Campus Reform | Citing their ‘feelings,’ university theater students rail against play selection

Citing their ‘feelings,’ university theater students rail against play selection

Western Washington University theater students are trying to cancel their department’s fall play since their “identities” were “grossly misrepresented in this decision.”

In addition to “trigger warnings” for sexual harassment and “inappropriate portrayals of gender and sexuality,” the students are concerned that depictions of isolation would be “mentally taxing” due to recent COVID-19 quarantines.

Western Washington University theater students attempted to cancel their department’s fall play because their “identities” were “grossly misrepresented in this decision.”

According to a letter from students to the school’s theater department, the play “No Exit” by Jean-Paul Satre “holds problematic themes.”

As Encyclopedia Britannica describes, the 1944 play centers upon three recently deceased individuals and their experience in the author’s perception of hell. One of the characters, Inez, is a predatory lesbian.

“When choosing a play for the upcoming season, there seemed to be a blind spot: gender and sexuality were not considered,” wrote the students. “We understand that this is a piece that is meant to challenge us as a department, but this play is not challenging if it doesn’t allow us to feel safe. We as students do not shy away from challenging pieces, but we will be critiquing the department if they create an unsafe space for us to create art.”

“We feel that we have not been represented as a community and that some of our identities have been grossly misrepresented in this decision,” the letter continued, explaining that the students “created a formal list of our feelings towards this piece and how we feel harmed by it.”

The students first alleged that the play “puts WWU in a bad light, especially after all the diversity training, we've been doing.” They note that “students, audiences, and faculty will feel betrayed by this production and the gender stereotypes that it perpetuates.”

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“The stereotype surrounding Inez is inaccurate and extremely harmful and perpetuates abusive ideals around lesbian-identifying individuals,” continued the students. “This the wrong kind of queer representation that is very hurtful to LGBTQ+ people in the student theater community.”

Noting that lesbian identities are a “big part” of the theater department, the students condemn “No Exit” as a “very forward anti-lesbian play in the stereotypes that it perpetuates about lesbians being predatory to any woman that comes to them.”

The students also condemn the play because it was “written from the perspective of a cis-male writer” and offers depictions of sexual harassment that “may reignite feelings of trauma within audience member and students that are watching.”

Even more so, students believe that the play could be “traumatizing” to people who have experienced quarantine due to COVID-19.

“Producing a play where the characters are trapped in isolation will be something that is mentally taxing for the community to watch,” continued the letter. “Especially if we are still in quarantine at that time.”

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The students offered several suggestions for alternatives to “No Exit.” However, should the play continue as planned in the fall, the students requested “trigger warnings” for “inappropriate portrayals of gender and sexuality,” “depictions of sexual harassment,” and “depictions of isolation.”

The students likewise asked for “sensitivity training led by an outside professional for everyone involved in the production” and “a female and LGBTQ+ led panel before or after the play that is REQUIRED for all audience members to attend.”

However, the theater department has decided to go ahead with the play, "No Exit," although they did agree to provide content warnings, according to KGMI.

Western Washington University student and letter creator Katie Ginther told Campus Reform that she is “hopeful that we will move forward with compassionate understanding between students and staff with respect of different points of view.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @MaxBrown24