Over the next few days, the USC School of Dramatic Arts will host a series of events to start a dialogue about the divisive issues such as race, gender, culture, ethnicity and personal identity.
This year’s Diversity and Inclusion Summit began on Thursday with a series of workshops, panel discussions and performances focused on generating conversations among students. The summit, which runs through Oct. 30, was organized by SDA Associate Professor Anita Dashiell-Sparks, and follows a similar event held last year.
According to Jacqueline Lawton, an assistant professor in the Department of Dramatic Arts at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and one of the summit’s speakers, last year’s summit focused on trying to diversify SDA in both its admission program and academic offerings. The event, Lawton said, came as a response to students pointing out to Dean David Bridel the lack of diversity in both the student population and the courses the school taught.
Lawton led a workshop on gender identity and how that plays on stage, as well as a workshop specifically geared toward using theater for social change.
“My work is very specifically geared towards student identifying micro-aggressions,” Lawton said. “It can be from the lenses of gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, whatever it is that causes pain or angst within them, so they can address it directly and speak about who they are.”
This year, the program is split into two different sections. One part, which took place on Thursday and will take place again Saturday and Sunday, offers a series of panels open to the entire USC community.
These panels offer perspectives on issues that are at the cornerstone of today’s social activism, including gender politics, cultural appropriation and the importance of making sure that artistic endeavors mirror the diversity of the population.
One panel on Thursday afternoon focused on how gender is performed on stage, using the example of the play SEVEN.
The panel featured one of the play’s seven playwrights to discuss the creative process involved with staging a play based on current events.
Friday’s section is reserved for SDA students and faculty, and features a variety of breakout sessions and workshops with distinguished faculty from the department as well as guest speakers from all over the country. The finale of this event is the town hall at the end of the day, in which students can address questions and concerns directly with faculty and the directors of the program.
The program features several more speakers, including writers and producers from shows like Empire and Private Practice, during its panels on Sunday on performing race and class struggles on screen. Sunday’s events also include a panel on how identity politics affects and is represented in mass media, led by the SDA faculty.