Academic Theater Profession: A Guide to Best  Practices*

By the Voice and Speech Trainer’s Association Diversity Committee with approval of the
VASTA Board  


To Deans, Department Chairs, Administrators, and Faculty:

This letter serves as an introduction to “Equity for Minorities and Women in the
Academic Theater Profession:  A Guide to Best Practices,” written by the Diversity
Committee of the Voice and Speech Trainers Association, and approved by the VASTA
governing Board November, 2008.   VASTA recommends that administrators and faculty
of academic theater institutions use these guidelines in their planning and decision-
making, and that the guidelines will serve as a resource for theater faculty at all ranks.

As theater programs in the United States position themselves to meet the needs of a 21st
century education and training, it is imperative that we embrace inclusion as a value
driving decision-making.  The changing demographics of the population of the United
States, the needs of a new generation of scholars, the aging (and retirement) of the current
professorate, and the internationalization of education and research have already begun to
impact contemporary theater education in the academy.

Academic theater institutions have a long history of excellence in performance,
education, training, and scholarship, but many academic cultures still reflect values that
historically favored the population that initially established the programs and their
curricula.  Thus, faculty, staff and students from a changing demographic are expected to
flourish in a system associated with inherent intellectual/professional biases-- a system
that often excludes contributions from historically under-represented persons within the
field.

To remain competitive in the 21st century, academic theater programs need to re-think
how we recruit students and faculty, how we produce and cast our seasons, how we
educate a new generation of theater practitioners, and how we retain talented minority
faculty. Diversity in the student body, staff, and faculty enhances the overall educational
community by infusing it with differing points of view, differing educational foci, a
diverse workforce of active alumni, and a flow of invigorated ideas that will stimulate
scholarship and academic culture. 

As Voice professionals, VASTA is keenly aware of how “voice” is linked to cultural,
familial, and personal identity, and how training practices created for a majority white
population of theater artists (and passed down to their students) may not enhance the
educational/workplace experiences of minority faculty and students or women, and may
actively work against their ability to thrive in our academic institutions and our
profession.  If we wish our profession, (academic and professional), to mirror the
diversity of the U.S. population, we must begin to be proactive in our choices.  It is
especially important that Deans, Department Chairs and senior administrators guide and
help the faculty and students in efforts to create an inclusive and equitable environment
within their academic theater programs.

Although the following guidelines highlight the needs of minority and women faculty and
students, many of them will apply to all members of the profession.  Understanding that
academic theater programs differ widely in their missions, resources, make-up, and
audiences, we urge you to embrace the spirit of these guidelines to promote equity and
inclusion within your academic theater programs.  We hope these guidelines will be used
to encourage minority students, promote inclusion among faculty and staff, guide a junior
faculty member towards success, or help a senior faculty member mentor a minority
faculty member or student to be successful in their career.


Sincerely,

Beth McGee, President VASTA. 2008

 

 

 

Equity For Minorities and Women in The Academic Theater Profession: A Guide to Best
Practices

US Census Bureau projections highlight that the white non-Hispanic college-age
population (18-24 years) will shrink from 65% in 2005 to below 50% by 2040.  The
“Baby Boom” professorate is beginning to retire, which will open up faculty positions to
a field of MFA’s and PhD’s who will be over 50% women.  The new generation of
students puts a high degree of importance on the integration of personal life, family life,
and work life.  To remain operational and inspirational to the new generation of
scholars/theater artists, the academic theater community needs to be pro-active in its
choices as the ethnic, racial, age, and gender outlook of the academy changes.


Department Climate

Proactive approaches are needed to create and maintain a cultural climate that is
inclusive, welcoming, and appreciative of minorities and women.  The following
transparent and uniform practices will help to create an equitable and transparent
environment for all members of a department:

  •  Establish and infuse diversity strategies as a part of all departmental decisions
  •  Annual equity review of wages, space allocation, teaching loads, advising loads,and service loads
  •  Attention to providing fair and adequate start-up packages for all new hires 
  •  Equitable and transparent allocation of all departmental resources (such as travelmoney, course releases, etc.)
  • •Transparent, clear, and widely disseminated guidelines for promotion, tenure andteaching evaluation that take into account subtle evaluation bias often experiencedby women and racial and ethnic minorities
  • •Charging the entire department with the responsibility of mentoring juniorfaculty, and implementing mechanisms for accountability 
  •  Acknowledgment of the possibility of subtle bias with respect to the evaluation ofscholarship written by or about women and minorities, coupled with pro-activetools for reducing this bias
  •  Attention to reducing the overuse of minorities and women on those universityservice committees charged with responding to the needs of minorities andwomen, and increasing their presence on high-profile service committees
  •  Refraining from asking minority and women faculty to teach outside of theirexpertise (an “ethnic” or “gender studies” class, for example.  Acknowledgingthat women and minority faculty face unique biases from their students whichaffect the classroom environment and teaching evaluations
  • Distributing the mentoring/advising assignments of minority and women students throughout the department
  •  Pro-actively diversifying departmental curriculum to includescholarship/artists/thematic content, history that includes women, and thecontributions of Black scholars/artists, Latino/Hispanic scholars/artists, andNative American scholars/artists, keeping in mind that diversity values can betaught in all disciplines (having a single “diversity course” can be perceived as“ghettoizing” the issue)
  •  Avoid assigning women duties considered undesirable by their male colleagues.
  • Stereotyping women as “being better” at “touchy-feely” jobs with emotionalcomponents (advising, teaching) is false and demeaning 


