Theory of Connectivity...

Sedehi Diversity Project

Roxy Schoenfeld '12 is a theatre major with a double-minor in music and women’s studies. She's the director and co-creator of "Diversity: Why Whisper It?" – a theatre production that introduces incoming students to issues of multiculturalism at Muhlenberg College.

The play is the latest in a series of annual documentary theatre pieces produced by the Sedehi Diversity Project, a campus group founded in 2006 by theatre/political science double major Desiree Sedehi '08. The “SDP” was created to start candid conversations with first-year students about what it means to be part of Muhlenberg's diverse community.

Performed during Orientation Weekend, this year’s play was created by Roxy and an ensemble of eight student performers. Some of the students are enrolled in Muhlenberg’s top-ranked theatre program, while others come from departments such as anthropology, English and psychology. In previous years, performers with majors in physics, business and neuroscience have participated in the production. These students embody more than just diverse academic interests; they also represent a spectrum of different bodies, backgrounds, cultural traditions, faiths and sex/gender identities.

Drawn together with the common goal of welcoming new students into the campus dialogue, SDP ensembles spend months every year interviewing Muhlenberg students, professors and staff members about racism, sexism, homophobia and other forms of bias. The interviews are combed for comments likely to stimulate discussion about difference, and these are then woven into theatrical dialogue to be performed in the play. This form of documentary theatre allows the performer to walk a bit in a fellow community member’s shoes, while simultaneously giving new students a chance to eavesdrop on real campus conversations.

“I believe it very important to pay attention and listen when viewing this play,” says Roxy. “It’s a distinct experience that lets you hear from community members about how they encounter situations on a daily basis, about how Muhlenberg works and about how people as individuals work.”

Troy Dwyer is an assistant professor in the Department of Theatre & Dance and the faculty director of the Sedehi Diversity Project. He says that the SDP is the most effective educational program he’s seen in his career.

“The students live together in the same residence hall space when they’re creating the piece. They actually become a living-learning community,” says Dwyer. “Despite their differences, they develop a fierce commitment to each other. It permeates the play, and it's something first-year students really notice. The conviction that diversity really matters becomes personal to them. The SDP is an intimate and honest program that doesn’t just teach about community, it embodies it.”

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