Today, on Thursday February 1st, students, faculty, and members of the Kenyon community gathered in the Bolton theater to participate in a forum regarding the concerning nature of the former spring mainstage The Good Samaritan. Wendy MacLeod ‘81, both a professor of Drama and Playwright-in-Residence, wrote and then released the script to the Kenyon community in hopes of gathering feedback for the spring production. Since Professor Macleod’s student-wide email with the script, the campus has engaged in conversations about the racist and harmful themes throughout the play. We at The Thrill have already published two messages to the campus, from both students and faculty. We encourage you to read them both.
Professor Macleod initially released the script to the campus in order to engage in a dialogue between the community and herself. Over the course of the week, in reaction to rising demand to cancel the spring production, President Decatur released a statement encouraging discourse, protecting the spirit of academic freedom, and offering a slight change in events. Professor Macleod would no longer field questions and comments herself, but instead sit on a panel with relevant members of the campus community. President Decatur named Associate Provost Jeff Bowman as the moderator, and he invited Ivonne Garcia (Associate Provost and founding faculty of the Latin@ studies concentration), Balinda Craig-Quijada (Professor of Dance and chair of the Drama, Dance, and Film department), and Jonathan Tazewell (Professor of Drama) to sit on a panel with Professor Macleod.
However, on January 31st at 5:05 pm, Professor Macleod released a statement to the entire campus community, stating that she would be withdrawing the play and cancel the spring Bolton show. While never explicitly apologizing for the discomfort and harm her script caused for many, she did state she would no longer attend the panel– citing a hope “that the community can get to issues larger than a single play.” Many students (and faculty), including the writing and editing staff at The Thrill, found the lack of accountability both frustrating and disappointing.
After Professor Bowman introduced the event, each panelist gave their piece before the floor opened for discussion. Professor Tazewell began, first asserting that “I have been the object of microaggressions and macro, from students, faculty, friends, people in this room,” and acknowledging that he too is surely guilty of doing wrong by others. He concluded urging that we listen to each other, ask, and try to seek understanding. Craig-Quijada referenced MacLeod as her colleague, and her absence from the discussion, but called that her absence should be respected. She concluded that she had both massive respect for the student body and Adelante, and pride in the Kenyon community.
Garcia laid out the case against The Good Samaritan. She (along with Professor Katherine Weber) expressed sympathy for the distress this play caused for students and faculty both Latinx and not, before addressing the problems in representation of the play’s sole Latinx character, Hector. Garcia explained that Hector has less than five percent of the lines in the play, displays animalistic behavior (e.g. making bird sounds, patting his chest ape-like), speaks an incorrect Spanish that is either wrong, mixed with Italian, or purposely changed for comic effect from the play’s white characters, often to reference a stereotype. “Does he speak Spanish or gobbledygook?” she asked the audience. “Is the character really from Guatemala or could they be from anyplace?” She argued further that Hector is a plot device, and portrayed as stupid or less aware than any other character. She claimed that the problem of human trafficking is too distressing for Latinx people to consider it a joke. Garcia then concluded with the hope that this incident encourages more plays written by POC, and urged that academic freedom be preserved–the freedom MacLeod had to write the play is the same freedom the community has to criticize its content.
Professor Clara Román-Odio opened the discussion with remarks both addressing her widely circulated message to Adelante and further concerns for the play. She counted thirty instances of offensive statements in the play, including several direct relations of the character to cocaine, poverty, crime, incorrect Spanish, and degrading actions such as pants-wetting and being undressed used again to comic effect. Román-Odio further asked two questions: What is the purpose of this portrayal? and Why is there no acknowledgement of Hector’s humanity? This is for her the failure of the play as a satire and as a work of racial tolerance or empathy.
Several responses from the audience included student criticisms to the work being seen as illegitimate by unqualified perspectives, particularly with regard to the LGBTQ+ community, as well as questions of why the drama department didn’t stop this play earlier. Tazewell responded by stating that artwork, despite being possibly offensive in its initial stages, should not be challenged or censored, and urges that we wait until the final product and find a place in our hearts to trust people.
Several students articulated criticism regarding MacLeod’s absence from the discussion and previous body of work, with one student claiming this is “not the first time MacLeod produced something questionable” referring to her play The Gay Agenda. This student is not alone, given the crowd response, and another student referencing “four separate [MacLeod] plays that offend people in the LGBT acronym.” Professor MacLeod’s play, The Ballad of Bonnie Prince Chucky, from the fall of 2014 had similar critiques during its production.
Professor Fred Baumann then spoke on the need to keep the discussion rational, and defended some of the criticized details in the play as misguided tropes. Baumann went on to claim, “Today is the end of Kenyon as a school where liberal education goes on,” and rebuking crowd laughter said, “This has been made too personal, far too personal,” criticizing claims made against MacLeod’s character. Baumann also drew a comparison between the calls from the Kenyon community to censor or silence this play and to Nazi Germany’s silencing of the Jews, and it is that kind of behavior that would contribute to the end of liberal education.
Garcia responded that “No one here…is advocating for silencing the play” and originally intended to create counternarratives to the play if it were to go up. She urged again that this was not an attack on MacLeod’s character and references Baumann’s claim as echoing an often repeated one that blames Latinx people for the disintegration of an institution. To which Sebastian Chávez Erazo, co-president of Adelante, replied “It is because of people like us here that there is liberal education,” and urged people come to an Adelante meeting “Not just when there’s a problem.”
Wendy MacLeod has opened her office hours to anyone who wishes to discuss the play with her, Tuesdays and Thursdays 4-5 pm, and Wednesday 2-5 pm. Adelante will be having a meeting this Friday at 5:15 pm– attend and participate.