The playwright said that his intentions were for the performance to be historically accurate. To him, the past shouldn’t be sanitized — and he said that the racial slur was used provocatively, for audience members to feel the impact it has had in real life. The scene portrays one of the play’s three students, who is white, showing the Black student how he would be treated on their journey. Training sessions like the one portrayed were common at the time and were intended to help people understand the severity of the behavior they could face.
Mr. Brown, who joined the listening session on a video call, said the play seems to have become a catalyst for a discussion about racial relations on campus that is separate from his work
“As the conversation went on, a couple students went up and looked at my image on the screen and said, ‘It’s not your play, Mr. Brown; it’s just not the play at this place, at this time,’” he said in an interview.
Last school year, the president of the Black Student Association went on a hunger strike to raise awareness of the lack of diversity on Texas Wesleyan’s campus. Among the sources of her discontent: The university didn’t have substantial classes focused on ethnic or racial studies, despite having a diverse student body; and no established multicultural center existed for students to convene.
The protest, along with other feedback from students about concerns with the campus climate and diversity, prompted the university to announce earlier this year that it would emphasize “community, engagement and inclusion” through a strategic plan, which included measures such as incorporating multiculturalism, inclusion and anti-intolerance in its curriculum; engaging in culturally relevant teaching to connect with students of diverse backgrounds; and identifying a space on campus for multicultural student programs.
However, the discussions around the play showed that students’ grievances had not been addressed to the extent they wanted, said Jaylon Leonard, president of the student body.
“It was not the play itself, but about some things that we had dealt with in the past with the school in regard to diversity and inclusion recently that weren’t unanswered,” he said, adding that “for this to be thrown on top of those issues, it was something that we were not ready to accept.”