julliard slavery experience black students

@followmarion/Instagram

Viral video shows Black Juilliard students subjected to slavery exercise

A student who experienced the exercise now calls that day 'Slavery Saturday.'

Apr 27, 2021, 1:55 pm*

IRL

 

Phil West

Black students at the Julliard School in New York were subjected to what was described as an “auditory imagination experience” of slavery lasting nearly a half hour. That’s according to a Julliard student who posted a segment of the exercise on Instagram.

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The video, on Marion Grey’s Instagram account, clocks in at more than 11 minutes, and includes audio clips from the experience. According to Grey, the experience was delivered with Zoom, with faculty members and students together for the online class, on Sept. 5, 2020. Grey dubbed the experience “Slavery Saturday” in her video.

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Grey posted the video to Instagram five days ago, and it’s received nearly 150,000 views since then.

She posted a trigger warning before playing the audio of the exercise, calling it an “edited-down version” of what they were subjected to. She noted in the video, “I did not stop it myself, because I wanted to know how long they allowed it to happen.”

julliard slavery exercise trigger warning
@followmarion/Instagram
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After introducing the exercise, she then plays two excerpts from it—the first depicts a slave auction, and the second appears to be a song about slave-catching that repeats the line, “Run, n****r, run.”

“This was the first week of school for our division,” she pointed out. “For our section of the school, it was still orientation, so classes have not even begun yet. And this was our first experience during the school year. This was our first quote unquote class experience during the school year.”

“It was allowed to happen,” she continued. “No one stopped it. Had it been an auditory experience of some other simulated traumatic event, had it been a 30-minute auditory experience of the Holocaust, had it been a 30-minute auditory experience of rape, I cannot believe that it would have been allowed to continue for 27 minutes.”

Grey’s IG post was shared by a Twitter user, appearing to be a theater artist who has recently worked in New York, campaigning to spread awareness of what happened at Julliard.

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The author of those tweets, using the @venusisvain account, is Victoria Melkonyan, whose professional website is attached to the Linktree attached to her Twitter thread.

The thread, which was posted Friday, started, “Hi, if you wanna support Black drama students at Juilliard who were subjected to a jarring, anti-Black, half-hour-long auditory slavery exercise, please go to my Linktree and use the email template I wrote to contact Juilliard admin[istration].”

https://twitter.com/venusisvain/status/1385495514544689152?s=20

Their Linktree goes to a Google Doc version of a letter they encouraged others to send, with six email addresses to Julliard officials.

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That letter faulted the exercise on several fronts, enumerating:

  • “There was no consent — the workshop was advertised as mandatory;”
  • “There was no care — the Black students subjected to this exercise were not taken care of;”
  • “There was no questioning — Why was this exercise being offered? What was the end goal? What were the faculty thinking?” and
  • “There was no point” —  for which she added, “Full offense, what the fuck?” before calling for “something more articulate here” for whoever was adopting it.

The thread continues with a link to Grey’s Instagram; the tweet reads, “For context: Please watch this video posted by followmarion on instagram, who is a Juilliard drama student and was a participant of the workshop.”

https://twitter.com/venusisvain/status/1385495515542876162?s=20
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The thread continues with a trigger warning and a call for Julliard to respond; she notes, “Alumni are asking for a public apology with actionable steps.”

“When I saw Marion’s video, I was reminded of pains that I myself felt while studying theatre in an institutional setting, and the exhaustion that comes with stepping into a world that refuses to make room for you,” Melkonyan told the Daily Dot via email. “Theatre artists of color have to carve out spaces for ourselves. We have to be bold, better than our peers in every aspect, but we also have to protect ourselves from the inevitable harm that comes our way. These educational institutions are not built to answer for the harms they cause their students of color.”

“After watching Marion’s video, I did what I knew best,” they added. “I put my thoughts together and rallied folks to stand with Marion, hoping the noise would be enough. She had already done the tremendous labor of recounting her experience on a public platform; I just did what I could to uplift her.”

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One Twitter user responded to Melkonyan’s thread Sunday, noting “I got a response” to a letter to Julliard, and sharing screenshots from that.

That corresponded with an apology put out on Julliard’s website Friday, from President Damian Woetzel, stating, “To live our values requires an acknowledgment of mistakes we have made. To that end, I want to state unequivocally that this workshop was ill-conceived and should not have occurred in the manner that it did. I extend a heartfelt apology to the individuals who have been adversely affected by it.”

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It added that the guest artist who led the session “is a respected artist and teacher, and has presented this workshop to other artistic communities,” with “a strong track record of work in equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging (EDIB).” But the statement went on to say, “The first section of this workshop concentrated on spirituals, and included an auditory experience of enslavement that was extremely distressing and problematic.”

Both Woetzel and Evan Yionoulis, dean and director of the drama division — who had a companion statement attached—assert that Julliard has taken steps since the workshop Grey called “Slavery Saturday” to heal the community.

But Grey’s video from Wednesday expressed that she didn’t feel they’d done enough up to that point.

“Frankly, I do not have any belief anymore in the school and this institution, or in its administrators, that Black lives matter enough, Black lives don’t, in my opinion, they don’t matter here.”

The Daily Dot has reached out to both Grey and Julliard for comment.

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Correction: Melkonyan uses the they/them pronouns.


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*First Published: Apr 26, 2021, 6:47 pm