Acting Equity: RIT hosts Michigan Players’ production about unconscious bias in academia

Programming illustrates how bias can affect promotion and tenure decisions and provides examples of how individuals can intervene

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Provided by Michigan Players

RIT will host the Michigan Players on Thursday, April 7, and feature their acclaimed production of The Fence.

RIT will host the Michigan Players on Thursday, April 7, and feature their acclaimed production of The Fence. A touring theatre company housed in the Center for Research on Learning and Teaching at the University of Michigan, the Players create research-based performances that examine current issues in higher education. Using a variety of innovative theatrical techniques, the Players’ performances engage faculty, graduate students and university administrators in critical reflection, respectful dialogue and problem solving.

Performances take place 9–11 a.m. and 2–4 p.m. in Louise Slaughter Hall, rooms 2210 and 2220. Participants can register online for the morning or afternoon performance. The deadline for registering is March 31.

The Players have performed at universities and conferences around the nation, including at RIT in December 2014, focusing on how individuals navigate departmental politics by enacting common situations and conversations that take place in academic settings. In The Fence, members of a department’s executive committee meet to discuss whether one of their junior colleagues should be awarded tenure. The committee is split, and arguments are made both for and against the candidate.

The sketches give audience members a chance to observe the ways that unconscious bias can affect promotion and tenure decisions. Post-show discussion allows audiences to talk about faculty dynamics and experiences; it also is a means to address ways to intervene in the meeting they have just seen to create a more equitable process.

The Michigan Players troupe was established in 2000 and is based in the university’s Center for Research on Learning and Teaching. When the University of Michigan received its NSF ADVANCE Institutional Transformation grant, it was one of several initiatives developed by the grant team and the center to engage faculty in discussions about recruiting and retaining female faculty in STEM programs in higher education. All members of the troupe are professionals with theater training and familiarity with academia.

AdvanceRIT is a long-term, multi-faceted project designed to increase and advance women faculty in STEM disciplines at RIT. Funded through a $3.4 million National Science Foundation Institutional Transformation ADVANCE grant, with additional support provided by the university, this research-based project includes enhancements to faculty development programming, refinements to policies, as well as examines the challenges experienced by women faculty of color and deaf and hard-of-hearing faculty, adapting interventions to address the needs of these populations.