Walking a Mile in Another Person’s Shoes: Social Issues Theater Addresses Challenges of Inequity and Discrimination

Walking a Mile in Another Person’s Shoes: Social Issues Theater Addresses Challenges of Inequity and Discrimination

Author: Julia Rodriguez, Program Coordinator

On December 7th, 2018, 151 Burnett Middle School students came to SJSU to enjoy a day full of fun and education. After receiving a warm welcome from everyone from CommUniverCity, the students started their day off with a SJSU campus tour in collaboration with Student Outreach and Recruitment (SOAR). The focus of their exploration of the San José State University campus was to motivate and inform them about college life here at SJSU and to promote a friendly college-going environment for them as future budding university students, while learning the rich history behind the campus.  After their tours were completed, the Burnett Middle School students headed towards the SJSU Student Union Theater to prepare for the upcoming community-based educational theatrical performance created specifically for them.

“I learned that you should have pride in your ethnicity but don’t let it totally define you. We are here to fulfill our dreams and fight for what we believe in.”

As far as we may have progressed as a society, there still exist social injustices, discrimination and issues of inequity and privilege. CommUniverCity’s answer to taking on that challenge is the Social Issues Theater, which is a collaborative program in conjunction with the Communications Department of San José State University, and Burnett Middle School. This particular event focused on deeply embedded societal dilemmas that give rise to instances of unfair treatment and biases concerning racism, gender inequity, (dis)ability, and ethno-cultural heritage/citizenship. Seen through the lens of personal experience of SJSU students in Sarah McGaffey’s COMM 21, Performance Culture and Society class, the performance included a series of theatrical vignettes entitled The Unseen Privileges in America. Drawing on current issues in our world, in addition to their own interpretation of those issues, they portrayed in a very real way, the day-to-day obstacles that young people face in their struggles to fit in, to feel valued, and to establish a sense of belonging.

“I learned to be more open to other cultures and that people need to understand context and history. Especially surrounding issues of words and how they are used.”

Burnett Middle School students even got to experience, first hand, a physical limitation by binding or restricting a part of their body with red cords or by donning yellow bandanas over their eyes to reproduce the feeling of blindness while attempting to play a game of Simon Says. The students were intrigued at experiencing this new challenge and it called into question, the hidden judgments that we make when we are able to put ourselves in another’s place. After the powerful performance, the Burnett Middle School students ended their jam-packed day with a Money Matters presentation by our partners at Cathay Bank on financial literacy by Wen Chang and her esteemed associates, in addition to a dynamic and engaging closing presentation by SOAR.

“I learned that you should never discriminate and not to let anyone tell you can’t do something.”

We were honored to have San José State University President Mary Papazian, speak to the Burnett Middle School students and welcome them to San José State University.  We at CommUniverCity are thankful for her direction and vision, in addition to her support in our continuing efforts in serving the community of San José and furthering the experiential hands-on education of our SJSU students!

“I learned that differences aren’t necessarily a disability, but should be an asset.”

Needless to say, the importance of an event such as this cannot be overstated.  CommUniverCity believes that it is never too early to start educating young students on the challenges of social injustices.  This belief became concrete for us after the initial review of the data, which revealed that while 94% of the 151 Burnett Middle School students that attended reported that they enjoyed the event,  96% of them felt as if they had learned more about social injustice issues. Here at CommUniverCity, we look forward to forging ahead with this community-based educational program.  The impact of this program reflects the commitment necessary that strengthens and inspires us to fortify the three pillars of our organization’s mission statement: “Engage, Learn, and Build.”

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