In response to the June 8 letter to the editor titled “Diversity born of prejudice”:
As company members of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and community members of the Rogue Valley, we stand in solidarity with Southern Oregon University and its efforts towards equity, diversity and inclusion of their students and staff. The benefits of diverse communities, workforces and student bodies are numerous.
As part of OSF’s values, we state that “a diversity of people, ideas and cultures” in our work “enrich our art, our relationships with each other, our audiences and our community,” and we know this to be true. We see it in the stories on our stages and the actors telling them, as we intentionally create art that, regardless of when it was first written, is reflective of the cultural makeup of our nation today.
We see it in our community productions and outreach including the Green Show programming, Culture Fest, Daedalus Project, Juneteenth, Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration and others, honoring our country’s diversity and celebrating unity. We see it in our audiences growing increasingly diverse year by year; we see it in our community.
When folks of different backgrounds come together, the wealth of sharing different perspectives changes how we view the world and ourselves. There are also many challenges, many difficult conversations, many assumptions and errors, particularly on the part of those of us in the dominant culture.
Hearing what people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and the differently abled, go through on a regular basis in this community is heartbreaking. They are followed, harassed, attacked, questioned, excluded, ridiculed, and ultimately the accounts of their experiences of discrimination are often not believed.
Indeed, it is so easy to deny these experiences exist because we know this is a good community filled with good people who have the best intentions. But the best intentions can be dismissive, belittling, hurtful, even dangerous, if one never ventures outside of their own sphere of experience, asks questions, or tries to see things from the other side.
Diversity is a fact of the United States, especially in the 21st century; inclusion is what we make of that fact. OSF is a theater with a social justice mission, and our work of inclusion is ever evolving and never done. And it is difficult, difficult work. But through these efforts we find compassion for each other, more authentic relationships and a more humane way to move through the world. We strive to be an inclusive and equitable organization, and we, along with our community, have much work to do.
For those individuals who belong to groups that have been systemically marginalized, underrepresented and historically oppressed, equitable representation is not “a leg up,” nor is it charity. Diversity existing in any space does not automatically constitute equality or fair treatment of its members. Inclusion and equity must be intentionally created.
We all have a responsibility as human beings to treat each other humanely, and creating equal opportunity and access to education is among the bare minimum of what collectively needs to be done. Making assumptions about who receives that education and why is counterproductive and prejudiced.
We support SOU and the many other educational institutions, businesses, organizations and community groups in the Rogue Valley who share this vision. We only stand to gain by committing to strengthening our diversity, fostering truly inclusive environments, and creating equal access and opportunity for all.
Bill Rauch is artistic director and Cynthia Rider is executive director of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.