedagogical practice.

Due to the large volume of participants, we reorganized the session using story circles in order to allow for maximum participation. What we found in the process was that those who attended were eager to discuss the complexities of EDI, but were at varying stages of awareness and implementation. Our goal was to open opportunities for conversation that were based on seeing and hearing our colleagues where they were in their levels of fluency in EDI discourses. The “clinic” thematic was used to admit and diagnose challenges. As facilitators, our work was to visit each story circle and offer possible solutions as to how our colleagues might identify strategies, resources, and practices that could help them create safe and inclusive teaching, research, and practice spaces.

The workshop opened with many people expressing how they felt following the first part of the plenary, titled “Revolutions in Pedagogy and Practice,” a moderated panel discussion and open forum that brought together leaders in higher education and representatives from professional organizations and advocacy groups in theatre (see embedded video2). The conversation focused on the urgent revolutions—those already occurring and those still needed—in the professional practice of theatre and training in the academy. As a result, the plenary raised important questions about what was needed to better align EDI initiatives in theatre education and theatre practice.

Two primary questions during the plenary’s question-and-answer session lingered in advance of our workshop:

  1. 1. How can we alter the language used to discuss EDI in a way that does not continue to marginalize underserved individuals and groups in educational programs and American theatre? For instance, recognizing how continuing to identify people of color as Other by using the term “people of color” normalizes whiteness as the false universal to measure all other groups. Additionally, by suggesting that predominantly white institutions “welcome” people from marginalized groups continues to position white people and institutions as the owners of the space in which people of the global majority from various cultural backgrounds [End Page E-33] have made significant contributions that continue to be unacknowledged by the use of such language. Ultimately, the questions of how we talk about matters of equity, diversity, and inclusion and the inadequacy of existing terminology served as a primer for our workshop.

  2. 2. The second pressing question of the two-hour event exposed the challenges that change-agents face when introducing and implementing EDI into predominantly white institutions. An audience member sincerely asked the panel during the question-and-answer session following the plenary panel, “What are the oppressions that you’re talking about?” For many of the plenary panelists, the question was less an attempt to become better informed and more to undermine the validity of the two-hour conversation that preceded the question. This type of micro-aggressive questioning often undermines the labor that scholars of color enter into to infuse the disciplinary conversation with language that amplifies the experiences and exclusions of people of color from diverse racial, ethnic, gender, class, ability, and veteran status.

Both questions reflect some of the anxieties that arose when discussing EDI within the context of the plenary. Although the two questions are distinct and oppositional in focus (the first an attempt to inspire greater exploration of advancing...


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pp. E-33-E-40
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