The Student Senate Diversity Committee, in support, solidarity and appreciation of the students who led the protest of “The Good Person of Schezwan,” responds to Professor Emily Anderson’s Letter to the Editor with the following points.
We request all faculty members of Knox College, especially within the arts, to reconsider the attitudes they take towards the racist, sexist and colonialist histories which inhere in any canon. Rather than take these histories for granted as a simply unfortunate state of things, we ask you to think on the ways that you might use your position of power as a member of Knox faculty as well as the general academic community to take proactive steps to teaching those voices which this canon continues to push out. The operation of racism, sexism and colonialism within the arts does not merely exist in the past—non-white writers, actors, artists continue to be pushed out today. This was also the context from which the students were protesting The Good Person—it was not only a protest against this specific play, but the past and ongoing practices of racist casting and productions within the Knox theatre department as well as the theatre world beyond.
While Knox does challenge us as students to engage and challenge works with which we may be uncomfortable, this should not be at the expense of students. Theatre is an embodied art—it takes real people playing “orientalist” roles within the setting of the problematic Orient. Would it really have been worth the emotional distress of students and the perpetuation of Asian stereotypes to put on a play so that it might be criticized? It is also worth noting that The Good Person was actually taught in the classroom this Fall Term by Professor Blackadder. The students who led the protest of this play took action from a deliberate and informed perspective.
The opportunity that has been presented is not to discuss the intentions of a playwright or a director, but to listen to concerns of students who pay to live and learn at this institution. Knox encourages students to speak out about what they want to say. Word of racism and racial insensitivity within the theatre department have long been in circulation but have gone ignored. Why push back against a student effort that may change the department for the better?
Diversity Committee of Student Senate