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  • If I Am Your Diversity Hire, It Will Not Go Well
  • Donna Kaz (bio)

Dear Theatre Departments,

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I understand you are afraid your budgets will be cut; the black box theatres you spent years constructing will be repurposed; that students will leave you for other, more lucrative majors. I get that you feel you have no clout next to departments that pull in more revenue for the college. I know your every move is constantly scrutinized for how well it fits into your university’s ten-year plan. But please stop boasting how diverse you are as the major reason you still exist. Just because you call yourselves feminists, produce plays by white women, and hire white women as one-semester guest artists, you are not diverse (or feminist, for that matter). Because if that is ALL you do for the students in your department, you have established a façade of inclusivity that has the potential to turn your program toxic. Until you take steps to change how you approach diversity, your theatre department will remain a breeding ground for systemic sexism and racism. You must do better.

College theatre departments mirror the state of the art of theatre in the United States—neither are progressive or diverse. A 2018 study revealed that “black males, black females and Hispanic males” made up 2 percent of all full-time college professors, while across the country less than 30 percent of all plays produced are written by women. Even fewer of those plays are by writers of color. Women [End Page e-45] and artists of color are underrepresented in the fields of set, lighting, and sound design. Women directors have made the biggest jump, to 40 percent, but not so much BIPOC directors—less than 11 percent of US theatre directors are of color. Disabled actors are the least represented group of all.

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For the past twenty years I have performed, directed, choreographed, and taught at colleges in forty-seven US states, most of them with diversity, equity, and inclusion policies that expound clear goals for a diverse enrollment. Yet, within the many theatre departments where I have worked, I have come across full-time faculty with the attitude that because they represent the arts, they embrace diversity. As a result, no one makes an effort toward real change. With the recent spotlight on the Black Lives Matter movement, the lack of actual progress toward inclusivity in college theatre departments is even more apparent.

My last guest-artist position was a mess. Granted, it was at the height of the pandemic, but in thinking back on all my college experiences, I began to see similarities. I offer these eleven steps that a college theatre department can consider to promote a culture of equality onstage and off to ensure that faculty, staff, and students know that they are seen, heard, and respected.

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[End Page e-46]

  1. 1. Stop using the term diversity hire. You are marginalizing your hires by inferring that they are only there because they check a box. Diversity is not solved with a hire of one or two people from minoritized groups. I heard that my recent hire was touted as solving all the department’s sexism problems. Unless you work to cultivate an inclusive environment within all facets of your department, you are not addressing the root of the problem.

  2. 2. Understand that white women are not the face of diversity, and that real diversity is not achieved with temporary hires. I recommended that a BIPOC theatre-maker replace me when my contract ended. Several other BIPOC candidates applied as well. Yet, another white woman was hired. Discuss diversity and how you plan to mitigate bias in interviews. Again, know that diversity does not mean hiring white women.

  3. 3. Ask for referrals. Use the resources you have at hand and reach out for recommendations for who you might add to your team. This includes taking suggestions from students. Follow through with connections to BIPOC theatre-makers. Go beyond posting in ArtSearch. Let your network know what...


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