KCACTF/Illinois State University: Prevent Robert Hornbostel from representing ISU & Address Racism on Campus
  • Petitioned Janet Wilson

This petition was delivered to:

Director, School of Theatre and Dance
Janet Wilson
Co-Manager, Administration, KCACTF
Susan Shaffer
Co-Manager, Artistic Director, KCACTF
Gregg Henry
President, Illinois State University
Dr. Al Bowman

KCACTF/Illinois State University: Prevent Robert Hornbostel from representing ISU & Address Racism on Campus

    1. Ianthe Belisle Dempsey
    2. Petition by

      Ianthe Belisle Dempsey

      Homewood, IL

March 2013


Ianthe Belisle Dempsey: While Rob's not facing any real punishment, the whole faculty of the theatre department have been made aware of the many problems and microaggressions that make the School of Theatre & Dance at times unwelcoming to POC. Drastic changes are underway to address play selection, casting, the classroom climate, faculty sensitivity and inclusivity. Teaching & learning communities based on the books of bell hooks have been formed, and partnerships are being forged with companies like Mixed Blood Theatre. Thank you all so much for spreading the word and bringing attention to this situation. Great things are happening because of you.



For FOUR YEARS, Rob has hosted an incredibly racist MLK Day party for members of the ISU theatre department that played on racist stereotypes of the black community (serving fried chicken, cornbread, "purple drink," watermelon, waffles; watching movies like "Black Dynamite") that he has heralded as a "celebration" of Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy. This party is a well-known event among members of the department and carries the connotation of being an "ISU theatre party."

Despite protest from within the theatre department and an outpouring of messages offering to explain to Rob why he was wrong to hold such an event, the party continued as planned.

The Illinois State University Code of Student Conduct states:


To be a student at Illinois State University, we expect you to recognize the strength of personal differences, while respecting institutional values. You are encouraged to think and act for yourself, as that is the purpose of higher education. However, we expect you to understand that the University has non-negotiable values in which it believes strongly. These values include: 

• Character 

• Conscience 

• Civility 

• Citizenship 

• An Appreciation of Diversity 

• Individual and Social Responsibility

These values are the hallmark of the University, and will be protected diligently. Each person has the right and ability to make decisions about his or her own conduct. Just as importantly, each person has the responsibility to accept the consequences of those decisions. When individual behavior conflicts with the values of the University, the individual must choose whether to adapt his or her behavior to meet the needs of the community or to leave the University. This decision, among others, assists each person to determine who he or she is with respect to the rest of society."


Robert's insistence on holding this event despite repeated pleas from numerous members of the ISU community and those outside of it is in direct violation of the University's commitment to an appreciation of diversity and social responsibility. While he may not have directly violated the Code of Conduct, his actions certainly run counter to the spirit and intentions of it.

The hosting of this event is just one of a NUMBER of department-wide and campus-wide microaggressions suffered by students of color involved in the department and on campus, which the School and University as a whole have not adequately addressed.

In addition, the Anti-Harassment and Non-Discrimination policy states that "Illinois State University will not tolerate harassing behavior related to one’s race, color, ancestry, and national origin that is sufficiently severe or pervasive such that it interferes with an individual’s participation in a University program or activity or unreasonably interferes with an individual’s work or academic performance by creating an intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or learning environment." (http://equalopportunity.illinoisstate.edu/harassment.shtml)

Comments on this petition show clearly that the racist climate of the theatre department that culminated in the excusal of this party are, in fact, creating an "intimidating, hostile, or offensive work or learning environment:

"I feel ostracized by the theater department (which I am a part of) because I feel that this party was overtly racist and disrespectful. I feel threatened now by speaking out. There are many more deserving people in the department for the honor of representing ISU and these kids do not engage in harmful and inappropriate racist actions such as this party."

"This is important to me, because as a future ISU student I would like to be apart of the theatre department. However, with blatant racism like this going on it honestly sickens me."

"I'd like to attend grad school at Illinois State (for Theatre), and even if I wasn't an actor of color (which I am) this is very disappointing..."

"I do not support racism in any fashion. I am an African American which means this yearly event targets me as an individual and a member of the African American community here at Illinois State."

"As a student within the ISU School of Theatre and Dance, I'm shocked that other students think it's okay to take a holiday devoted to a man who fought racism, and use it for their own racist jokes. It does not create a safe environment for students of color, and it's not okay."

