Dismantle Racism Within the UNC Writing for the Screen and Stage Minor
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Many of us have previously reached out to the UNC-Chapel Hill Writing for the Screen and Stage (WSS) Minor professors to discuss microaggressions, the absence of POC-created film in our curriculum, and many other ways students of color have felt unsupported and isolated throughout their education. Those complaints have never been substantially addressed.
We sent this information in an email on Tuesday, June 9th to the Chair of the UNC-Chapel Hill Communications Department, Patricia Parker, and the professors who teach the minor, Dana Coen and Michael Acosta. They responded on Tuesday, June 9th that they received the email but as of Tuesday, June 16th, we haven’t heard back from them with an action plan. We reach out to the UNC community, the film community, and the wider public to join us in demanding change.
The UNC Communications Department and the WSS Minor have never done enough to support students of color. Here are our grievances:
Microaggressions from professors in the minor
Many WSS students have experienced microaggressions on the basis of race, sexuality, and gender from Communications professors. This is not acceptable in any field, and certainly not in the screenwriting minor where students are often using their scripts to explore identity and personal experience. We demand that professors are not only taught to not be racist, but are also taught to be anti-racist. Anything less is not enough.
The absence of POC-created films in the syllabi and the inclusion of misogynistic and transphobic films
The curriculum for the History of the American Screenwriting class currently does not include any films written by filmmakers of color. Professor Acosta, who teaches this class, has said that he only cares about teaching films the industry cares about. While he acknowledged the racism of the industry, he is complicit in perpetuating the belief that POC-created work is not important to study.
In Professor Acosta’s Adaptation and optional WSS Rewrite courses, several of the recommended films on his syllabi are shockingly harmful, disrespectful, and undermining to women. He has refused to take these misogynistic films out of his syllabi.
In addition, Professor Neigher in COMM 330, a prerequisite to the minor, requires us to study a television script called Family Values. The script, written by the professor, centers around the “joke” that a man dresses up like a woman. In this class, students are expected to write scripts based on this transphobic pilot, and many of the resulting gags perpetuate the harmful dialogue that trans women are inherently ridiculous and invalid. The script must be removed immediately.
Lack of diversity within the professors, visiting writers, and classroom
The Writing for Screen and Stage Minor includes no professors of color, effectively white-washing our screenwriting and playwriting education. In addition, very few of the visiting writers who are invited by the program to speak with us are of color, women, or queer.
It is vital to have a diverse group of professors and working writers who represent us and care deeply about diverse and representative cinema. Our professors must be able to intimately understand the stories we tell, many of which are rooted in our marginalized identities. We must have professors, experts, and mentors who can provide guidance on all of our journeys in the industry. They must be able to advise aspiring writers of marginalized identities, whose journeys will often be vastly different than those who historically have easier access and ability to advance in the industry.
The Writing for Screen and Stage Minor also disproportionately admits white students, which is unacceptable. The program aims to create the next generation of screenwriters and playwrights, yet perpetuates the systemic exclusion of people of color in writing courses and writer’s rooms. The systemic exclusion of students of color in the program can be blamed in large part to the failure of the professors to do sufficient outreach to increase awareness of the program.
Here are our demands:
- We demand that the History of American Screenwriting Class Syllabus include significantly more films written by filmmakers of color, including women of color and queer people of color.
- We demand that the Communications department implement mandatory diversity and inclusion training for professors.
- We demand that the Family Values script be removed from the Comm 330 syllabus and any other screenwriting classes.
- We demand that the Communications department and the WSS minor, specifically, significantly increase the number of professors of color within the next five years.
- We demand that 50% of the visiting writers come from underrepresented groups.
- We demand that you prioritize promoting the WSS minor early, continuously, widely, and heavily across departments and the student population to increase awareness of and accessibility to the program.
You can read our full email to UNC Communications Department Chair Patricia Parker, Professor Dana Coen, and Professor Michael Acosta here.
Victoria Collins, Class of ‘18
Maddie Cupak, Class of ‘18
Matt Greenberg, Class of ‘18
Corey Jon, Class of ‘18
Alison Oehling, Class of ‘18
Madison Schaper, Class of ‘18
Andrew Schuster, Class of ‘18
Mary Amos, Class of ‘19
Blake Benson, Class of ‘19
Brennan Colucci, Class of ‘19
Jack Creasy, Class of ‘19
Jana Henson, Class of ‘19
MacKenzie Leger, Class of ‘19
Madeline Rael, Class of ‘19
Christopher Morabito, Class of ‘19
Noni Shemenski, Class of ‘19
Lauren Smith, Class of ‘19
Sierra Smith, Class of ‘19
Kameron Southerland, Class of ‘19
Shea Stanley, Class of ‘19
Sammy Wadsworth, Class of ‘19
Kevin Walker, Class of ‘19
Jacob Wishnek, Class of’19
Allie Bennett, Class of ‘20
Ella Doran, Class of ‘20
Claire Goray, Class of ‘20
Madalyn Marino, Class of ‘20
Sydney Peregoy, Class of ‘20
Krí Schafer, Class of ‘20
Ella Thompson, Class of ‘20
Mihir Shah, Class of ‘20
Jordan Van Glish, Class of ‘20
Ellie Baker, Class of ‘21
Barbara Blaschke, Class of ‘21
Bella Carpi, Class of ‘21
Cierra Childs, Class of ‘21
Molly Hansen, Class of ‘21
Matthew Keith, Class of ‘21
Grant Lafferty, Class of ‘21
Maggie McCullough, Class of ‘21
Michael Sparks, Class of ‘21
Jay Taylor, Class of ‘21
Annie Warn, Class of ‘21
And those listed below
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