University art and theatre programs at predominantly white institutions often claim to be safe havens of artistic acceptance. Clouded by claims of ‘diversity’ and acceptance, many BFA arts programs and conservatories see themselves as exempt from racist practices and behavior. In reality, white supremacy is just as integral to the fabric of these programs as productions of Hamlet. Student artists are resisting their institutions and using their unique gifts to pave the way towards a more just arts education. Black students, Indigenous students, and students of color who have been harmed by this racist “BFA culture” are collaborating, taking action, and demanding change.
In addition to the pervasive whiteness and financial oppression often present within the superstructure of any predominantly white university, many experiences of racism and anti-Blackness are specific to drama school, ranging from unforgiving work schedules to classrooms that both inflict and exploit the students’ emotional trauma. As a white graduate of Boston University’s School of Theatre (BU), I witnessed and was complicit in this racist culture. To date, BU’s School of Theatre only has one full-time faculty member of color, and shows are often cast by tokenizing students of color, or casting white students in roles written for people of color. BU has a guaranteed casting policy which requires most students to perform in whatever show they are cast in each quarter, denying students their artistic agency.