Diversity and Inclusion Philosophy
Diversity is lost without inclusion: they are two sides of the same coin, and far too often, universities only focus on one side of that coin. What is the point of diversifying a program if there are no pathways for including the diverse student body the department recruited? I understand that many universities today struggle with diversity within their programs; however, I had a richly diverse student body already present due to my geographical location. Eastern New Mexico University - Roswell is an 80% Spanish-serving institution, and the median two-household income is less than twenty-eight thousand dollars a year. The college was booming with diversity; however, there were not many inclusion avenues for the students.
I began to build the theatre in Roswell by offering and performing musicals. A small community theatre in town only did melodramas, so I was not infringing on what they were producing. I began with Godspell and cast every cultural representation possible; for example, a supremely talented South Korean male performed as our Jesus. Later, when we did Grease, a Latinx male played Danny, and a Jamaican female played Sandy. When casting productions, there were several Latinx male and female actors in roles traditionally played by white actors, and there was never an issue with the casting. However, casting a Jamaican female as Sandy did raise some eyebrows. I remember having some conversations about Sandy, and I asked the cast to describe her character within the show without using her skin color or race. I would get responses such as "outsider," "new girl," "trying to fit in," "looking for acceptance," etc. I then pointed out that if those are the character circumstances and motives, why does she have to be white, blonde, or blue-eyed? I remember the hesitation from the audience until Sandy began to sing. Our Sandy came from a gospel upbringing, and there has never been a more soul-wrenching rendition of "Hopelessly Devoted to You."
Our success from this show was broadening the audience's acceptance of roles that seemed sacred. We gained the trust of the audience and brought in higher audience attendance for all the shows thereafter. We also had more and more actors auditioning for the upcoming shows from every walk of life. The greatest success I have had is hearing from the actors that auditioned or the audience member that attended, not that we did a good show, but that they were there because someone that looked and sounded like them was on that stage. Inclusion is the key; what good is a diverse student body or theatre population when they do not work within the craft? We must find inclusion in all facets of our art: producing, front of the house, on stage, and backstage. If we focus only on diversifying our programs without inclusion, we merely check off boxes and are not genuinely committed to our goals.