School of Music, Theatre & Dance Panel discusses race and social justice

Sunday, November 19, 2017 - 3:22pm

In light of the ongoing conflicts of racial profiling and police brutality, a five-person panel titled “Minorities, Social Justice and Police Enforcement: An Open Discussion” was held Friday, encouraging civil discourse on campus.

Topics of racial injustice, student activism and minority underrepresentation were present during the conversation, moderated by Freyja Harris, chief diversity and inclusion officer of the School of Music, Theatre & Dance. The panel highlighted the school’s production of “Blood at the Root,” which tells the story of the Jena Six — six Black high school students in Louisiana charged with attempted murder of a white classmate. The play’s timeliness with regard to recent incidents of racism occurring on campus led to a discussion during the panel.

Theatre & Drama assistant professor Jose Casas, the multicultural and diversity director for the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, emphasized the importance of using art to incite activism in its audience.

“It’s the hope that these type of plays, and more of these types of plays, can actually have people going home and thinking, and possibility stimulating, some sort of action on a personal and even community level,” Casas said.

Panelist Bryant Purvis, a member of the Jena Six, praised the Theatre & Drama Department for its portrayal of the experiences he and the other Black students faced. On the other hand, Purvis stressed the importance of being proactive in facing injustice and not sitting back when a problem isn’t personal.

“We can’t wait until this happens to our brothers, sons and fathers to respond,” Purvis said. “We must have those conversations, we must educate ourselves … I saw firsthand what we can do once we unite.”

LSA senior Anushka Sarkar, Central Student Government president, acknowledged the current tensions on campus regarding race, and later answered questions from the audience on next steps to ensure safety and inclusion within the student population. Sarkar noted the impact of social media on police brutality and the harmful intersection between sharing the facts of an issue and spreading false information.

“It’s very, very difficult to share objective and accurate information on social media, and to prevent wildfires of false information from spreading,” Sarkar said.

These issues stem from a national debate regarding racism and police brutality, but also underscore the incidents endured on campus this year. Much of the panel alluded to the protests of Rackham student Dana Greene Jr., who in September knelt in the Diag for 21 hours. The protest was a response to the defacing of Black students’ name tags in West Quad Residence Hall earlier in the semester, and the alleged lack of action taken by administration thereafter.

Music, Theatre & Dance sophomore Maya Alwan said she attended the panel to learn more about the background of “Blood at the Root” and how its deep message can reach audiences. A musical theatre major, Alwan appreciated the play’s ability to encourage others to start a dialogue about race and no longer marginalize the issues surrounding it.

“Something that’s been coming up for me in the past couple of years is engaging people in conversations about race and not letting it just slide under the radar as usual,” Alwan said. “Conversations like this (where) people are invited to talk about (race) is really important.