“[T]he University seeks to cultivate in its students not only an appreciation for the great achievements of human beings, but also a disciplined sensibility to the poverty, injustice, and oppression that burden the lives of so many. The aim is to create a sense of human solidarity and concern for the common good that will bear fruit as learning becomes service to justice.”
- Excerpt from the University of Notre Dame’s Mission Statement
For far too long, the University of Notre Dame has fallen short of its Mission Statement declaration to recognize injustice and oppression and to serve justice and the common good when it comes to racial politics on its own grounds. This failure to respond to pleas from the marginalized on campus has come to a crisis point in the wake of George Floyd’s murder and Black Lives Matter protests, as a flood of testimonials, statements from clubs and student government, and petitions illustrate. The Department of Film, Television, and Theatre (FTT) acknowledges its own failures to contribute sufficiently to these long-overdue commitments at Notre Dame.
As scholars and creators within FTT, we particularly recognize our responsibility towards awareness and consciousness of global histories of colonization and imperialism, of cultural domination and subjugation, and of indigenous peoples and their rights, histories, culture and heritage, and we emphasize the academic commitment to embrace, discuss, and converse about issues and texts, both written and performative, related to political justice, economic justice, civil rights, police brutality, and environmental justice. As advocates of the performing and audiovisual arts, media, and entertainment, we appreciate the vitality of these forms as conduits for social change and for amplifying marginalized voices, but we are also aware of their legacy as hegemonic institutions that replicate traditional mechanisms of power and control, and we aim to foster awareness of this range of capacities. As teachers, we acknowledge that we have the power to shape curricula based in anti-racist principles, to highlight the work of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) creators and scholars, and to try to equip our students with the intellectual, creative, and ethical tools and cultural competencies necessary to shape our communities and societies into places where racial justice and equality are vital priorities, not vague propositions. As scholars, creators, advocates, and teachers, we understand that creative work has the potential to transform culture and that we as critically aware subjects can have transformative experiences through it.
Therefore, the members of FTT pledge a new commitment to concrete actions that expose and dismantle white supremacy; enable the betterment of conditions for Black and other historically marginalized people; escalate efforts toward diversity, equity, and inclusion; identify and interrogate implicit and explicit biases, recognize exclusionary practices past and present, and address institutional and systemic racism, including within our own spaces; and hold ourselves accountable for any failures to follow through on these actions.
With these intentions, the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre commits to pursuing the following actions for the coming academic year:
- Hosting online town halls with current students and alumni addressing gaps, blind spots, and best practices for racial equity within FTT
- Carrying out an extensive review of our curriculum to ensure that students are aware of the diversity of perspectives, stylistic practices, narrative and performative strategies, and modes of engagement of creative practitioners
- Conducting theatre faculty workshops on season selection and rehearsal/production best practices
- Planning for an anti-racist theatre season for 2021-22
- Encouraging faculty participation in the Klau Center for Civil and Human Rights’ year-long “Building an Anti-Racist Vocabulary” initiative
- Working with the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center director and staff to increase the percentage of public-facing film and theatre programming created by those who identify as BIPOC, researching past percentages and setting a new target goal
- Pursuing connections with Black Lives Matter - South Bend’s Arts & Justice Curriculum
- Hosting a town hall during the Spring 2021 semester to address progress on the above objectives and account for what still needs to be done
With an eye toward long-term structural changes, these goals will also be central:
- Creating a permanent Committee on Anti-Racism, Racial Justice, and Equality in FTT with both faculty and student members and with both department and university goals for interventions
- Conducting faculty workshops on anti-racist curriculum and pedagogy, encouraging examination of syllabi and teaching methods
- Implementing funds contributed to the Broad Avenue Filmmakers Fund that are earmarked to financially support the production and distribution of work created by BIPOC students and/or work that focuses on stories of the lived experiences of BIPOC people and seeking additional funding for such work
Many words have been offered in the U.S. this summer and at Notre Dame in previous years about addressing systems of oppression and racial injustice. What is yet to be seen, especially on campus, is productive structural change. Acknowledging that mere words are painfully inadequate, the Department of Film, Television, and Theatre expresses its commitment to back up the above words with actions and to do the necessary work of fighting for equality, equity, and the lives of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color members of the Notre Dame family.