Not even a pandemic would prevent two College of Wooster students from creating a space for students from historically underrepresented groups in the performing arts. The recently chartered organization was founded by Teresa Ascencio ’23 and Victoria Silva ’23 with the purpose of creating “an empowering space for BIPOC students to invest in and expand on the various cultural areas of the performing arts, both on and off campus.” The idea originated last spring when the pair enrolled in Acting for the Stage, a course taught by Jimmy Noriega, professor of Theatre & Dance. Silva explained that Noriega worked to incorporate BIPOC artists or artists who were Black, Indigenous, and people of color, into his curriculum. “This floored Teresa and I as we had only been exposed to theatre in a predominantly white context,” Silva said. “As Latinx women, being exposed to a whole world of theatre traditionally shunted made us realize we needed to bring it to the forefront.”
Their progress was halted by the coronavirus pandemic, but conversations picked up before the start of the school year. Originally focused on Latinx representation in theatre, the students were convinced to make it more inclusive by Noriega, who would serve as the group’s advisor. “With the racial justice movement that arose over the summer, Dr. Noriega proposed that we transform our Latinx theatre initiative into one that encompassed all BIPOC in performing arts,” Ascencio said.
Noriega elaborated on the importance and what his role would be. “This organization is a response to the need for immediate and meaningful structural change in the performing arts at Wooster and in the larger professional world,” he said. “It is my hope, as advisor, to provide students a space of support and empowerment that will prepare them to create change on campus and in their future communities and careers.”
The students worked diligently on the charter at the end of the summer before presenting it to the charter committee, who provided suggestions for improvement. “We are proud to be an officially chartered organization and ready to make the change we dreamed of only a year ago,” they said.
Ascencio and Silva have immediate plans for the alliance, including reaching out to other organizations with similar missions to uplift BIPOC students and inviting a speaker via Zoom. “We hope to create connections between Wooster students and professionals around the world who can tell us about their BIPOC experiences and helps us go down the paths they paved,” Silva said. Already, the group participated in a workshop with playwright Edwin Sánchez and have gotten support from both current and prospective students.
Speaking to the significance of an organization like the BIPOC Performing Arts Alliance, both students shared similar sentiments. “We need to create and maintain spaces on campus for students who identify as BIPOC to feel free and safe to express themselves, in whatever form that may take,” Ascencio said. “The performing arts are known to prioritize white stories, issues, and livelihoods — this needs to change.” Silva, who noted that BIPOC need to work twice as hard in predominantly white industries, sees this organization as a step in the right direction. “I hope our organization gives our campus a chance to discuss hard topics while enjoying the art BIPOC people have made and maybe making some of our own,” she said. “This organization is a response to the need for immediate and meaningful structural change in the performing arts at Wooster and in the larger professional world,” Noriega said. “It is my hope, as advisor, to provide students a space of support and empowerment that will prepare them to create change on campus and in their future communities and careers.”