Campus, News

Schools within CFA make demands for racial equity

Boston University’s College of Fine Arts. Two anti-racism groups have formed within CFA in an effort to promote racial equity. JOHN LITTLE/ DFP FILE

Amid global conversations on race, two anti-racism student coalitions have formed within the College of Fine Arts.

The School of Theatre Anti-Racism Student Initiative was the first group to form on Instagram.

SARSI members collaborated on a letter of demands which was sent to CFA administration, School of Theatre administration and all SOT faculty on June 25. These demands include increasing the number of Black, Indigenous and People of Color students and faculty; assigning productions that are more inclusive of BIPOC students; and creating an Anti-Racism Cohort to oversee the School of Theatre’s actions.

Raymond Vasco, a rising junior majoring in acting, said culturally diverse aspects of theater are typically introduced by students of color.

“It often feels like I have to be the one as the person of color, the Asian person… who then brings into class these things that relate to my culture because if it’s not me, who else is going to do it?” Vasco said. “It shouldn’t have to be me. It should be the teachers teaching this diverse curriculum.”

Jameson Murray, a rising sophomore studying theatre arts, said seeing himself represented on stage helped him realize he could succeed in theatre.

“I saw this one show, and it was a predominantly Black cast,” Murray said. “[White people] don’t see [shows] from the standpoint of, ‘Oh, this is cool because I’m white.’ They just think it’s cool.” 

The School of Theatre responded to the letter by releasing its own letter from faculty and staff on June 30, committing to meet many of SARSI’s demands, including the formation of an Anti-Racist Cohort.

Rising senior Angela Dogani, who studies stage management, said she is pleased CFA responded before the July 3 deadline set by SARSI.

“I’m happy that they outlined where they’re going to go,” Dogani said. “But I’m just waiting to see if they actually do what they’re going to say.” 

Jolie Frazer-Madge, who graduated with a stage management degree in May, said she got involved in SARSI so that more BIPOC students could have the same positive experiences she had during her time at CFA.

“The fact that I had a really good experience was related to the fact that I am a white student and I do move through this university in a different way,” Frazer-Madge said. “I want everybody who goes to BU in School of Theatre to be able to have the same amazing experience that I did.”

SARSI has also created a fund to compensate BIPOC students and alumni who have aided in SARSI’s antiracist mission.

Inspired by SARSI, a group of School of Music students and alumni have also created the School of Music Anti-Racism Initiative. 

SOMARI member Jessica Tovey, a rising senior in violin performance, said the group was partially inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement

“We wanted to take advantage of the momentum that’s happening in the world right now,” Tovey said. “We wanted to build more community and just make a larger initiative out of this to really make some more serious changes within the School of Music.”

SOMARI’s petition includes demands similar to the ones laid out by SARSI, such as recruiting more BIPOC faculty and students, educating students on non-Western music and involving students in more decision-making.

Emma Chrisman graduated with a violin performance degree and is now a graduate student studying music education. She said many students and alumni worked hard to collaborate over several days to complete the letter.

SOMARI’s letter of demands also asks that the School of Music take action to be more inclusive of all marginalized communities including women, LGBTQ people and disabled people.

Lillian Young, a rising junior studying double bass performance, said this is because part of the oppression BIPOC face stems from their existence within these communities as well.

“All our ideas center around anti-racism,” Young said. “But we also want to make sure that we’re addressing other issues and keeping this really intersectional and talking about how race and gender interplay in socioeconomic status and making sure that we’re not leaving anyone out.”

Tara Palazuelos, a rising senior studying vocal performance, said SOMARI wants the school to improve communication between students and the administration about anti-racism.

“One of our main grievances, which we have talked about in a town hall and Zoom meeting, is the lack of transparency in terms of communication in general among the School of Music, which is really unfortunate because it is one of the smaller communities here at BU,” Palazuelos said. “There’s a disconnect between administration and students.”

SOMARI formally sent its petition to School of Music Director Gregory Melchor-Barz on Wednesday.

Organizers of the group will meet with School of Music administration to discuss next steps. At a later date, another meeting with the school’s administrators will be open to all.

Melchor-Barz wrote in an email that he appreciates the “passion and wisdom” of SOMARI members.

“As a School of Music, we will only be strengthened by addressing legacies of antiracism and colonialism,” Melchor-Barz wrote. 

With the help of a “core group” of students, faculty and staff, he wrote, the school will create an official action plan to be voted on by the full faculty.

“This vote will then help realize the Action Plan,” Melchor-Barz wrote, “and institutionalize the central tenets of the original petition so they do not get swept under the carpet over the years.”

Meanwhile, Dogani said that while School of Visual Arts students haven’t yet created their own Anti-Racism coalition, SARSI is working on connecting with them.

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