Season choices and casting

Understanding that season choices and casting are contingent upon available resources,
talented artists, educational goals, and the known audience, the following practices are
pro-active ideas for diversifying theater seasons, the make-up of the theater student body,
and presenting a more diverse view of the theater to your audiences:

  •  Departmental review of the promotion of “Standard Speech” as the onlyappropriate dialect for the theater
  •  Understanding that one’s voice reflects one’s cultural, personal, and ethnici identity and that artists of color are often called upon in the profession to reflecttheir race or ethnicity in performance dialects
  •  Create opportunities for students of color to study and learn dialects related torace and ethnicity 
  •  Incorporating the works of women and minority playwrights, designers, directors,and other guest artists into the season
  •  Offering workshops and courses in diverse theater studies
  •  Actively request diverse works for the library or other student accessible entity,especially works by contemporary minority and women playwrights
  • Active departmental engagement in discussions about choice of season and how itserves the entire student population. Investigation of stereotypes, choice of plays, 
  •  Collaborations with Cultural, Minority, or Women’s Studies Departments in orderto promulgate accurate and diverse perspectives through theater 
  •  Refraining from asking minority students to always do race specific roles



Recruitment and Hiring

As the growing racial and ethnic minority and female population of theater graduates
enter the professorate, more attention will need to be paid to equitable hiring practices for
qualified minority and women faculty.  The following best practices can promote the
successful recruitment and hiring of quality candidates:

 

Prior to serving, require search committee members to receive formal training onhow to run an equitable search. They may be exempted if they received trainingwithin the last six months. Training would include:

  •  The University’s Equal Opportunity policies for hiring and questions thatare illegal in nature
  •  Subtle racial and gender bias that can be embedded in the search processand endeavor to observe it when it happens and eradicate it
  • How to pro-actively search for qualified women and minority candidatesby using professional organizations, graduates of HBCU’s and HHCUs,women and minority PhD guides, and internet tools
  • The role and responsibilities of the search committee chair
  •  How to establish the committee determined uniform qualifications neededin a successful candidate so that standard questions can be created andasked of all candidates to avoid subjective biases
  •  The use of partner or target-of-opportunity hiring if used  in your institution
  • The search committee should be open to new or different fields in the discipline(“We have never had an Hispanic historian, and his/her area doesn’t fit in ourdepartmental focus” sets the committee up to continue the status quo)
  •  Ask women and minorities outside the department to be on the search committeeto ensure that “minority opinions” are heard; search committees tend to “clonethemselves” in their evaluation of qualifications.  Alumni and Emeriti understandthe university culture and may be willing to serve


Students and Professional Development  (“Growing our Own”)

Academic theater professionals who see talented women and minority students that might
enjoy the professorate or the theater profession should actively encourage them to
consider graduate school or further training. Often professors are unaware that students
have a very narrow view of academic life, and need to be mentored to consider its many
rewards.  Or, students are unclear of the skills needed to compete in the professional
realm.  Formal and informal mentoring and/or added curriculum offerings can serve this
purpose.

  •  Make students aware of possibilities, without making judgments about their“ability” to seek those possibilities (don’t “track” students into certain areaswithout making them aware of the many possibilities)
  •  Be aware than many minority artists are particularly interested in the history andthe activity of their ethnicity/gender in the profession, and give them tools to investigate these areas


Mentoring

Effective mentoring often is the difference for minority and women faculty and students
to succeed in the academic theater profession.  Effective mentoring improves
departmental climate by encouraging collegiality, highlighting scholarly activity, and
supporting artistic invention and production. The following practices help to create a high
quality mentoring environment:

  • Ensuring that newly hired minority and women faculty have opportunities toshare their artistic production or scholarship with the departmental faculty and theuniversity community
  • Creating a mentoring process that includes mentors both within and outside thedepartment
  •  Make all processes for salary review, work review, teaching review and allocationof resources transparent and available to everyone
  •  Making sure that non-minority faculty mentor minority students so that minorityfaculty are not tacitly expected to be their mentors
  • Mentoring all faculty towards promotion from Associate to Full Professor
  •  Ensuring that information helping faculty and students find publishers, grants, orfellowships is disseminated to all


Service

Minority and women faculty members often view community service as an important link
between the academy and their surrounding community, as an obligation to their ethnic
communities, or a feel that it is important to “give back” to their communities in any
number of ways.  Administrators should be aware that this is the case for some minority
scholars and artists, and recognize these contributions to society when evaluating their
service.


 

 

 

 

 

 

*drafted with many insights from the American Historical Association’s “Equity for
Minority Historians in the Academic History Workplace:  A Guide to Best Practices ©
June, 2007, by the Committee on Minority Historians
Equity For Minorities and Women in The


©  Voice and Speech Trainers Association, 2008