THEATRE & MEDIA ARTS DEPARTMENT | FALL 2020
Earlier this year, Brigham Young University established the BYU Committee on Race, Equity, and Belonging. This committee is “deeply committed to realizing the recent call to action and reflecting the united declaration of leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and the NAACP that educational institutions ‘review processes, [policies], and organizational attitudes regarding racism and root them out’” (https://race.byu.edu/mission). In so far as TMA and its students are a part of this university, it is incumbent upon each of us to examine ourselves and our practices, including our practices within the disciplines that we diligently study. To this end, TMA is pleased to announce its “Black Lives Initiative”!
As stated in department letter to TMA students, faculty, and staff, on 31 July 2020:
The Black Lives Matter moment invites, exhorts, even demands that we recognize that racism is not a relic of the past but that it continues to thrive in the individuals and systems of the present and that we take action to eradicate it from our future. As we all know, a first step is to identify in and cleanse from ourselves our own racist proclivities and behaviors. This is necessary and important work, and my guess is that most of us feel fairly confident with our own level of “woke-ness” in terms our own post-racist attitudes. That said, we are also naïve to think that we do not have more work to do in this regard. We all very likely have more to learn, more to think, and more to do.
Thus throughout Fall Semester 2020, TMA will provide opportunities for its students, faculty, and staff to think, discuss, and learn deeply about race, equity, and inclusion. More specifically, we will labor together to understand how each of us can contribute to eradicating racism and thereby prepare a more Christ-like world for all of our Heavenly Parents’ children. TMA invites each of you to join us in this initiative. We look forward to standing beside you in this imperative work.
BIPOC LECTURE SERIES
Four times during the semester, we will be pleased to hear from individuals with expertise in issues of racial justice. Dates, times, and speakers are listed below. This series will be made available to the TMA community via Zoom. (The Coates event will also be available to other members of the College of Fine Arts and Communications.)
- Dr. Melissa Inouye 24 September, 11am
- Danor Gerald 15 October, 11am
- Darius Gray 12 November, 11am
- Ta-Nehisi Coates 3 December, 11am (in partnership with CFAC’s “Listen Up” series)
BLACK LIVES FILM LAB
TMA has offered a film lab series course for a few semesters previously. For Fall 2020, we have decided to offer the series again and center it on films made by and about African Americans. Although the series will be available to all students that wish to attend, there is also a course created for those who would like to receive credit for attending. Dr. Benjamin Thevenin will be leading this lab. All TMA faculty are also invited and encouraged to participate in the series.
BLACK LIVES SCRIPT CLUB
Hosted by Dr. Megan Sanborn Jones and Prof. Shelley Graham, this is an informal reading group where students and faculty alike are invited to read a different play by and about African Americans each week. All are welcome!
TMA FACULTY READING GROUP
Periodically during the semester, TMA faculty members and full-time staff will be invited to participate in a reading group to explore issues of racism, equity, and inclusion. Although this leg of the initiative is not open to students, we feel it is important to notify students that TMA faculty and staff are committed to life-long learning (one of the four AIMS of a BYU education). Again, each and every one of us has work to do.
LETTER FROM DR. WADE HOLLINGSHAUS | Theatre & Media Arts Department Chair
31 July 2020
Dear TMA Students, Faculty, and Staff:
The beginning of Fall semester is one month away, and the TMA faculty and staff are looking forward to the new adventure before us. We are still actively putting plans and pieces into place. We intend to have an email in a few days that introduces the innovative theatre season that we have been crafting. Media capstones are preparing to resume or, in the case of some, begin. There is much in store, much to look forward to, much to challenge us in our craft and in our thinking.
The present message wants to speak a bit further about one particular challenge that we will be engaging this Fall. You may recall that at the end of the “Yes, And!” message that I sent last month, I noted how our Savior’s second coming will be into a world that we have had the opportunity to help create. That charge always looms before us, but this coming semester it is attended by a cultural situation in the U.S. that points us directly and with urgency toward an issue that has long plagued this nation: racism.
The Black Lives Matter moment in the U.S. has brought to the fore a struggle that is not new. It is at least as old as the heinous and horrific practice of Atlantic chattel slavery that for hundreds of years involved hunting, enslaving, uprooting, relocating, abusing, raping, murdering etc. black men, women, and children. In the centuries since that practice began, the United States of America has been culturally, institutionally, and systematically built upon the premise of black bodies as property. While there have been noteworthy, significant, and celebratory moments of progress, in terms of legal and social transformations that have begun to combat this injustice, it is naïve for us to believe that hundreds of years of racist systematization have been overturned by laws of emancipation and enfranchisement, important and necessary as those have been. Our black brothers and sisters—and indeed we are all brothers and sisters—continue to live in what Christina Sharpe (2016) trenchantly defines as “the wake” of Atlantic chattel slavery, where “wake” refers, first, to the disrupted flow of otherwise smooth water; second, to the tending to the dead who seem uncannily alive in the wake that accompanies a funeral; and third, to the long process of awakening in which we all must be engaged.
