Acting and academics don’t usually go hand in hand. But a recent day of theater performances, sponsored by the School of Integrated Science and Humanity (SISH), and intended to promote understanding and awareness of the subtleties of gender and diversity bias in academia, received rave reviews.
The performances, given by the University of Michigan’s CRLT (Center for Research on Learning and Teaching) Players Theatre Program were welcomed as a great way to learn about these issues. Indeed, Florida International University professors and administrators praised the events as “outstanding,” “enlightening,” and “a novel way to stimulate thoughts and ideas.” The innovative performances were part of a National Science Foundation grant and partnership between FIU and UM.
FIU faculty review skit at CRLT performance
Faculty discussing stereotypes in the script
The setting for the morning performance, called The Fence, was a tenure meeting discussion at the executive committee level of a science department. A full house of 60 people watched the short skit, as actors presented ways in which subtle and unconscious biases can easily slip into the dialogue of such a committee, and ultimately impact hiring and tenure processes. For example, several participants noted that during the tenure meeting, inappropriate comments were made about the female candidate, and while she had won a prestigious award, the positive reviews were ignored.
The theater facilitator then gave members of the audience a chance to place themselves into the skit. First, the audience members selected a section of the script that resonated with them. They worked in small groups to discuss strategies for transforming the dialogue in the scenarios. Individual audience members were then invited to join the real actors to act out the rewritten sections of the skit. Overall, this technique created a lively, interactive discussion and was a powerful educational method of engaging faculty to think about ways to enact real change in their departments.
With over 120 people attending, the afternoon skit Faculty Advising Faculty explored the junior/senior faculty mentoring process, and the nuanced dynamics that can promote or prevent effective mentoring relationships. One participant noted “mentoring takes time,” and that “people need to see it as a learned skill for how to give constructive and useful feedback.” Dr. Suzanna Rose, Executive Director of SISH, noted the benefit of faculty being “able to experience a second chance at candidly replaying the conversations and issues portrayed in the skits, which are often difficult situations to discuss in real life.”
Both performances emphasized the importance of understanding that faculty attitudes and behaviors can have a profound impact on gender bias and diversity issues, and that the need to create awareness and change is still relevant at universities today.
These performances and an evening reception were co-sponsored by the Provost’s Office, Academic Affairs and the College of Arts & Sciences.