“It isn’t always easy — as a marginalized student — to build up the courage and to speak up on behalf of a cohort of students who have been systemically overlooked. But it is important to continuously bring awareness to the various implications I and others suffer at the hands of a curriculum that claims to see you and your art, but leaves you questioning when it will make an appearance…”— Shenel Williams
On August 26th, 2020 Shenel Williams wrote an open letter to Dean Sarah Bay-Cheng and Professor Susan Cash of the Dance Department Faculty at York University. In the letter Shenel along with you circle of supporters wrote.
We write as the Dance Students Association, and students in this department, to call upon you and the department to build a learning community that nurtures differences and upholds the humanity of all of its members, especially those whose voices have historically been silenced and marginalized. We are invested in an education that values diverse ways of knowing and learning. We yearn to dismantle systems of oppression that hinder Black liberation, Indigenous sovereignty, and the flourishing of oppressed peoples. We are eager to encourage a holistic plan to address long-standing issues of Social Justice, Equity and Inclusion in our department.
To that end, we urge you to move beyond superficial measures meant to temporarily appease Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC) communities, and instead to invest in significant and lasting systemic changes. We especially encourage substantive evaluations of curriculum to determine the ongoing pervasive impact of white supremacy and colonialism in pedagogy, which permeate the theory, practice and forms, in the ways dance is taught in the department. We also want to support the development of programs to support BIPOC students and faculty, specifically, in order to address and rectify the historic and present-day inequities that plague our discipline.
Download the full letter
They closed the letter with: We, the students, are open to communication, and to continually be involved in the concrete steps we will take to eliminate white supremacy in order to prioritize voices, pedagogy and experiences of BIPOC people. We also recognize that the dance world faces unique challenges in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. We know that decolonizing academia and unsettling our pedagogies will take work, and we do not expect this to happen overnight. However, it must be a priority moving forward, and with this letter we have communicated our position. In closing, we look forward to being in on-going communication. This will take all and everyone of us.