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Gaining New Perspectives in a College Community

Updated: Nov 15, 2020

Teresa Folan

PHHS '19, TCNJ '23

PC: Ze' Castle Photography

It was a few days after making my official social media post announcing that I would be attending TCNJ in the fall of 2019, and I got a text from a TCNJ alum. “Congratulations! You’re going to love it there!” it read. “You should totally do Lyric Theatre. I couldn’t imagine my college experience without it.” Not even a college freshman and I’m already being handed this opportunity to do something that I loved? Sign me up. Fast forward to now, and I’m part of a family that has taught me more about the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion than I could have ever imagined.

I know not everyone has an alum from their prospective college in their phone contacts telling them about their dream club or activity on campus-- but don’t let that stop you! If you’re someone like me and you want to gather information as far in advance as possible, scan your school’s website for a list of their clubs and organizations. They might even be organized by activity/purpose to help you narrow down your search. The alumni directory on this site is also a great source! Reach out to someone at a school you’re looking into and ask them about their experience in a certain organization. Or maybe, once you get to campus, an activities fair might help you find communities you’re looking for. There’s no one way to go about it; whatever fits your style!

I ended up reaching out to the Lyric Theatre director after getting her contact information and I let her know that I was interested in participating (also a strategy I’d recommend!). She replied back with a flyer and information about their upcoming auditions for Jesus Christ Superstar. I had to do a double-take; they were seeking a woman to play Jesus, specifically a woman of color, as well as women to portray other parts traditionally played by men. Sure, in high school, we had girls fill in for guy parts because we didn’t get enough guys to sign up, but this was different. At the audition, she informed me that, first and foremost, Lyric is an inclusive community where everyone is given the opportunity to be featured. She also told me that Lyric collaborates with the Arc of Mercer County and invites adults with disabilities to participate in the shows.

Once you’ve figured out your approach for finding a community, you have to think about whether or not the organization and its members reflect meaningful values. Executive board members can tell you that “everyone is welcome” all they want, but does the demographic represent that? Who makes up the body of the organization? Who makes up the leadership? How do members treat and support BIPOC? Or people part of the LGBTQIA+ community? People with disabilities? People of low socio-economic status? No organization is perfect, but it’s important to find an organization that amplifies voices, actively seeks to further educate its members, and is able to hold itself accountable.

Lyric uses theatre as a medium to spark meaningful dialogue about our society. Jesus Christ Superstar was about marginalized groups speaking truth to an oppressive power. Our spring play The Race questioned who we elect as our leaders and our operetta Trial By Jury is a satirical piece about the justice system. We used these shows also to have conversations within our organization, like about the significance of pronouns or systemic racism in our country. But like I said, no organization is perfect, and as a predominantly white group, our demographic lacks racial/ethnic diversity. In response to that, Lyric has publicly pledged to diversifying its canon and hiring BIPOC members as permanent members of the creative team, making the commitment measurable and the group easier to hold accountable.

College is such a defining point in our lives. Be intentional about the communities with which you decide to associate yourself. Don’t be afraid to ask questions (“What has your organization specifically done to support its BIPOC members?”) and to put leaders and members in check (“That joke was offensive, and here’s why…”). This is your time to learn from other communities other than yours, so use it wisely.

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