NYC’s Juilliard School subjected Black students to ‘Slavery Saturday’ experience, says student Marion Grey

The 'auditory imagination experience' on slavery that lasted nearly half an hour was dubbed 'Slavery Saturday' by the student in a video that has now gone viral. The video was said to contain 'extremely racially charged language and circumstances'


                            NYC’s Juilliard School subjected Black students to ‘Slavery Saturday’ experience, says student Marion Grey
Marion Grey’s 11-minute video account included audio clips from the experience, which was carried out in the presence of faculty members and students during an online class via Zoom (Instagram/Getty Images)

A Black student at the Julliard School in New York claimed on Instagram that the prestigious institute subjected African-American pupils to what was described as an “auditory imagination experience” of slavery that lasted nearly half an hour. 

Marion Grey’s 11-minute-long video on her Instagram account included audio clips from the experience, which was delivered with Zoom. The exercise was carried out in the presence of faculty members and students during an online class, on September 5, 2020. The experience was dubbed by Grey as “Slavery Saturday” in her video. Although the exercise took place last year, Grey posted evidence of the same to Instagram on Thursday, April 22, which has since garnered nearly 150,000 views. 

'Extremely racially charged' language

Grey posted a trigger warning at the beginning of the video, calling the video an “edited-down version” of what the students were allegedly subjected to. The video was said to contain "extremely racially charged language and circumstances." She noted in the video that no one stopped the exercise and “I did not stop it myself, because I wanted to know how long they allowed it to happen.” After introducing the exercise, two excerpts from the same were played. The first one depicted a slave auction. In the second one, a song played about slave-catching that repeated the line, “Run, [expletive], run.”



 

“This was the first week of school for our division,” she pointed out. “For our section of the school, it was still orientation, so classes have not even begun yet. And this was our first experience during the school year. This was our first quote-unquote class experience during the school year. It was allowed to happen. No one stopped it. Had it been an auditory experience of some other simulated traumatic event, had it been a 30-minute auditory experience of the Holocaust, had it been a 30-minute auditory experience of rape, I cannot believe that it would have been allowed to continue for 27 minutes.”

'This workshop was ill-conceived'

Victoria Melkonyan, a theater artist who has recently worked in New York, shared Grey’s IG post to spread awareness of what happened at Julliard. “Hi, if you wanna support Black drama students at Juilliard who were subjected to a jarring, anti-Black, half-hour-long auditory slavery exercise, please go to my Linktree and use the email template I wrote to contact Juilliard admin[istration]," she said in a thread posted on Friday, April 23. She noted, “Alumni are asking for a public apology with actionable steps.”

“When I saw Marion’s video, I was reminded of pains that I myself felt while studying theater in an institutional setting, and the exhaustion that comes with stepping into a world that refuses to make room for you,” Melkonyan told the Daily Dot via email. “Theater artists of color have to carve out spaces for ourselves. We have to be bold, better than our peers in every aspect, but we also have to protect ourselves from the inevitable harm that comes our way. These educational institutions are not built to answer for the harms they cause their students of color. After watching Marion’s video, I did what I knew best. I put my thoughts together and rallied folks to stand with Marion, hoping the noise would be enough. She had already done the tremendous labor of recounting her experience on a public platform; I just did what I could to uplift her.”

An apology put out on Julliard’s website Friday, from President Damian Woetzel, stated, “To live our values requires an acknowledgment of mistakes we have made. To that end, I want to state unequivocally that this workshop was ill-conceived and should not have occurred in the manner that it did. I extend a heartfelt apology to the individuals who have been adversely affected by it.” It added that the guest artist who led the session “is a respected artist and teacher, and has presented this workshop to other artistic communities,” with “a strong track record of work in equity, diversity, inclusion and belonging (EDIB).” The statement went on to admit, “The first section of this workshop concentrated on spirituals, and included an auditory experience of enslavement that was extremely distressing and problematic.”

Julliard has taken steps since Grey's post to heal the community, both Woetzel and Evan Yionoulis, dean and director of the drama division, asserted.

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