The dance department’s shocking decision to cut multicultural dance classes threatened to homogenize a curriculum previously renowned for its diversity. Even after students fought back and dance classes were reinstated, problems with the Theatre and Dance Department continue to persist.
There has always been a distinct gap between the arts and sciences here at UC San Diego, which is known first and foremost as a Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math university. Despite the university’s insincere efforts to attract prospective students by promoting its highly-ranked arts and social sciences departments, the STEM ideal unfortunately continues to define a UCSD education. The university’s sudden decision to make cuts from the dance department last month cemented this commitment to a narrow-minded, completely STEM-oriented education by nearly eradicating the dance department. Tap, jazz, West African dance, beginning Latin dance, and advanced ballet were all cut from the spring schedule until they were quietly reinstated last Wednesday, and the Theatre and Dance Department has yet to offer any public explanation as to why these cuts were made in the first place.
All of the department’s decision-making has taken place behind closed doors. With absolutely no communication with students or faculty about any of these changes, this lack of transparency is contributing to increased uproar over an already myopic situation.
“Why aren’t we having the conversation?” jazz professor Alicia Rincon asked. “Why aren’t they sitting down and telling us and talking to us? These are massive changes.”
Instead of holding an in-person meeting with the impacted faculty about the cuts, the department informed each professor individually of their class’s termination by phone, email, and/or letter, perhaps to more easily avoid the unwanted questioning that would come with meeting in person. These calls and letters have been sporadic, with various faculty members being contacted at different times. As of now, not every professor has even received a letter, and this confusion over the department’s abrupt behavior is universal.
“At Christmas time,” tap and jazz professor Kristin Arcidiacono recalled, “I was given a call, and then immediately, the same day, I was sent a revised contract that nobody I had spoken to had ever seen before. “The way the department went about it was very strange. They wanted me to sign something immediately, which wasn’t quite appropriate. I eventually got a formal letter four days ago.”
This all happened just a few months after the affected professors had their contracts renewed. All of the cancelled classes are taught by part-time adjunct faculty, none of whom have tenure. Most of them have been teaching at UCSD for more than twenty years and had never experienced any issues with the dance department until now. The union is currently looking into the situation, and it is uncertain at this time if these professors will have to search for new jobs because it is unclear if cuts will be made again after spring quarter.
“I don’t know if I’ll be leaving,” Latin dance professor Maria Caligagan said. “The next 2018-19 school year — I have no idea what that’s going to look like, and none of us do. If the Chair knows, they’ve not shared that information with us.”
The chair of the Theatre and Dance Department, Charles Means, declined to be interviewed by the UCSD Guardian.
There is widespread uncertainty as to why these cuts were initially planned for the spring quarter rather than for the start of the new academic year. This abrupt change forced many students who had waited to take these dance classes to change their planned schedules.
“Why spring?” Caligagan asked worriedly. “Why isn’t it set up for the new year? That would make a lot more sense because it would at least allow students to plan what they’re going to do. That really is my big concern. I feel terrible for some of these students … what are they going to do?”
Rumors are singling out budget cuts as the culprit responsible. However, it seems hypocritical to claim the university is lacking in funding when new STEM buildings are constantly springing up around campus.
“We’re just wondering why it’s all on the backs of the dance students,” Rincon inquired. “And on certain courses that obviously have high enrollments. They were mentioning that the enrollment is not as important anymore … we are wondering where this came from, what is the mandate, can we have some paperwork on it? And no one seems able to give us the written mandate. There are a lot of questions and very little answers.”
Not only do these classes satisfy numerous GE requirements across all of the colleges, but they also provide students with stress relief, personal enjoyment, and an opportunity to meet new people. All sorts of students, regardless of their major, personal background, or level of dance experience, have enjoyed these incredibly popular classes ever since they were first introduced in the ‘90s — and the extensive waitlists prove it. Many students even sign up for them on their first pass of enrollment.
“I felt almost betrayed [by] them cutting these classes because I came into this school not knowing what I was going to be doing — going into the sciences or the arts,” John Muir College junior Kamee Mitra said. “I love having a mix of both worlds, and not having those opportunities for future students is really sad.”
It is important to note that UCSD is a public school without any academic specialization prioritized in its charter, and therefore has the responsibility to give fair consideration to all disciplines offered here — not only the STEM ones. These troubling changes to the dance department mark the latest oversight of the arts by showing where the university’s priorities truly lie.