Robert is meant to be recognized for his tech theatre work done at Illinois State University at the KCACTF Nationals in April.

I do not want Robert Hornbostel representing my school, my department, or me in any capacity at any level whatsoever. To add insult to injury, the show he is being recognized for is Naomi Iizuka's "Anon(ymous)," a modern re-working of The Odyssey that focuses on issues of immigration, exile, and racism in America that I was personally involved with through the school's Crossroads Committee.

Robert certainly does not represent the ideas of Anon(ymous), the mission of the Crossroads Committee, Illinois State University's values or KCACTF's goal of improving "the quality of college and university theater in America." College theater does not exist independent of the people who are responsible for its creation, and the quality of theater will not be improved by the perpetuation of racism among its practitioners.

This is not a personal attack or vendetta. This is the final straw that broke the camel's back. Students have felt SILENCED and IGNORED by the way the faculty, university, and other students have thus far responded to these events.

I call on Illinois State University's School of Theatre and Dance, and the larger University to extend their commitment to diversity and inclusion past paper into practice by taking concrete steps to demonstrate that racism has no place in our School or on our campus.

I call on KCACTF to recognize that Robert Hornbostel should not be the face of Illinois State University at the KCACTF National Competition.

The change must begin now.

Janet Wilson, Director, School of Theatre and Dance
Susan Shaffer, Co-Manager, Administration, KCACTF
Gregg Henry, Co-Manager, Artistic Director, KCACTF
Dr. Al Bowman, President, Illinois State University
Commit to addressing the problematic environment of the ISU theatre department by barring Robert Hornbostel from representing ISU at KCACTF and taking concrete steps towards promoting diversity and inclusivity in the department.

[Your name]

Recent signatures


    1. Reached 1,500 signatures
    2. If yr wondering why it matters that people around the country are signing

      Ianthe Belisle Dempsey
      Petition Organizer

      Just remember MLK - "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."

      It doesn't just happen on our campus. It happens on college campuses and in college theatre departments everywhere. Microaggressions are real. Look at the comments. Look at the hurt people feel & tell me this is something we should just brush under the rug. No. We are supposed to be training ARTISTS. Artists who will go out into the world & interact with other people to create meaningful works.

      Theatre is about innovation. Collaboration. Inspiration. Community. If ISU can claim to "support diversity" and turn a blind eye to the attitudes of its own schools, its own students paying tuition money to feel OSTRACIZED and ALIENATED - have we not failed as theatre practitioners?

    3. 500 signatures!

      Ianthe Belisle Dempsey
      Petition Organizer

      Holy crap, we hit 500 within, like, 14 or 15 hours or something. I'm gonna bump up the signature goal because... WOAH! You're all amazing.

    4. Reached 500 signatures
    5. It was never just about "one person." That much is obvious.

      Ianthe Belisle Dempsey
      Petition Organizer
      proof that it's not just about one person - Imgur

      Imgur is used to share photos with social networks and online communities, and has the funniest pictures from all over the Internet.

    6. Reached 100 signatures
    7. Messages sent to Rob before the event

      Ianthe Belisle Dempsey
      Petition Organizer
      Photo Album - Imgur

      Imgur is used to share photos with social networks and online communities, and has the funniest pictures from all over the Internet.

    8. Reached 50 signatures
    9. Petition Target

      Ianthe Belisle Dempsey
      Petition Organizer

      Since somebody asked - the petition will be forwarded to the Director of the School of Theatre and Dance, and whoever else may require it.

    10. Reached 25 signatures


    Reasons for signing

    • Rachel Schmidgall MACKINAW, IL
      • over 1 year ago

      I'm a social work student and this is pure discrimination. We are being taught to advocate for what is right.

    • Lisa Morrison HUDSON, IL
      • over 1 year ago

      Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but they don't represent ISU & its committment to all students.

    • Evan Staley NAPERVILLE, IL
      • over 1 year ago

      Unacceptable. There is no excuse for this behavior.

    • Monica Hamilton NORMAL, IL
      • over 1 year ago

      I am a Black Theater student and have been the subject of racist remarks, jokes and just down right ignorance! SOMEONE needs to be made an example to show that this behavior IS NOT ACCEPTABLE.

    • Janice Camacho HOWARD BEACH, NY
      • over 1 year ago

      Racism should not be supported!


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