The LOVE Pilot Program held its last teach-in session of the semester on Dec. 2. “What more can we do? Facing Race and Racism on Campus,” was done in collaboration with the Just Act Ensemble as a living lab that included audience participation during the performances by the ensemble.
The program began with a performance by the Just Act/Center for Teaching, Learning, and Mentoring (CTLM) Ensemble focused on racial tension in the United States, racism, and the election. The Just Act Ensemble, founded by Adjunct Professor of Education and director of CTLM ensemble Lisa Jo Epstein, is a theater based catalyst for healing, change, and activism that seeks to strengthen the ability to stand up for justice through creative collaborations across sectors to face struggles from systemic oppression and build an equitable world.
Using applied theater, the Just Act and CTLM ensembles explored questions posed in the second teach-in by Dr. Prash Naidu, assistant professor of Historical and Political Studies, about how race and microaggressions manifest in the body: What does “race” feel like in your own body? In what ways do your senses perceive “race” in the body of another? How do microaggressions inhabit and inhibit our bodies, our imaginations, our speech, our dreams, and our nightmares?
In the first activity, audience members were put into break out rooms where they were asked to mirror each other’s movements. This was used to show the cycle of reflection, or the experiential learning cycle: experience, reflect, generalize, and apply. The mirror game was the experience, and audience members were then asked to reflect on their experiences with the game. They noted what patterns of behavior the audience members went through during the game and what they took away from it.
“One thing that I really value about working with this ensemble is the courage—your trust in me to step into the unknown,” said Epstein, who is also executive and artistic director of Just Act. “None of you really knew what you were going to do, and we went deep fast. We’ll continue to grow together.”
Next, each member of the ensemble explained the first time that they had experienced race and racism and the other members echoed emotions and elements of their stories. After hearing these stories, audience members shared their physical responses on a shared Jamboard.
“How did you experience these stories in your body as the ensemble members shared them?” said Epstein. “Did your heart race? Did you have a sinking feeling in your stomach? Were you relieved? What did you experience?”
Responses included “clenched teeth,” “alarmed,” SMH [Shaking my head],” “heart was heavy,” and other physical sensations experienced through the ensemble storytelling.
The final activity involved the ensemble acting out scenes that involved issues about race: students avoiding a student with an ethnic name during an icebreaker exercise; a white mother not understanding why her daughter went to a Black Lives Matter protest; a student told at the end of class that their English was good; and a black student and her struggles to have her professor stop saying a racially insensitive term and how she tried to explain the issue to a white classmate. After the four scenes, the audience members were asked how they might change certain parts of the conversations to change the outcomes.
“We have a lot to learn—we certainly don’t have all the answers,” said Dr. Ellen Skilton, director of CTLM and professor of Education. “There have been amazing moments [in the LOVE Pilot program] where we learn and there’s been moments of pain and frustration because this work is challenging. It’s less challenging if people can do it together though.”
The LOVE Pilot Program is a space for Arcadia students, staff, and faculty to explore issues of identity, racism, and systemic discrimination, and to examine their own role within society as change agents. The LOVE Pilot Program will be accepting applications for spring 2021 student fellows through Dec. 18. For more information, contact the program at email@example.com.
To view a recording of the third Teach-in, click here.