“I already felt, from being here at UCSD, that the selection of what you can do is already limited,” Earl Warren College senior and Latin dance student Shaquille Almarines said, comparing UCSD to other Universities of California. “For them to reduce that even more doesn’t make any sense. You have a class that’s filled every single quarter, and every single quarter has a waitlist on it — but they’re going to cut that class.”
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Other Universities of California, such as UCLA and UC Irvine, have exceptional dance programs that encompass a broad range of dance disciplines and celebrate the multicultural dance forms that our university brushes aside. These multicultural classes have always been among the strongest offerings of the UCSD dance department, producing highly successful alumni who have gone on to become professional dancers, dance teachers, championship coaches, and even World Salsa Champions. Even students who don’t aspire to be professional dancers carry the skills they learn in these classes throughout life, which is why it is especially cruel to consider cutting classes responsible for bringing people together.
“I can take a picture, a screenshot, of the students that have been enrolled in a Latin dance classes, and we have every color imaginable enrolled in those classes working as a team,” Latin dance professor Tony Caligagan said. “The classes are designed for social interaction, integration, and for appreciation of other cultures … To take something that is actually diversity in action — they’re eliminating it completely — is really short sighted.”
By making the decision, however long it lasted, to cut these multicultural forms of dance, UCSD contradicted its mission as a public university to promote diversity and appreciation of other cultures. The traditionally European dance forms of ballet and contemporary have hardly been affected by these cuts and they continue to remain integral components of the UCSD dance program, whereas the multicultural dance forms were nearly rendered obsolete. It’s worth noting that UCSD emphasizes diversity to the point that it requires all undergraduate students to take a course in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for graduation, yet fails to see the value in the very dance classes that meet this requirement.
“[Students] are being told one thing about inclusion,” Tony Caligagan elaborated, “but then the behavior and action of the department that represents this university is acting in contradiction to the philosophy in inclusion by actually creating exclusion.”
Student commitment to inclusion was clearly demonstrated in a survey conducted by the undergraduate dance representatives in January of this year. 379 out of the 412 dance students surveyed voiced their overwhelming support of multiculturalism and made it clear that this shift away from a multicultural dance curriculum towards an inexcusably ethnocentric one would not be tolerated.
The quiet reinstatement of the cancelled classes the day before the undergraduate review of the Theatre and Dance Department is no coincidence. The review, which occurs every five years, invites professors from other California universities to listen to student and faculty concerns, evaluate the program, and provide suggestions for improvement based on their overall assessment. It is highly likely that the department suddenly brought back the classes in hopes of receiving a slightly more favorable review.
The undergraduate review was organized as an open forum for students to voice their concerns to the reviewers. Some of the topics discussed included: lack of departmental transparency and communication, departmental refusal to accept transfer credit, harmful implications of the dance cuts, and the inability to access rehearsal spaces. In terms of the major and classes, they also discussed prioritization of graduate students over undergraduate students, increasingly large class sizes, no reserved spots for dance majors or minors, desire for movement classes over less-practical theory classes, and frustration over rigid major requirements that favor contemporary dance over every other type.
Despite the inconvenient 1:30 p.m. meeting time, many students skipped their classes to participate. The impressive 30-student turnout dominated the small conference room allotted for the meeting, surprising the reviewers who weren’t anticipating so many students or the incredible passion they put into fighting for a well-rounded education.
“As someone who is part of both sides [theater and dance] of the department and in many groups on-campus,” undergraduate dance representative and junior Theatre and Dance double major Astrid Espitia said, “it was so empowering and it gave me so much hope to see all these students show up and stand together … The energy alone in that room was so uplifting and thriving, for the first time in a long time we were all truly dance and theatre students together, united.”
However, the review did not address all concerns and there is still much to be done. The fact that the department even decided so suddenly to make cuts is inexcusable, and the relationship between the students and the departmental figures in positions of power remains broken. That being said, this review marked an important next step in galvanizing further student resistance against negative departmental actions.
“Not everyone got to speak their minds or their truths,” Espitia elaborated. “We still have a long way to go. We are planning future meetings and organizing ourselves to create a coalition with the goal of having the department actually listen to us. Sure, we might not get anything out of the board review, but because of that catalyst — that moment — the Theatre and Dance students will never be the same. It has sparked something within us all and we are all going to push forward to be the change in our education on this campus.”
Art By Allyson Llacuna.