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August Wilson House Deplores CMU Map

August Wilson House Deplores CMU Map The Board and staff of August Wilson House joins with all of Pittsburgh to deplore the reprehensible, racist map CMU distributed to its students, which purposefully whites out predominantly black neighborhoods presumed to be of no cultural interest. We speak as a stakeholder in, and advocate for, the Hill District, which, far from being invisible, is the most significant community to American theater outside of midtown Manhattan. It didn’t just nurture August Wilson, it provided the geography, stories, people, history, content and heart of his epic American Century Cycle which opened up the American theater to a rich river of Black talent and inspiration. This is ironic, because while ignoring the Hill on one hand, CMU prides itself on its School of Drama and brags about its Black alumni. The Hill, Homewood and other black neighborhoods CMU whited out also gave birth, especially in music, to what scholars call the “other Renaissance,” second only to Harlem.

CMU has serious work to do to repair its relations with its neighbors, students, prospective students and all those insulted and appalled by its action. Below is the letter we have just sent President Jahanian offering our assistance and requesting a meeting.


February 10, 2020 Farnam Jahanian, President Carnegie Mellon University Offices of Leadership 5000 Forbes Avenue Pittsburgh, PA 15213 August Wilson House Response to Undergraduate Admissions Map Dear President Jahanian: On behalf of August Wilson House, we write to express our deep dismay at Carnegie Mellon University’s map of Pittsburgh given to its first-year students. We’ve read the University’s public apology but, to speak plainly, we believe the act of whiting out predominately Black communities from their undergraduate admissions resource map was deliberate. It was an act of discrimination. We want to make clear that this single document, along with CMU’s response, has created a new divide affecting the targeted communities and CMU’s own Black student population. It has also undermined collaborative efforts with the City of Pittsburgh and other partners to establish a peaceful sense of community around the region. That this ill-conceived signal to the incoming freshmen class came from the upper ranks of an elite institution of higher learning would seem almost implausible, indicating a culture of ignorance and insensitivity in the staff involved in the design, production and distribution of this publication. Merely removing the map does not address these deeper issues. August Wilson House would like to help. We speak primarily as a stakeholder in, and advocate for, the Hill District, the largest and most famous neighbor community your map whited out. Far from being invisible, the Hill District is the most significant community to American theater outside of mid-town Manhattan. It didn’t just give birth and nurture to August Wilson, it provided the geography, stories, people, history, content and heart of his American Century Cycle that opened the American theater up to a rich river of multi-disciplinary talent and inspiration that it will benefit from for generations. And everywhere that work goes, the Hill District goes with it. The Hill is also home to August Wilson House, a national historic landmark dedicated to the legacy of August Wilson and being restored as an active arts center for the Hill and Pittsburgh. www.augustwilsonhouse.org Do your theater programs take advantage of their fortunate proximity to this nexus of artistic achievement and global distinction that is unavailable to other theater programs and student populations outside of Pittsburgh? On its website, CMU’s School of Drama boasts of its star Black graduates like Billy Porter, but this is hypocrisy when the University culturally redlines areas that were important in Mr. Porter’s life and education, especially since he went to CMU from CAPA, then located in Homewood, another community your map whites out. The irony of the map is that some of your students have benefited from direct engagement with the Hill District. In 2016, students in a UDBS Reality Computing class taught by former Director John Folan worked under Project RE with August Wilson House all semester, learning about its history, historic preservation, Auto-Desk, the restoration of mahogany gables and window hoods relating to a period of significance, and created a 3-D model of the site with a drone. The now historically accurate refabricated gables and window hoods will be a feature of the restored House. You should know that the students of our community partner, Duquesne University, by and through the Office of the President and its Honors College, have long benefited by exposure to the rich legacy of the Hill District, thanks to the Signature Partnership we established in 2011 and a subsequent joint fellowship program. The University of Pittsburgh, through its Community Engagement Center and Center for African American Poetry and Poetics, is also a valued partner. The faculty and students of each have engaged with the community via cultural preservation efforts, artist residencies and oral history programs, all taking place in the Hill District, in exchange for academic credit and unique educational experiences. August Wilson House hosts and organizes an annual (2020 will be the 5th) August Wilson Birthday Celebration Block Party, a festival that galvanizes the entire community and elevates, promotes, and otherwise preserves the rich cultural vibrancy of the Hill District and the city. augustwilsonbirthdaycelebration.com We would like to invite the CMU community so they can see for themselves the reservoir of cultural offerings available and enrich their worldly perspectives and educational experience. We suggest a meeting between your leadership and ours, to discuss solution-oriented ideas to address the real issues underlying this unfortunate situation. We have specific proposals, and we are interested in your thoughts about a prospective collaboration where we work together in a manner that sends the right message to the affected communities, CMU students (especially the Black Student Union, which has been stigmatized), the residents of the Hill District, and the City of Pittsburgh. We look forward to a timely response, including proposed dates and times that we can meet with you, Provost James Garrett and any other relevant leaders.

Thank you. /s/ Denise R. Turner Denise R. Turner, President, and the Board and Staff of August Wilson House

Source: August Wilson House


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