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Caius students doing diversity differently

  • 14 October 2020

First-year students at Caius did diversity training a little differently this year, with the help of five newly-commissioned radio plays that explored social issues relevant to College life, ranging from racism, sexual consent, gender identity, class identity and mental health.

The plays, commissioned by Gonville & Caius College in collaboration with Cambridge-based theatre company Menagerie, allowed the students to explore these important themes in an engaging way, working together to act, direct and record the scripts and then to reflect on them afterwards in professionally-run workshops.

Theatre is one way of highlighting any public issue. In fact, that’s one of the things theatre does best. It cannot legislate and it cannot demand a specific way of thinking. Its unique ability is to focus on these issues through the experiences and actions of living, breathing characters. Ideally these plays will raise more questions than they answer, and they’ll be an imaginative jumping-off point for new conversations, interactions and social relationships within the college.

- Patrick Morris, Co-Artistic Director of Menagerie Theatre Company

“Placing ourselves in the shoes of others and seeing and hearing things through their eyes and ears is extremely important for developing empathy with and respect for other members of our tight-knit College community. We wanted to tackle important themes of identity and belonging in College and beyond in a dynamic, engaging and social way that avoided simply being told what to think by authority figures. Instead, we wanted them to get thinking and discussing amongst themselves right at the start of their lives in Cambridge about how they wanted to interact with those around them,” said Dr Andrew Spencer, Senior Tutor at Caius.

The audio plays were performed and recorded by each household bubble – up to 12 students grouped as a college ‘family’ during the coronavirus pandemic – during the first week of the new academic year. Students from two or three households who performed the same play then joined together socially-distanced in person to attend 60-minute workshops with Patrick Morris, Co-Artistic Director of Menagerie Theatre Company, the playwright themselves, and members of the Gonville & Caius Students' Union (GCSU) Committee to discuss their experience of recording the plays and the issues they seek to explore.

By running this initiative, we are giving the opportunity for individuals to question their own preconceptions and explore different experiences in a safe and encouraging environment.

- The Gonville & Caius Students' Union (GCSU) Committee

The plays were commissioned to challenge preconceived thoughts and encourage open honest discussion: NFA by Lorna French and the C-Word by David K.S. Tse explored race and racism, Look Me in the Eye by Nicola Werenowska highlighted class background and mental health, Chemistry by James McDermott focussed on gender identity and sexual orientation, and Chug by Ade Slack explored sexual consent.

Patrick Morris commented: “Theatre is one way of highlighting any public issue. In fact, that’s one of the things theatre does best. It cannot legislate and it cannot demand a specific way of thinking. Its unique ability is to focus on these issues through the experiences and actions of living, breathing characters. Ideally these plays will raise more questions than they answer, and they’ll be an imaginative jumping-off point for new conversations, interactions and social relationships within the college."

The Gonville & Caius Students' Union (GCSU) Committee commented: “The radio plays initiative is a unique and engaging way for freshers to discuss some of the difficult issues, including racism, homophobia, transphobia, classism and ableism that unfortunately still persist in our community.

“By running this initiative, we are giving the opportunity for individuals to question their own preconceptions and explore different experiences in a safe and encouraging environment.”

Talia Lent, a first year student studying MML (Spanish and Italian) who was involved in recording Chemistry commented on the experience: “The play and discussion emphasised the fact that everyone is at different stages of their life and many are trying to understand themselves and find their own identity. It is undeniable that now is the best time to support and be there for the people around you and check in with others as much as possible since you are not always aware of what someone might be going through mentally. It is likely that the radio plays raised awareness about issues that a lot of people experience but these experiences aren’t usually verbalised and for this reason, it will hopefully trigger mutual respect in college.”

Dr Melissa Calaresu and Dr Bronwen Everill, who have recently been appointed as the College Discrimination and Harassment Contacts at Caius, believe the production and performance of the radio plays will provide important opportunities for students to explore and talk about issues related to race, sexuality, disability, and gender. They said, “These radio plays are part of a larger programme which will encourage open discussion of these issues alongside making Caius a more inclusive space for all students, staff, and fellows.”

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