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Arizona State Theatre Performance Excluded White Students, School Claims They Could Have Participated

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Arizona State University’s theatre department hosted a performance of “The Color Cabaret,” which excluded white students, a potential violation of federal law preventing discrimination based on race.

It is highly unlikely the school will face any punishment since the excluded race is white. As The College Fix reported, the description for “The Color Cabaret” says that it is “an opportunity for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of color) students in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre to create performances that speak to their own experience.”

“This performance also serves as a fundraiser for the BIPOC student scholarship fund, led by the ASU Music Theatre and Opera Student Organization,” the description also said. “Together we celebrate and highlight what makes us different.”

The State Press reported that the performance, “held Jan. 29 and 30, was made up entirely of students of color, and the songs performed told a story with heart, grace and a cultural flair representing the diverse community at ASU.”

The Fix noted that students directed the performance “under the direction of ASU Assistant Professor Nathan Myers,” and that it occurred at the university’s Evelyn Smith Music Theatre. The performing arts department also helped bring the show to life.

“Thanks to Brian DeMaris and our supportive faculty and staff, we have made it known to our entire community that diversity and equity are the pillars that carry this program,” a program for the performance said. “Through hard discussions and active change, the MTO program has made it clear that all Black, indigenous, and People of Color, no matter the artistic background, are free and welcome to take up space here,” student director Jonice Bernard wrote.

This is important because the Civil Rights Act “prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.”

The show has been performed since 2013, though it was held virtually last year. It reportedly excluded white students from participating, so the Fix asked the school if it could confirm such reporting and whether a university attorney reviewed the event to make sure it didn’t violate the Civil Rights Act.

ASU responded to the Fix by releasing an unsigned statement:

The Music Theater and Opera Student Organization (MTOSO) is one of hundreds of registered student organizations at ASU. Like every other registered student organization, MTOSO is responsible for planning and organizing its meetings and programming. And like every other registered student organization, MTSO has committed to operating in a manner that does not discriminate. Consistent with that commitment, the MTSO Color Cabaret was open to all Music Theater and Opera undergraduate, graduate, and vocal performance students.

While the statement said the event was open to all students, it did not explicitly say whether white students did, in fact, participate or were encouraged to do so along with students of color.

As the Fix noted, schools do sometimes get investigated for racial discrimination. American University is currently under investigation for offering a course only to black students.

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