Tisch School of the Arts students have set the wheels in motion for a reckoning over the school’s perceived lack of support for its students of color.
Tisch sophomore Imani Moss started a petition three weeks ago calling for more resources for students of color in the school. It now has over 300 signatures.
“If you want to be able to build your diversity on campus, you also have to help those students help you build that diversity on campus,” Moss told WSN. “Acceptance [to NYU] is just the start.”
The petition comes months after several students said they had experienced racism in Tisch’s Drama program.
One of the action steps Moss laid forth in her petition was the establishment of scholarships for students of color in the school.
“I know for a lot of my friends, specifically students of color in Tisch, [they] definitely have this anxiety that they carry with them every day about the cost of NYU,” Moss said. “I do see it a lot where mainly students of color can’t come back once they do finish a year because something changes in their financial aid or their situation changes. Then it’s kind of like, ‘Oh, well we can’t help you anymore.’”
Moss said Tisch cannot afford to hold out on addressing these issues, for its students’ sake.
“It kind of drains [students], not only mentally, but artistically, when they’re in an institution and at a school that they’re supposed to be gaining more information and gaining strength in their field from, and they feel that they are isolated or don’t have the support that they need to prosper,” she said.
Moss met with Tisch Dean Allyson Green earlier this month to discuss the petition and the school’s efforts to support students of color. Moss emphasized that Green was very responsive to the concerns she brought forth, but problems nonetheless persist at the classroom level.
“There’s a gap between what she does, and what the faculty is working on, and what the students see,” Moss said.
Moss and Green intend to coordinate a discussion with the school’s students of color in the future to provide a space where they can voice their concerns.
“One of the things I learned [from meeting with Moss] is that we need to do a better job of conveying the important initiatives we’ve developed over the last few years to support our students,” Green said in a statement to WSN. “We’ll always be working on this priority for the school, and I’m grateful that Imani has agreed to collaborate with me on bringing students together for an upcoming discussion about the issues she raised with me.”
The second suggestion Moss included in her petition was the implementation of diversity and sensitivity training for the school’s faculty.
Tisch Graduate Acting Program Chairperson Mark Wing-Davey can attest to the importance of diverse faculty. He started the Tisch Graduate Acting Faculty Diversity Mentorship Program in Tisch approximately eight years ago with alumnus Victor Williams, who was a student in a class Wing-Davey taught during his first year at NYU in 1993.
“We were doing a search for a movement position and a voice position, and we found that people of traditionally underrepresented groups were quite thin on the ground in those particular disciplines,” Wing-Davey said. “It was the result of us being frustrated ourselves eight years ago with the pool [of candidates] that led to the founding of this particular program.”
The program accepts two or three of its graduating acting program students each year who come from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds and have some interest in teaching. They shadow current faculty in the spring semester and receive a stipend.
“It’s a very small [program], but it is beginning to address something of a need that is felt,” Wing-Davey said.
Though participants do not necessarily teach at NYU after finishing the program, Wing-Davey said Tisch could benefit from similar diversity among faculty.
“I would be all in favor of that,” he said of the diversity called for in Moss’ petition. “We constantly are looking for teachers of color because we want the work that they do to reflect the student body.”
One of the petition’s signature belongs to Tisch junior Stephanie Tinsley, who said insensitivity in the classroom is putting students’ educations at risk.
“I’ve heard a lot of distressing stories about students of color feeling uncomfortable sharing their work or expressing their ideas that reflect their own experience,” Tinsley said. “Instead of having conversations that help that person’s work and help further their education and their artistry, they’re having conversations of explaining how to be accepting to their work in the first place. That’s taking away from a student’s education.”
Tinsley said Tisch needs to focus on the immediate concerns of its students of color — before it’s too late.
“Tisch likes to talk about all of their black alumni and their black staff members and say Donald Glover went here, and Spike Lee,” Tinsley said. “How about we support students of color while they’re here instead of when they’ve gone off to do great things? They’re here now, so let’s support them now.”
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Oct. 15 print edition. Email Sarah Jackson at [email protected]