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I like to think that the things I do matter.  I like to think that I’m operating on some sort of ethical system that allows me to think rationally and make decisions that will effect some sort of change for the better.  About a year ago images and text and a protest started going up around the Barbra Barker Center for Dance at the University of Minnesota.  Colloquially known as the “This” protest, anonymous dance students of Color commented on and critiqued institutionalized racism, white privilege, and issues surrounding casting.  This protest grew to include images of “invisible” bodies and stories ranging from dancers with disabilities to GLBT identified dancers and more.  After an incredibly heated post-University Dance Theatre discussion where I brought up the issue of race and casting particularly in Sarah Stackhouse’s restaging of Jose Limon’s Missa Brevis, the floor was taken by students of Color and white students alike.  Due to the insensitive and what could be read as inadvertently racist way of reacting to such allegations, dance students of Color began said protest.  As the instigator of the conversation I whole-heartedly supported the cause and the protest and tried fervently to further incite the conversation, stop the silencing, and raise new questions around GLBT issues in the building.

Because I don’t really want to recount the entire semester, I will give a link to the timeline provided on the protest’s website, which was used to document everything.  It is important to note that this timeline is infused with thick, critical language which is naturally biased and perhaps too myopic to serve as a sufficient history.  One day I would like to go through and add to the timeline, creating a multiplicitous reading of the happenings.  That day, though, is not today.

The reason I’m writing is because me, along with 2 close friends, removed the protest materials after what we believed to be a shift in the focus of the protest.  Moving away from issues of race and white privilege, the protest became exceedingly about U of M curriculum and faculty abuse of power.  What I find interesting is that nothing on the walls but for the occasional open letter addressed issues of abuse of power.  It’s impossibly easy to locate abuse of power in dance, notably choreographers like Balanchine forcing his dancers to become coke fiended anorexics.  What irked me the most was the spouting of inflammatory accusations toward the dance program’s Faculty of Color, three of which are world-renowned dance scholars who focus on issues of race and dance, without the positionally of referencing oneself.  I understand the threat of claiming a claim that is made to your superiors and in this specific case one of your bosses, but it seems less than ethical to me to put these professors who work diligently to fight racism on the line without properly self-reflecting and pointing out possible biases.

I feel like I’m getting nowhere with this post and all I’m doing is throwing myself back into the whirlwind of emotions and thoughts I was encased in last year.  I still do not regret my decision to take down the materials.  With the help of my 2 friends, we attempted and succeeded to set up two white privilege workshops free of charge for students, which were sadly poorly attended.  It’s hard for me to look back and say that what I did was affective.  It’s harder for me to look at what the protestors did and say it was affective.  True, the Office of Equity and Diversity came in and “worked their magic”, which proved to do nothing but put everyone on the defensive and to serve as a model for “these types of situations” (an actual conversation with a high-up in the OED.)

My question is what has been done?  A majority of the students who were so incredibly invested in this protest and these happenings graduated and have moved on to fight new fights.  What is being said now?  How has this protest affected other schools?  The protest was up during the regional American Collegiate Dance Festival last year and students from across the region witnessed the protest and what were their reactions?  What did they learn?  In one case that I won’t really share on here I found the reaction to be the adverse, pushing people further into racial ignorance and removing any sense of context or effectiveness.

I think what bothers me still is the inability of the protestors to build community.  In their “year later” post that I read today they wrote of growing tired and not being able to do it.  I guess what proves to be the truth is that we cannot fight the fight alone.  We must build allies, inform and educate newcommers to the program.  It cannot be completely up to the faculty and staff do this job.  And if it is up to them, perhaps a student-teacher coalition or alliance needed to be formed with this group to develop strategies.  I am  one hundred percent sure that it’s impossible to create that much change and sustain the fight with just 4 or 5 people.  Energy is required to stay that strong.

I hope that the students at the dance program will truly think about the messages of the protest.  I hope that they will take what has been done and learn and change the system.  It’s practically impossible for me to do anything from here.  I feel really helpless, though.

I hate getting pulled back in to these things.  I think I have to be done talking about this.  I don’t know if I was right anymore.  I can justify it, but I don’t know if it’s really done anything.  I don’t know what will.

Annotated timeline:

http://thisbyus.blogspot.com/2009/02/annotated-timeline-of-dance-program.html