New TheatreUNI student organization is tackling diversity and inclusion in the theatre industry
Theatre is meant to be a reflection of society, but how can we truly represent the mosaic of humankind without sharing diverse voices? Well, we can’t.
It’s an issue that’s plagued the theatre and entertainment industry for ages, and a problem that oftentimes, we just can’t seem to get right. So how can we create theatre that is diverse, equitable, inclusive and an accurate representation of society? It starts by creating a platform for all voices to be heard, and here in the University of Northern Iowa Department of Theatre, that’s exactly what faculty and students are working to do.
At the heart of this work is the Multicultural Theatrical Society (MTS) – somewhat of a rising star on campus. One year ago, it started as a group of theatre students looking for a place to call their own, and over a short span of time, the group has evolved into a powerhouse for change. Partnering with faculty and leadership in the department, the MTS has organized discussions and workshops aimed at ensuring a more equitable environment for persons of color in the department, while actively working to elevate marginalized voices through unique performance and outreach events.
It’s a collaboration that gives students a chance to use their voices, and to be leaders in their own right. “Theatre is so collaborative, and that’s why it’s important to work collaboratively to solve problems,” says MTS co-treasurer Ray Nelson. “By educating people on different cultures, we can collaborate better, build trust, and a sense of community.”
Jim Bray, MTS advisor and assistant professor in the UNI Department of Theatre, says the group is an excellent example of the power found by working together.
“This group was formed through collaboration,” Bray said. “I’m thankful our department head and all of our faculty are so willing to support change like this. MTS is a place for students from all walks of life to gather, and celebrate different voices. We’re growing and expanding very quickly, and having a pretty big impact on the department. The department has supported everything we’re doing, but the students are really the ones who are the leaders here.”
Over the course of their first year, the group’s mission and goals have taken on a life of their own – with far reaching impacts.
“It’s really amazing to see the impact we’ve been able to make,” says Tatiana Sandoval, co- president of MTS. “Not only are we encouraging growth in the department, but in the university as a whole. Our work really is to educate people, and to celebrate our differences. Through the work we’ve done as a group, we’ve not only grown as students and performers, but I feel like we’ve really grown as people through this, and that’s very empowering.”
Though several of the founding MTS board members will graduate in the spring, they feel secure in the legacy they’re leaving future TheatreUNI students.
“If you look at the theatre industry as a whole, there really is a reckoning, and it’s unlike anything that’s happened before,” says Zoella Sneed, co-president of MTS. “I think our department, and our group, are pioneers in creating change. I don’t know of many other departments that are doing the work we’re doing. It’s absolutely outstanding. I’m thankful that we have a place, and for the support from the department in recognizing the value of MTS and our mission. This group has taught us how to create change, stand up for ourselves and the people around us, and to be actively involved. That’s one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned here.”