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College cancels play over satirized KKK imagery as it 'could potentially upset some members of the campus community'

'Putting the KKK on stage in a satirical way is not appropriate because nothing about the historical and present day ramifications of the KKK is funny'

Photo by William Campbell/Sygma via Getty Images

Washington College, a private school in Maryland, canceled a student-directed play last month the day before it was to open because some satirized characters in Ku Klux Klan robes "could potentially upset some members of the campus community," the school said in a statement to the College Fix.

What's the background?

"The Foreigner" was set to run Nov. 8 and 9, student newspaper the Elm reported, and was directed by senior Megan Stagg as part of her thesis. The climax of Larry Shue's award-winning play depicts "disenfranchised protagonists" defeating characters in KKK robes who are clearly set up as antagonists, the paper said.

But that nuance and opportunity to learn apparently wasn't compelling enough.

More from the Elm:

Out of a desire to prevent further injury to members of the WC community who already feel marginalized, Associate Professor and Interim Chair of the Department of Theatre and Dance Laura Eckelman decided to cancel the public performances. The decision was made on the evening of Nov. 7, approximately one hour before the play's final dress rehearsal.

Provost and Dean of the College Patrice DiQuinzio attended a Nov. 7 dress rehearsal to understand the show as Stagg and the department intended it, the paper said.

"We discussed many possible interventions that might help to address their concerns, including public content warnings, alterations to the KKK costumes, and a moderated public discussion after each performance, but were unable to find a satisfactory compromise," Eckelman told the Elm.

Three meetings also took place in the days leading up to the decision which included Eckelman, DiQuinzio, Vice President of Student Affairs and Dean of Students Sarah Feyerherm, Associate Professor of Theatre Brendon Fox, three staff members, five to 10 students, and Director of College Communications Wendy Clarke, the paper said.

Stagg wasn't included in the conversation about canceling the performance "due to the condensed timeline for the decision," the Elm added.

Clarke told the College Fix that Eckelman emailed Counseling Services, the Department of Public Safety, and Feyerherm two days before the dress rehearsal and warned them that the play "could potentially upset some members of the campus community" because of the characters in KKK robes.

"As an artist and an educator, I believe fervently in the value of theatre as an engine for empathy, a tool for social change, and a vehicle for encouraging difficult conversations," Eckelman told the Elm. "But I also feel a personal, social, and professional responsibility to treat my neighbors with as much care, respect, and compassion as I possibly can."

Junior Felicia Attor, the student government's secretary of diversity, told the Elm that "putting the KKK on stage in a satirical way is not appropriate because nothing about the historical and present day ramifications of the KKK is funny." She added to the paper that "this is about acknowledging the need for all, not some, students to feel safe on this campus."

What did an anti-censorship group have to say?

The National Coalition Against Censorship urged Washington College to reconsider the decision and reschedule "The Foreigner," saying "a college should no more allow the voices of some students the power to censor a student's work, than it should allow objections to books taught in class to determine the syllabus."

One last thing…
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