On Thursday, Feb. 23, a whiteboard in the SAC lobby presented onlookers with a mathematical equation asking them to solve for “n.” Although it may have appeared to be a math problem, the equation — Rape × White = 3 months, Weed × “n” = 156 months — sought to explore why black and white individuals who commit criminal offenses receive unequal treatment.
The performance references Brock Turner, a white student athlete from Stanford University who raped a woman and was given a sentence of three months for his crime. Here, Turner’s case was contrasted with Bernard Noble, a black father of seven who is serving 13 years with no possibility of parole for possessing the equivalency of two joints of marijuana.
Some students and staff stopped to take photos of two students with signs summarizing the facts behind the Brock Turner case and the Bernard Noble case. Others actively participated by writing on the whiteboard equations like n = anyone not white and n = an unfair justice system.
Students in THR 351: Acts of Race and Justice are speaking up about racial injustice with performances throughout the semester. The 10-15 minute performances have sparked conversations about topics considered taboo by society, such as racism.
The following week, a performance by Eunice Asare, a black sophomore English major, and senior psychology major Kristin Clark stirred both participants and audience members alike when Asare wore a for-sale sign asking, “What would you pay?” A string was binding both the girls’ legs, appearing as though they couldn’t move at the March 30 protest outside the library.
“It was like a throwback Thursday,” Asare said. “If you would have seen an auction scene back then, what you would do? The slaves used to be naked in front of people. I wasn’t even naked, but I felt humiliated because I had all of those people gazing at me. Even people I knew were staring at me, and I had to look at the sky. I couldn’t look at them.”
A student reposted a picture of the two girls wearing the for-sale signs on Instagram. User stephie_r0se posted “This stopped me dead in my tracks and made my heart skip a beat. #drivenbysocialjustice #findyourvoice351 #stonybrookuniversity.”
“I felt really moved,” Alexander Varga, a junior health science major, said. “All I could think about when viewing the presentation was how the magnitude of suffering people of color in this country have went through, and how the oppressive forces responsible still exist today to some extent, just much more covert. Aside from empathy, I feel a responsibility as a privileged member of our society to contribute in some way, anyway that I can to make a difference. Exposing people unaware of these injustices continuing under our noses is the first step.”
THR 351 is the second part of a two-part sequence, which recommends students to take EGL 388: American Narratives of Race and Justice. EGL 388 is a think tank where students learn about prejudiced ideas and discuss solutions based on acts of racial injustice.
EGL 388 requires students to read scholarly works, analyze history and current events, and watch films and uncut, unedited interviews of NYPD officers. The students also study psychology to better understand the differences between implicit bias — unconscious stereotyping — and institutional racism.
THR 351 allows students to take concepts they learned from EGL 388 and express them through live performances. These types of demonstrations, known as “Pop-Up Awareness Theatre,” are meant to spark conversation and keep people informed.
“We need to have a thorough exploration that’s rooted in knowing. It’s been a real challenge… We need to breathe in and digest some things before we breathe out,” said Elizabeth Bojsza, co-instructor of the THR 354 class. “There needs to be an understanding of the issues to create art. It’s not just emotional reactions to stimuli. Without a foundation of knowledge, it doesn’t yield a good artistic project.”
The process of making a presentation is a collaborative effort. A student will bring up an idea, then the class of 15 looks at the situation from multiple perspectives, challenging each other’s thoughts and analyzing the meaning behind each piece. The discussion process helps break down defensive barriers between individuals, Stephanie Walter, co-lecturer of EGL 388 and THR 354, said. The dialogue also elicits empathy and understanding between the two opposing parties and brings the students together.
“There is a natural bridge between literature and theatre. Each story is connected because life is a narrative,” Walter said.
At the end of the semester, the group will stage a final performance. But in the meantime, the students are still planning several other performances before then.