KCACTF: BAR ROBERT HORNBOSTEL FROM BEING THE FACE OF ISU AT THE KCACTF NATIONALS
ILLINOIS STATE UNIVERSITY & SCHOOL OF THEATRE AND DANCE: TAKE CONCRETE STEPS TO ADDRESS THE RACIST CLIMATE OF THE THEATRE DEPARTMENT AND CAMPUS
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:
"II. TO BE AN ILLINOIS STATE UNIVERSITY STUDENT
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:
• 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.