Department of Theatre and Drama students join a growing list of University groups on strike

Tuesday, September 15, 2020 - 7:05pm

Students rehearse for a performance of "HAIR: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical" in November 2009.

Students rehearse for a performance of "HAIR: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical" in November 2009. Buy this photo
File Photo/Daily

Undergraduate students in the Department of Theatre & Drama in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance sent a list of demands to faculty Tuesday afternoon, refusing to go to class until all five are met. They join the Graduate Employees’ Organization, the resident advisers and dining hall workers in work stoppages or slow downs. 

According to the statement sent to Theatre & Drama faculty, the group’s five immediate demands include: 

  • Requiring the faculty to release a “unified statement expressing their support for those striking and their demands” by Saturday

  • Allowing students to opt out of University productions without cause due to the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic

  • More transparency in decision-making processes regarding school plans

  • A wider range of opportunities for performances instead of the required production

  • The implementation of a “bail out system” in every class setting that will allow students to step away for a few minutes without explanation if a scene or topic becomes too much to handle.

Their statement says that though they were inspired by and stand in solidarity with GEO, their demands differ in some instances. Ultimately, they want to make their voices heard and be a bigger part of the conversation going forward.

“We as students often feel that we are catering to the faculty’s desires when voicing our concerns, when instead the conversation should be student focused,” the statement reads. “For this reason, we have decided to move forward with our List of Demands that place our needs as students at the forefront of this irregular semester.”

Out of the roughly 200 students in the program, 100 have signed on to strike as of Tuesday evening.  

On Tuesday, the University asked the Washtenaw County Circuit Court to issue an injunction on the GEO strike and condemned the “profound disruption” to undergraduates’ education. 

In an email to The Daily, University spokesperson Kim Broekhuizen said the Department of Theatre and Drama faculty will be meeting Wednesday and Thursday to consider the concerns from students and will reach out to engage the students directly on the issues.

Music, Theatre & Dance junior Ruby Pérez, who helped organize the strike, said students in the department felt left out of important decisions regarding the implementation of the fall semester with COVID-19.

“More concerns were just about the lack of communication, of clear transparency, about how these shows were going to be going on because there was talk of rehearsals in person,” Pérez said. “I think, basically... the students felt that no one was asking us what we wanted to do, what shows we wanted to do … and what they did instead was decide that this was a good choice for us.”

Pérez cited the opt-out option as an example of how student voices need to be heard more. She said each student has one opt-out of a production in their four years, but that they have to submit a request and get it approved. The students feel that, amid the uncertainty created by the pandemic, they should be able to opt out freely.

“I submitted a request to opt out, and the response that I was met with was, ‘You can opt out, but I still highly encourage you to send in your video because you might want to use your opt out next year,’” Pérez said. “I don’t think we should be encouraging students to not opt out in a time where I’m working another job because my family has been affected financially because of COVID … and I think that those things were just going right over faculty members’ heads.”

Pérez said they were also influenced by national movements in theater.

While their short-term demands focus mostly on COVID-19 related issues, their longer-term demands tackle issues like more BIPOC representation in the performance production process and a “decolonized curriculum” that incorporates techniques from around the world and “should be taught alongside teaching appreciation vs. appropriation.”

Pérez said the demand for a new social contract and more inclusive environment is going to act as a living document, where students can continue contributing to it throughout the years.

Pérez said she is hopeful that the faculty and administration will meet their demands and she isn’t phased by the University asking the court to intervene in GEO’s strike. 

“I think something about this time feels different because I know that a lot of these demands are things that we’ve repeated over and over and over again,” Pérez said. “… The way that we were united, and then the way that we were able to bring the freshman, sophomore and senior class into a Zoom meeting and get support from there… The fact that we were able to list these as demands, and the fact that we were able to word it as ‘we will not continue until,’ I think makes me optimistic.”

Daily News Editor Emma Stein can be reached at enstein@umich.edu.


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