Anonymous protesters call out UofM dance program for racism

Anonymous protesters call out UofM dance program for racism
Photo courtesy of This

Anonymous activists have covered the walls of the University of Minnesota's dance program building with some embarrassing messages in a six-week protest: they say the school has mishandled and silenced "conversations about institutional racism and white privilege".

The unknown protesters have also started a blog to record the daily updates on the messages and responses from faculty and students.

Are these whining dancers or people with a real message?

Gawker picked up the story today, pointing out the irony of dance students screaming about privilege. They are going to college for dance, after all. Who could really call themselves more privileged?

But there seems to be some legitimate concerns being expressed in the protest relating to racism in the dance program. The dance building is now filled with printed messages and letters about the need for more openness in the discussion of white privilege in the school. Whether these concerns actually come from serious examples is hard to come by.

The open letter written by the activists:

THIS is not an exhibit.

THIS is a protest.

THIS protests against the lack of safe space for students of Color in this program.

THIS protests against the failure of the faculty as representatives of the University, to provide students the resources they need to be anti-racist allies. Anti-racist activism is not an aesthetic choice for self-expression to be judged on its creative merit: our purpose is political agitation.

You have demonstrated a profound disconnect between the theories you teach, the ideals you talk about, and the actions you practice. You preach a pragmatism about 'the real world' while at the same time practice a blindness to the real racism that exists. You have shown an unwillingness to carry through the momentary thoughtful discussions that occur in individual, personal interactions to take definitive, institutional action. There is a deafening silence about the intimidation and coercion of students, as well as a participation in faculty politics that prevents you from learning from each other in order to create a healthy atmosphere of mutual respect that has a unified approach to valuing us.

Read the full letter here.

The protesters have been criticized for lacking a clear solution to their concerns. So you think the program is racist, but what can they do about it?

The Twin Cities Daily Planet reported the story and had some interesting angles on the story. Most notably they point to a situation last year where students of color were cut from a dance, but one of those cut claims she understands the circumstances of it.

The piece, entitled Missa Brevis, was performed at the beginning of February as part of a program called Dance Revolutions. Some of the students originally cast in the piece were eventually cut, and a few of those cut were dancers of color.

Yui Kanzawa, an Asian-American dancer who was among those cut from the piece but said she was not part of the protest, said she didn't feel that her race had anything to do with the fact that she was cut from the final cast. "There were too many people," she said. "I felt like I didn't get the style down, I didn't get the technique."

The creators of the exhibit said anonymously via e-mail that they did not wish to discuss the casting situation with Missa Brevis, because This is not a protest of that event. They did, however, write that the post-show discussion following Missa Brevis was one of "the ways in which conversations about institutional racism and white privilege have been mishandled and silenced within the department."

You can read the full story here.

Criticism of the protest can be found on the blog, where many fellow dance students are defending their program:

What are your goals? What Outcomes do you seek? What efforts have you made to educate yourselves on the issues you are appropriating? No one has tried to silence you. Efforts have only been made to communicate, process, determine next steps, ask you what you want! Most upsetting in THIS protest is that you are only interested in harassing the Dance faculty. Publicly flogging them--twisting their efforts to work towards solutions. Refusing any dialog. You are painting such an inaccurate and unrealistic picture of the dance program. To think that you have such world class faculty teaching you and you accuse them of racism!

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