WHAT IS RISE?
RISE is a collective within the Hunter College Dance Department of faculty, students, and staff committed to shifting the colonial, white supremacist, racist philosophies/behaviors that directly and indirectly devalue, oppress, and traumatize BIPOC members of the community. RISE is for collaborators who create programming that centers community engagement, builds trust/relationship, and challenges assumptions around pedagogy and learning.
On November 10, 2020 four Hunter Dance faculty members (David Capps, Maura Donohue, Quilan Arnold, and Jessica Nicoll) met to discuss the Dance Department administration’s first attempt to address issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion within the department and in response to the resurging Black Lives Matter movement, and the deafening silence that followed. The only departmental effort to directly discuss issues of systemic racism was a single (August 25) Zoom meeting led by Deborah Cohen of Human in Common—encouraging faculty to implement community agreements and use Human in Common’s DEI language in course syllabi; there was no follow-up.
As the Fall semester began, Hunter Dance administration focused on the pandemic and budget cuts. The cuts, implemented without community input and described as pandemic-related, went straight at BIPOC courses. The elimination of Hip Hop 2 was just one example of ongoing patterns of unacknowledged inequity within the department. Canceling the course, with no explanation, intensified BIPOC community members’ experience of being silenced and heightened frustrations among students and faculty. The participants in the November 10 meeting noted students’ expressions of duress and voiced their desire to begin small; calling on several students and faculty members who were committed to trying to change the culture from within.
On November 17, four students joined the initial group of concerned faculty: Ashley Bethea and Zenzilé Tongé, undergraduates and leaders of Hunter College’s Black Student Union (BSU), who were spearheading a campaign (ultimately successful) to re-instate the cut Hip Hop course; and Karisma Jay and Maxine Montilus, MFA students and leaders of the Black Dance at Hunter Collective (BDHC), who pushed the college’s administration to support the Dance Department’s participation in a People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond (PISAB) workshop, Undoing Racism. (Over several months, the BDHC effort, supported by a follow-up letter from the White Anti-Racist Caucus (WAC) also showed evidence of success.)
This group of eight (plus, on occasion, another undergraduate student, Portia Wells) resolved to meet bi-weekly to support actions to focus the Dance Department on developing an inclusive curriculum and building community-wide, anti-racist pedagogy. After several meetings the group chose a name—Re-Imagine Social Equity (RISE). In addition to the letter campaigns by BSU and BDHC, RISE has been behind the Kick-Off events of Spring 2021 (including Welcome Week, Mash-Up classes and gatherings in Spatial Chat); the Conditions for Change: A Pedagogical Cypher event sponsored by Transformative Learning in the Humanities; and the continuing organization of the upcoming PISAB workshop (August, 2021) and coordinated events that will occur in Fall 2021.