The Juilliard Black Alumni Association (JBAA) outlined its mission statement and the steps it hopes the school will institute in order to create a more equitable conservatory in a letter sent to the school’s board of trustees earlier this week.
Twenty five Black alumni of The Juilliard School formed the organization in May in response to the controversial “Slavery Saturday” workshop curated by the drama division on Sept. 5, 2020. That immersive workshop, which reportedly involved sounds of “cracking whips, rattling chains, slave auction shop talk, and racial slurs” in an effort to replicate the experience of being enslaved. But it also inspired a great deal of criticism, with some students saying it was needlessly traumatic. They argued that the exercise was part of a longstanding tradition of harm inflicted upon Black Juilliard students as a result of pedagogical and administrative decisions rooted in systemic racism.
Julliard is one of the top acting schools in the world. Its alumni includes Patti LuPone, Robin Williams, Laura Linney, Anthony Mackie, and Mandy Patinkin.
JBAA’s letter introduced a more aggressive approach for the school to diversify the drama division faculty and staff, including the intentional employment of Black counselors, therapists and trauma specialists as well as allocating specific funds to hire Black faculty. The organization also urged the board to implement a clear code of conduct that highlights the consequences for future incidents.
The 25 founding members of JBAA are Maechi Aharanwa, Bobbi Baker, Jasmine Batchelor, Francois Battiste, Nicole Beharie, Brittany Bradford, Danielle Brooks, Jimonn Cole, Lee Edward Colston II, Danaya Esperanza, Brandon Hall, Corey Hawkins, Joaquina Kalukango, Brandon Gill, Jules Latimer, Vella Lovell, Chris Myers, Teyonah Parris, Johnny Lynn Ramey Jr., Medina Senghore, Stacey Scott, Austin Smith, Carolyn Michelle Smith, Desean Terry and Sheldon N. Woodley.
“JBAA looks forward to collaborating with The Juilliard School leadership to help create a truly equitable conservatory, one where students can pursue their training in an environment free of bias,“ the founding members said in a statement. “Systemic change requires diligence, and with the commitment of an expanded network of dedicated alumni, our aim will be to demand institutional accountability in dismantling systems of oppression, and to provide additional resources for Black students at Juilliard through mentorship and community building.”
JBAA’s mission statement reads as follows: “The Juilliard Black Alumni Association seeks to foster empowerment and community between Black alumni, current students, and faculty with a focus on the institution’s continued commitment to offer equitable and inclusive conservatory training to students of the African diaspora. JBAA’s mission is to affirm and uplift the voice of the Black Juilliard artist, promote a holistic learning environment devoid of anti-Blackness and Eurocentric bias, and maintain a vibrant network of Black alumni all over the world who, through passionate engagement with the Juilliard community, work to preserve the legacy of the Black Juilliard student.“