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DeAnna M. Rowe
I would like to start this Diversity Statement by saying I celebrate human beings in all our wonderful presentations. I was raised believing that in our hearts we are all equal. We should judge a person by their actions and not by their skin color or nationality or sexual identity. We should embrace and celebrate our differences. Our main purpose in the Theatre is to tell stories about the human condition. This aspect of theatre naturally fosters empathy with and exploration of those who are different from us. I feel fortunate that I live and work in an atmosphere that is constantly striving to be more inclusive and equitable every day.
As a native of Kansas, I grew up in a suburban/rural school district with less than 10% non-white students being represented. I was perhaps myopic in my belief that diversity was not an issue in our school. It wasn’t until after graduating from college and gaining a broader world view that I was exposed to any issues of diversity. I worked for a couple of years on cruise ships after college. The customs and varieties of people on our international crew were an education for me in many ways. The ship’s staff was mostly peopled with U.S. citizens, Canadians and a few Europeans. The crew, on the other hand, was from small countries in South America, The Caribbean, Indonesia and the Philippines. The color of one’s skin wasn’t as much of an issue in the class system on board as one’s nationality. The division of labor was easily defined by country of origin. The people who worked in the “Chinese Laundry” were Chinese. The people who kept the ship running and clean were Indonesian. The staff and anyone who interacted with the passengers were strictly First World. Anyone who spoke Spanish was just called “Spanish” regardless of where they came from. I was surprised to see how strict the standards were for each crew member staying in their given class. Fraternization between classes was frowned on and in some cases punished. On the one hand, I really enjoyed meeting and working with people from all over the world. At the same time, I was surprised that everyone didn’t have the same morals and outlook as I did. I was appalled at the class system on board the ship. My job as the youth counsellor and cruise staff required no greater education than the chefs or wine stewards but because I am a white American it allowed me access to dine and socialize with the passengers and have greater accommodations in my cabin. This was the first time in my life that I truly experienced systemic discrimination and felt what we are now calling “white privilege.”
Nearly twenty-five years later I found myself in another eye-opening situation in my recent position at the University of Memphis. My personal challenges with diversity were shown to me in more subtle ways. I was apprehensive when first moving to The South. As an avoider of conflict I was concerned that I would be uncomfortable with issues of racism in this city. I was in the minority in Memphis whose population is 29% White and 63% Black. Racism and equality are undercurrents of everything in Memphis. In this climate, and with a more diverse student body, I found myself questioning my ways of thinking as I had never done before. I had to become more conscious of my words and actions for fear of causing offense or being blind to implicit bias. I am a person who identifies herself as being inclusive, liberal and open-minded. I am grateful to this environment which held up a mirror for me to continue exploring my beliefs. Perhaps it is just our current political situation in this country, or perhaps it is my time in Memphis, but I am becoming more aware of my own prejudices, and strive to overcome them with compassion and love in my heart for all people.
This greater experience with diversity has affected my teaching and mentoring in several ways. It is my practice to include preferred pronouns in my email signature line and on syllabi. By introducing myself to my class in this manner I hope to show my students that they are safe expressing their binary or non-binary identity in the same manner. I strive for the inclusion of all varieties of peoples in my visual examples during lectures and presentations. If I am offering links to instructional videos that I have sourced online I make sure a variety of ethnicities and genders are shown as being experts in the subject. I use grading rubrics to remove any unconscious bias I have as I assess their work. I believe some students are naturally more charming or friendly and some you just “click with” more than others. I want to make sure that everyone is being graded fairly by me according to how well they complete a test or assignment and not play favorites with those students I know better or present themselves as being “A” students. Generally, I’m making an effort to be aware of the impact my actions and words can have on my students in particular.
I believe a way to move the diversity conversation forward is to provide guidance and infrastructure to student groups. Helping them organize and listening to their feedback and concerns is a starting point to making necessary changes in the way we communicate and function in our organizations.
My presentation at the 2019 USITT conference entitled “Binding and Tucking: You Put What Where?!” delved into gender suppression practices that began in the Drag community and then found their way into the Trans community. I hoped to de-mystify these practices for costumers but also to understand the length people will go to to change their bodies. There is some danger in gender suppression techniques that I wanted to understand and avoid when costuming students. I enjoyed the glimpse at this vibrant, diverse community that this research allowed.
I will close by saying I believe we are all getting better. The fact that many institutions require a diversity statement is evidence to that fact. The United States seems to be more divided now than ever but I believe that is an illusion. We’ve always been divided. As a human race we have a long history of persecuting anyone who seemed to be “other”. It was a natural survival instinct. What I believe to be true is that as a society we are demanding more transparency for intolerance, bigotry, and inequality as we strive to see each other as part of the same tribe. This transparency serves to point out areas and issues needing improvement. I am hopeful for our future and constantly strive to work on my own acceptance and understanding of those who seem to be different from me.