July 6th, 2020
Faculty and Staff of Winthrop University's Department of Theatre & Dance
To Winthrop University’s CVPA Department of Theater and Dance:
The documented murders and abuse of African Americans in the last several weeks
have once again called our nation to confront the harsh realities of its racist legacies. It has
asked all of us once again to engage in the levels of introspection needed to both confront and
dismantle institutionalized racism in both professional and academic arenas. It is important to
note that in light of this current resurgence of reform, neither individual nor institutions are clear
of complicity in the centuries-long degradation of and violence against Black and Brown people.
Winthrop University’s Department of Theatre & Dance is no exception to this offense.
On June 4th, 2020, we the alumni and current students of Winthrop University's College
of Visual and Performing Arts, were disturbed by the shallow and performative Facebook post
issued from the WU Department of Theatre and Dance that boldly stated: “BLACK LIVES
MATTER”. This department possesses a long-standing history of dismissing, alienating,
tokenizing, and discriminating against Black and Brown students. Led by chair Daniel Gordon,
the department has and continues to ignore the concerns and needs of its Black and Brown
students, while simultaneously benefiting off of their bodies under the guise of “diversity”.
Through Gordon’s egregious levels of inaction and silence, he has in turn upheld the
discriminatory infrastructure and perpetuated the anti-black culture that pervades his
department; a culture that continues to negatively impact the artistic growth of students of color
at the expense of white comfortability. It has been documented that this program has permitted
the abuse of its students of color at the unmerciful hands of faculty members, denied said
students the right to showcase stories rich with their own cultural heritage on the mainstage,
and inflicted lasting trauma that has hauntingly followed alumni into their post-Winthrop careers.
Therefore, we demand to see changes in policies, curricula, hiring, and faculty training that will
ensure the department’s commitment to protecting and enriching the lives of its Black and
Through collaboration and sharing our experiences, we have identified several
opportunities that were presented over the years to the department chair by students to drive
change. These students and their needs were rejected, invalidated, and brushed aside. This
cannot continue. Therefore, the current students and alumni of the WU CVPA Department of
Theatre and Dance demand the following changes be enacted within the program, changes we
believe will mutually benefit both the department and its students as we work to distance our
department from its racist culture:
● We demand the investigation and termination of any faculty member guilty of
committing racial aggressions, cultural appropriation, and/or utilizing intimidation tactics
of abuse towards BIack/POC students.
○ We ask for a specific investigation, conducted by an external, independent body,
into tenured professor Stephen Gundersheim for aggressions perpetrated against
Black/POC students, both current and alumni.
● For each academic year/performance season, at LEAST two mainstage productions
(one for theatre and one for dance) are written/choreographed by a Black/POC
● For the department to resolve the imbalance in curriculum that centers white/Western
theatre and dance history/texts/traditions by incorporating more works by Black/POC
choreographers and playwrights, and revising class syllabi to cover the rich histories and
performance traditions of Africa, Asia, and South America.
○ African American Theatre should be a requirement for all theatre students to
graduate and should be taught by a Professor of Color.
● Hiring Black/POC full-time faculty members in the performance, musical theatre, dance,
and design/tech concentrations.
○ In the wake of Anna Sartin’s retirement, a Black/POC design/tech professor
should be hired to replace her position.
○ Until the department's faculty positions are filled with at LEAST 50% Black/POC
professors, the department must bring in a Black/POC guest artist each
academic year to build a relationship with and cultivate talent in the department.
● The immediate abolishment of hair and nail requirements listed in any and all dance
syllabi as they are specifically discriminatory against Black female dancers.
● Institute mandatory anti-racist/Implicit Bias/Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Training for ALL
● For the Student Advisory Council to meet regularly (with representation from at least one
Black/POC student and one Black/POC faculty member) to represent and address
Black/POC student’s concerns/needs in the department.
We make these demands because we believe in the potential of this department. We
believe in its potential to foster real change, create safe spaces for all, acknowledge and care
for the mental and emotional wellbeing of its students, and most importantly, be a champion for
the Black and Brown artistic voice. We know that this department can do better, and it is our
sincere hope that the faculty have already mobilized to make some of the changes we’ve listed
above. However, we fully intend to ensure that these demands are enacted in a timely manner.
The prioritization of white narratives and white experiences must stop. It is not enough to be
non-racist. The department of Theatre and Dance must be anti-racist by recognizing and
dismantling the white supremacy that exists within its own educational institution. No individual
or institution can claim ignorance to the pervasive threats of white supremacy or the systems
that uphold it. Though four-hundred years of damage has already been done, it is never too late
for change. We look forward to learning the department’s strategy and next steps. We demand,
but believe, that they will take this opportunity to step forward and fully exemplify its statement,
Black Lives Matter, with action.
Present and Past Students of Winthrop University Department of Theatre and Dance