SGA discusses diversity in film and theater casting

by Katherine Burns / Beacon Staff • April 16, 2015

The Student Government Association met with the chair of the performing arts department, Melia Bensussen, at its weekly meeting on April 14 as part of its larger academic initiative and discussed the issue of diversity in casting. 

Multicultural Commissioner Sheba Wood told Bensussen in the meeting that performing arts professors have used politically incorrect language in regard to gender pronouns and diversity.

“Students are left having to educate their professors and peers, and fill in the gaps between areas of understanding,” said Wood, and a sophomore performing arts major.

Bensussen said she is dealing with each of these cases by talking to students and faculty individually. She said she hopes to implement departmentwide training on diversity and inclusive language before the beginning of next semester. 

Senior Alicia Carroll, the visual and media arts senator, said first-year VMA courses do not teach students how to cast or direct with sensitivity to diversity, which often can lead to improper treatment of cast members.

The performing arts department does not oversee VMA film productions, Bensussen said, but she is working with the VMA department chair, Brooke Knight, to improve this situation. 

“[Knight] said they want to make it better, but I feel like they don’t know how,” said Bensussen.

SGA also spoke with the chair of the writing, literature and publishing department, Maria Koundoura. about the future of the program’s curriculum. 

WLP senator Michael Moccio said students’ main complaint was the lack of genre-based literature classes. While there are a variety of genre classes at the 200 level, many WLP students are not able to take them because their tracks require them to continue on to 300 and 400 level literature classes, said Moccio.

Moccio, a junior, suggested that the college open up more 300-level genre classes so that students can take those after they’ve done their prerequisite 200-level literature courses. 

Koundoura said that this is difficult to do, as literature is not a department in itself, but proposed starting more topics courses, including a young adult fiction course and children’s book publishing course.

SGA also heard an appeal from Rareworks Theatre Company to fund its production of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. According to SGA Vice President Kassie King, the appeal was for production and transportation costs, as Rareworks took this on at the last minute, and had already allocated the rest of its budget to other shows and events. The play is an original adaptation of the 2005 novel and 2011 film by Matthew Begbie, a senior visual and media arts major.

The group fundraised $200 on its own and requested $1,377, according to King. The motion to allocate the funds to Rareworks passed.