Alumni demand equality in CCU theatre program, claim mistreatment while they were students

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CONWAY, SC (WBTW) – Some Coastal Carolina University alumni and students are demanding inclusion and equity in the institution’s theatre department.

They claim the department isn’t safe for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) students. The alumni are acting as a voice for students who are afraid to speak out on their experiences.

“An overall lack of respect for the BIPOC students – there’s an overall culture of dismissing them and treating them as less than,” Miquela Rivers said.

Rivers is a 2015 musical theatre arts graduate of CCU who said she also had similar experiences while attending.

Alumni and students anonymously described what they experienced in an online petition that received over 600 signatures in two days.

One statement said, “[I experienced] being called the wrong name for my entire first year of college by most, if not all faculty (whether it be blatant mispronunciations after being corrected repeatedly, or being called by another black student’s name).”

Another stated,“[I was] called “sassy” when airing my concerns about discussions in class that are problematic, and the terms “urban” and “ghetto” were thrown around in regards to myself or a student show with a cast of mostly black students.”

“To treat students who have entrusted you with their education and believe that you’re going to provide them with a safe place to grow and be vulnerable and to not see this as absolutely imperative is abhorrently concerning,” Rivers explained.

Rivers and other alumni started addressing these experiences to faculty during the summer. According to Rivers, on-going conversations with faculty resulted in all talk, but no action.

Faculty at CCU claimed they have been working with the group of alumni to find solutions.

“As an institutional practice we very much hold all of our members of our community to a high standard,” Dr. Atiya Stokes-Brown, vice president diversity, equity, and inclusion at the institution said. “If there is substantial evidence – if there is evidence, if certain individuals are engaging in discriminatory behavior we hold them to task for that and they are accountable for that behavior.”

Earlier this year, the university created a mandatory diversity class for students. However, faculty members are not required to take a similar class.

Dr. Stokes-Brown said some of the theatre professors are voluntarily involved in equity and inclusion trainings made for faculty.

She also told News13 she was also concerned about the lack of representation seen in the faculty in the theatre department. She said the university is currently working to diversify faculty.

Dr. Stokes-Brown said they hope to establish an official theatre alumni group by the end of the year that would allow alumni to work closely with both staff and students.

The petition allowed faculty like Dr. Stokes-Brown to recognize areas of growth for the university.

“The faculty are very concerned that the students are feeling this way,” Stokes-Brown said. “[I would like to] thank those individuals for the feedback and continuously invite them into conversation because I believe the goals that are shared within that document are goals that we hold at the institution.”

She also added that a space for equity and inclusion is a campus-wide effort they are always working to evolve.

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