JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Two graduates of the Douglas Anderson School of Arts posted on Facebook over thirty testimonies from students and alum who experienced racism and problematic behavior from other students, teachers and administrators at the school. The original Facebook post has been shared 323 times and has over 170 comments.
The two former students, Jade Collins, 19, and Madison Kiernan, 20, started to collect separate testimonies from former students about their time at the school, and when they realized they were working towards the same goal, they combined the testimonies into one 15-page document.
“There’s a real problem that’s been there for a long time,” Collins said. “I can say for myself that I wasn’t personally shocked by a majority of the stories. Even from classes that are decades from before my own class, happening with the same teachers there, or things that goes under the rug and no one does anything about. I think that it just shows there is a problem at DA. And for me when I made that first post, I just wanted DA to acknowledge that there was a problem. To admit to letting this racism perpetuate throughout the campus, and that’s not okay.”
The document shared on Facebook has names, both students and teachers, redacted, so WOKV couldn’t identify each testimony.
Also, within the musical theatre program specifically (I’m not sure if this happened in the acting program), I found that the speech used to critique black students was often very comparison driven and always felt like black students were all being critiqued into this one stereotype of a musical theatre black actor, which was so disturbing. I remember always being so disturbed when [two black students] were compared to each other when they were as different as they could possibly be, yet they felt pressured to compete to be each other’s types [because] they were constantly compared. I witnessed flamboyant white men praised for being different when flamboyant black men were shamed for not being manly enough to play any of the black roles from the shows we were given.
Douglas Anderson needs to be exposed for their racist faculty, curriculum, and the sheer and blatant disrespect the students of color had to suffer through. I remember being told I had no place in theatre if it wasn’t strictly August Wilson or material meant for a black man.
I was the stage manager for [REDACTED]’ Lonely Planet, and during the audition process for the show I witnessed a shockingly racist incident. When [black student] finished auditioning, I saw that [REDACTED] had written on his audition sheet “too dark” (as in his skin tone). I remember telling many of my peers about this, as we all knew [REDACTED] was racist, but I don’t believe I ever told anyone in administration in fear of the backlash I would get.
Was told by a teacher he wish he was a black woman so he could get angry and go off like we do.
After collecting over 30 stories from people, they sent those testimonies along with photos and videos of current students allegedly using the n-word and a screenshot of a student in blackface, and a letter of demands to the principal of the school and the DCPS Superintendent.
The list of demands include diversity in faculty, mandatory anti-racist training for faculty, diversity in theatre season, diversity in curriculum, greater importance given to Black art, and addressing the normalization of predatory behavior from faculty towards students.
Douglas Anderson’s Principal, Melanie Hammer, says she saw the testimonies and talked to the students.
“I had the opportunity to meet virtually with a couple of alumni two weeks ago and hear their experiences. Listening to them, as well as our current student body, helped inspire a plan of action we are currently putting into place,” Hammer said. “I look forward to working with them and the DA school community in continuing to enhance an inclusive, equitable and harmonious environment for our amazing students.”
Hammer sent an email to all current students and parents saying she will be creating a Student Culture Advisory group to help address these issues.
These past few weeks have reminded me that we do not live in a perfect world. This forces me to reflect on the fact that DA has room for growth. More importantly, I acknowledge the pain and frustration with the ways in which some students feel that we at DA have missed the mark of creating an inclusive environment that bridges the difference among all people. Before suggesting ways in which we can move forward, we want to honor the expression and activism of DA students, both past and present, who have reached out to me and each other during this time of national reflection. DA should be a place of equity and inclusivity where all students feel heard, seen, and accepted. Please know that we are listening and will be making necessary changes so that everyone feels they have a place at DA.
I am creating a Student Culture Advisory group to help improve the culture at DA. I am looking for students who want to partner with me to create an environment of equity and inclusivity. This group of students will serve as advisors and leaders in the work we must do to move our school forward and live up to our beliefs of bridging difference among people. The Student Culture Advisory group will meet with me monthly to discuss concerns and create solutions within our school community. This group is open to rising sophomores, juniors, and seniors. Three students from each grade level will be selected each semester, to serve on this important group.— Melanie Hammer
However Collins says that what Hammer said will happen wasn’t what they wanted.
“It wasn’t what we were looking for. I think that it is a first step for DA in the right direction, but I feel like knowing DA and having gone there, that it’s not enough,” Collins said.
Since the testimonies were published on social media, a petition demanding for change and a public statement of apology from the school have increased awareness of the testimonies. At time of publishing, close to 900 people signed the petition.
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