The Black Lives Matter moment invites, exhorts, even demands that we recognize that racism is not a relic of the past but that it continues to thrive in the individuals and systems of the present and that we take action to eradicate it from our future. As we all know, the first step is to identify in and cleanse from ourselves our own racist proclivities and behaviors. This is necessary and important work, and my guess is that most of us feel fairly confident with our own level of “woke-ness” in terms of our own post-racist attitudes. That said, we are also naïve to think that we do not have more work to do in this regard. We all very likely have more to learn, more to think, and more to do.
The more difficult challenge, but absolutely no less important, is identifying and removing the systemic racism that has endured for centuries in the institutions and organizations that surround us. The call to do this more challenging work is very real. It has come from a prophet of God. You will recall the letter that President Russell M. Nelson and the NAACP published, and in which they wrote: “We likewise call on government, business, and educational leadership at every level to review processes, laws, and organizational attitudes regarding racism and root them out once and for all.” I wholeheartedly concur that we—universities, the arts and entertainment industries, the Church, etc.—need to engage in this work of rooting out racism as it festers within the longstanding traditions of our institutions. This goes beyond personal attitudes and beliefs and has to do with organizational structures—the “organ”-izing that constitutes the body of who we are as a faculty, department, college, university, industry, church, and student body.
Again, the charge to eradicate racism in all its forms is very real and very immediate. It is inspired. It is of God. But as with any most-important charge, it is not one to be done recklessly. Just as we can look to our Savior as the example for cleansing our own temples of the racism that might exist latently within each and every one of us, we can also look to Him as the example for cleansing the institutional temples around us—if you’ll allow me this metaphor. Some critics have claimed that in cleansing the temple, Jesus lost his temper in a rash act of ire. The account in John’s gospel provides instructive clarity on this matter. In John 2:14-15, the apostle reports that there was a step between when the Savior “found” the atrocities and when he actively began to “dr[i]ve” out the offenders; John notes that in between the two, Jesus “made a scourge of small cords […].” Before He began to cleanse the temple, the Savior took the time to make a scourge. His action was not rash. It was not reckless. He did not lose his temper. He was measured. He was thoughtful. He was careful. He took time to do what was right and to do it in the right way.
Part of doing the right thing the right way is to respect the way that the Lord ordered the “first and great commandment” and the second that “is like unto it.” The proper prioritizing of these two commandments matters, significantly. While we fervently adhere to the second commandment (“Thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself”) we must not do so at the expense of the first (“Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind”). To put this in our present context: We practice anti-racism as a profound way to love our neighbors, but we also must ensure that our practices of anti-racism do not run counter to the will of our Father in Heaven. Christ cleansed the temple because of His eternal love for His Father; thus, He made sure He did it in His Father’s way. We must follow suit, without exception. (Matt. 22:37-39)
Again, the task before us, Brothers and Sisters, is to do the right thing—eradicate racism in all its places and forms—and to do it in the right way, the Lord’s way. We must cleanse our temple, the temple that houses our individual soul; more, we must cleanse the temple of the institutions of which we are a part. I have every confidence that we are up to the challenge.
TMA is not going to sit out this opportunity to make the world a better place for all of our brothers and sisters and, thus, to prepare the world for the second coming of our Savior. To that end, our faculty and staff are engaged in recommitting ourselves to diversifying our curricula, including the lab spaces of our creative work; we are also in discussions to provide opportunities for ourselves and for you to come to a better understanding of how racism continues to plague our world and what forms of anti-racist behavior and practice we can adopt to combat it. Our university has appointed a committee to begin this work for the university as a whole. The College of Fine Arts and Communications, of which TMA is a part, is actively developing initiatives to combat racism as a college. TMA will be pursuing its own initiatives to echo, emphasize, and align with those other entities.
I look forward to inviting you to participate with us as we learn, think, and act together. We are all students, teachers, artists, and disciples with much to learn, much to think, and much to do. The continual suffering and injustice that surrounds us demand that we recognize it and move to make it right. I look forward to standing beside you as we do this.
More to come…
Be safe; be kind!
Dr. Wade Hollingshaus, Chair
Theatre & Media Arts Department