Message from the Dean and Vice Dean
June 25, 2020
To the USC Kaufman Community:
Black people have endured the consequences of racism for far too long, and we are saddened to hear that our institution has contributed to that pain. At the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, we strive to create an environment of authentic belonging, but we know that many of our Black students, alumni, faculty and staff have felt unseen and neglected. As an organization that claims to uphold the value of equity, we must take immediate action to address these concerns and create meaningful change within our school.
On June 10, our faculty of color organized and led a Town Hall and Collective Call to Action, which included a panel of students, alumni, faculty and staff. Panelists discussed the Black Lives Matter movement, global systems of inequity and structural anti-Blackness at USC Kaufman. We appreciate all who participated and especially thank the faculty of color who have engaged in this significant work throughout their summer break. This convening was an important step in educating ourselves and our community, and we look forward to the next discussion, which will be organized and led by several of our Black students.
In addition to hearing from many of you during this panel, we have received anonymous feedback and suggestions about how to address anti-Black racism at USC Kaufman. In response, we are taking the following immediate actions. These are only the first steps on what will be a long and challenging journey of upending racist structures, rethinking hierarchy in dance and creating a true culture of belonging:
- One of our overarching goals in our recently completed two-year strategic plan is to charge the equity/diversity/inclusion (EDI) committee to explore and define USC Kaufman’s definition of and commitment to belonging. This committee, led by faculty members d. Sabela grimes and Patrick Corbin, will create more opportunities for EDI sessions and further our ideals to create true belonging at all levels. In addition to any new training mandated by the President and Provost, USC Kaufman will provide comprehensive EDI training for all students, faculty, staff and Board of Councilors members. We will also continue to facilitate ongoing town hall discussions with the community throughout the year.
- Our curriculum has historically been heavily Eurocentric. Starting this fall, students will no longer be required to take ballet every day unless they choose to focus on ballet. African American Dance History will now be part of the core curriculum and is required for every sophomore. Dunham Technique will now be part of core technique and required for every freshman in the spring semester. Jazz Technique has also been added to the fall semester for seniors.
- Students have had less access and exposure to Black/Afro-based movement styles. Starting this fall, we will work with our Black faculty to identify potential guest lecturers and artists. We will also encourage faculty to center Blackness within our history courses, such as International and Historical Perspectives, World Perspectives on Dance Performance and our Colloquiums.
- As part of our strategic plan, the USC Kaufman Faculty Council has been charged with establishing an ongoing curriculum committee to be finalized in the fall. This committee has begun to formalize the process for proposing curriculum changes and will oversee their implementation.
- There has been a lack of diversity in the choreographers we have employed and the repertory we have presented. This fall, we will present new works by faculty members Saleemah E. Knight and E. Moncell Durden, as well as Artist in Residence Hope Boykin. In addition to other planned repertory, we will stage a previous work by choreographer Dwight Rhoden this school year. Moving forward, we will diversify our repertory to be more representative of Black choreographers and genres of dance that stem from Black history and culture.
- We are committed to providing more space and platforms for Black students to explore their artistry. Working with the EDI committee and our faculty of color, we will look into ways to broaden our career services offerings to ensure that all students are successful no matter what path they choose.
- Faculty are working on studio agreements to ensure that all artists who work with our students understand the importance of equity, diversity and inclusion in our community. The language will address microaggressions our students have previously identified, including faculty members misidentifying Black students. In addition, we plan to work with the EDI committee to identify a process for students, faculty and staff to regularly share their experiences. We hope that this process and these guidelines will help raise awareness of and minimize microaggressions in the classroom and beyond.
- Another goal of the strategic plan is to explore, create and propose new guidelines to BFA Repertory and Performance processes. As part of this process, faculty members will evaluate dress codes, hair codes and costume policies, which have not always been inclusive of Black students.
- The USC Kaufman Board of Councilors is an advisory board comprised of individuals who demonstrate a personal commitment to the school. The Board approved bylaws this week that specifically state that we will create and maintain a Board that is as diverse as possible with an emphasis on racial diversity.
Although we have taken these initial actions to address racism in our school, we know that lasting change is not possible without system change. It will take time, continuous open dialogue, as well as extreme thought and perseverance to see substantive transformation. Racism is reprehensible and we each must do our part to confront it every day. We look forward to continuing these important conversations and commit to working with our community to ensure that all feel welcomed.
Dean Robert Cutietta and Vice Dean Jodie Gates