The Scarlet & Black

The Independent Student News Site of Grinnell College

The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Feven Getachew
Feven Getachew
May 6, 2024
Michael Lozada
Michael Lozada
May 6, 2024
Nathan Hoffman
Nathan Hoffman
May 6, 2024
Harvey Wilhelm `24.
Harvey Wilhelm
May 6, 2024

Diversity Dialogues onstage

On Thursday, Oct. 2, Emmy award-winner Ron Jones and performer Larry Jay Tish presented their improv-based, interactional and thought-provoking play, “The Black-Jew Dialogues,” in the Harris Center Concert Hall.

The performers were brought to campus by the collaborative efforts of the Coordinator for Diversity and Inclusion in Athletics Justin Thaxton, the Center for Religion, Spirituality and Social Justice, head swim coach Erin Hurley, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the Theatre and Dance Department.

Ron Jones and Larry Jay Tish address diversity during their performance in Harris. Photo by Shadman Asif.
Ron Jones and Larry Jay Tish address diversity during their performance in Harris.
Photo by Shadman Asif.

Hurley met Jones on an airplane and after a short conversation, Jones shared that Grinnell was the only school in Iowa where “The Black-Jew Dialogues” had not yet been performed. Shortly after, Hurley enlisted Thaxton’s help to bring the show to campus.

Thaxton jumped at the opportunity to provide Grinnellians with a new perspective and to open up discussion about race and identity on campus.

“We want to bring them here so we can open up a new dialogue that kind of speaks to everyone having a place here [and] … people having their own individual cultural background,” Thaxton said. “My hope is that students will be open to the process.”

The show itself was inspired by Tish’s interest in engaging in meaningful dialogues across communities.

“I’ve always been interested in dialogues … and one day the title just popped into my head: ‘The Black-Jew Dialogues,’” Tish said.

After his initial idea for the show, Tish sought out help from Jones, who he had met through their work together in virtual reality theater. Together, they created the show, drawing from their unique experiences.

“I just had the title, and Ron sunk his wonderful teeth into it,” Tish said. “It became something way bigger and better than I ever imagined.”

The show aims to expose viewers to new perspectives and engage the community in a unique discussion about oppression.

“The whole point of the show is to try and have fun while we explore the whole idea of racism and sexism and bigotry and all those other things that are often times really tough for people to talk about,” Jones said.

Jones and Tish incorporated comedy sketches, improvisation, a game show and footage of Grinnell students weighing in on the issues into their performance to make the experience interactive and engaging.

Immediately after the performance on Thursday, the performers hosted a dialogue between themselves and the audience members to get a sense of Grinnell-specific issues, and to open up discussion about racism and personal experience.

“What’s great about … [the] discussion after the show … is [that it is] unique and honest and eye-opening and revealing each time,” Tish said. “You never know what you’re going to get and we always seem to get a lot of really good, fresh stuff. Each community, each university, each place we go has a unique set of issues. What happens is that people laugh and they talk honestly. Wherever we’ve gone we’ve had a really good response and really good discussion.”

It was exactly this interactive aspect of the show that made Thaxton excited about bringing the dialogues to campus.

“The biggest thing for me … is the need to ask questions. The only way that you can truly learn about a person is if you ask them questions and if you listen,” Thaxton said. “Hopefully [now] we will have a more diversified and multicultural experience.”

Jones further engaged the campus community on Friday by hosting a social justice theater action-training workshop. The workshop exposed students to methods of combining social justice work with performance. Jones said he hopes that this will further facilitate discussion on campus.

“Students can start to put together their own social conscious improv troupes to illustrate their own issues,” Jones said. “This is just another one of the things that we would hope people use as a tool to try and engage difference and engage change.”

Jones and Tish both expressed that although Grinnell is praised as a progressive environment, any community could benefit from new strategies for addressing difference.

“I think that the show acts as a jump off point for people to re-engage. I know that Grinnell … is a campus that has a very strong social conscious to start, but the idea here is that maybe this will give people the opportunity … to look at what more they could be doing, and really look at how these issues of racism, sexism and so on are playing themselves out,” Jones said.

He also said he hopes that all of their events on campus will provide students with unique methods of activism.

“You can start to ask some of those questions about how can I stand up better for those who can’t stand for themselves,” Jones said. “I am hoping that people start to engage in a different kind of discussion about differences.”

Leave a Comment
More to Discover
Donate to The Scarlet & Black
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Scarlet & Black Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *