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Friday, July 01, 2022

UF School of Theatre and Dance responds to students’ claims of racism

<p>Wildlin Pierrevil portraying Seaweed in the Fall production of “Hairspray." Photo by <span>Suzanna Mars</span></p>

Wildlin Pierrevil portraying Seaweed in the Fall production of “Hairspray." Photo by Suzanna Mars

After a year of “feeling marginalized, alienated and unheard,” a black UF student said he had enough with racism at the School of Theatre and Dance.

So, he sat at his laptop Tuesday and got to writing.

Wildlin Pierrevil, a 21-year-old UF musical theatre senior, wrote a lengthy Facebook post detailing how his past social media posts, letters and meetings about racism at the school have cost him roles, awards and a voice within the school. The post received more than 500 reactions and was shared 220 times.

Friday night, his college responded.

The UF Director of the School of Theatre and Dance and the Dean of the College of the Arts released statements on Facebook addressing the claims. Neither statement mentions Pierrevil by name.

Pierrevil said in his post, to his surprise, he would not be in the annual musical production despite being a senior, who are usually guaranteed a part.

Along with a racist production and scholarship refusal, the denial of a role was the third incident Pierrevil experienced that shows the “double standard that exists” within the college.

In statements addressed to “the School of Theatre and Dance Community,” both Director Peter Carpenter and Dean Onye Ozuzu wrote letters to discuss the post about “experiencing systemic racism.”

Carpenter called Pierrevil’s claims a “passionate critique of institutionalized racism within the School of Theatre and Dance.” In Ozuzu’s letter, she apologized to the student for being “failed by the system in multiple ways.”

In December, Pierrevil posted on a SoTD-affiliated Facebook page about his concerns about the disregard for students of color in the production of “Peter and the Sprinkles.”

The student-written production featured “a song performed by a full cast of my white peers singing and dancing in Klu Klux Klan cloaks and hoods.” This came after the school closed their production of “Hairspray,” a musical about racial integration in the ‘60s.

Weeks after his post about the production, Pierrevil said he wrote about his negative experiences in his SoTD scholarship application, which is an award given to students in each department.

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He said he was denied despite being the only applicant.

When no one received the scholarship, Pierrevil said he had a meeting with the musical theatre faculty in August.

“The response by the head of the program was defensiveness, deflection and denial,” he said.

His post on Tuesday was made to demonstrate a pattern.

“I just needed someone in this to see what I’m seeing and be there for me,” he told The Alligator.

Carpenter wrote his proposed resolution to the issue is an open discussion with students, alumni, faculty and staff.

Pierrevil said he felt validated and relieved when he saw the responses.

“It was nice to be relieved of the pressure of whether this was something in my mind or not,” he said.

Other SoTD students and alumni supported his post and wanted the school to act on what many described as years of racism.

Reginald Wilson, a masters of fine arts acting alumnus, posted a comment under Carpenter’s letter to students and said that he “went through hell while at UF.”

“I was told by the staff that I would have a hard time because of my skin tone,” he wrote.

Wilson, 43, graduated from the School of Theatre and Dance in 2011. He said from the moment he was recruited to UF’s fellowship graduate program, he was attacked for his color.

“The first semester is when they try to get you out of here,” Wilson said. “When I got my offer from UF, they told me my acceptance into the program was contingent upon cutting my dreads.

Nick Bublitz graduated from the school in August with a Masters in Fine Arts Acting degree.The 29-year-old said Pierrevil was in his acting class and thesis production and that he supports him for trying to articulate years of history on his own.

“I support that kid and his career almost more than mine,” he said.

At the end of Carpenter’s statement, he denied racism persisting throughout the school and said the incident was instead “a systemic breakdown.”

Perrevil said while he understands what Carpenter is saying, he still sees a problem that needs to be addressed in the school.

“I don’t think anyone in faculty is going out of their way to oppress students,” Perrevil said. “I think that the oppression exists, and they’ve been going out of their way to do little about it.”

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