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Photograph by Sarah Phelan

Shaky 'Transitions': UCSC won't be staging the African American Theater Arts Troupe's 'Urban Transitions, Loose Blossoms' until March, angering those who had championed it as a celebration of Black History Month. The fact that its schedule shake-up is related to the layoff (and then rehiring) of Donald Williams, one of the most popular figures on campus, certainly doesn't seem to be helping matters.


Black History at UCSC

February is BLACK HISTORY month, a date apparently not penciled in on UCSC'S THEATER ARTS DEPARTMENT's planning calendar. Nüz says this because UCSC won't be staging the AFRICAN AMERICAN THEATER ARTS TROUPE's Urban Transitions, Loose Blossoms until March, and then not at the main stage, but at the Experimental Theater, a space DANE DIAMOND ERRISSON, a lead in Urban Transitions, says "isn't a good fit for the show."

For Errisson, this space lack isn't exactly unexpected. "The theater arts department has never devoted enough attention to diversity," he says, noting that next quarter is the first time there will be AFRICAN AMERICAN THEATER and RAINBOW THEATER classes on campus, classes Errisson fears will be cut if they don't fill up, though he's hopeful that won't be the case, since DONALD WILLIAMS is teaching them.

Readers may recall that the layoff last summer of Williams, one of the most popular instructors on campus and founder of AATAT and Rainbow Theater, triggered protests during finals week--a time when students typically chug vats of coffee and hunker down in library cubbyholes for last-minute cramming. Evidently, the school felt the effect of this exam-defying protest. Interim UCSC chancellor MARTIN CHEMERS quickly found Williams another job as special events coordinator--but not fast enough for the theater arts department to save AATAT stage space in February 2005.

Theater producer SHEENA WILLIAMS questions whether this loss of space was "because we protested on Don's behalf, or because there's too much drama in the drama department?"

Meanwhile, AATAT member EDIE McWILLIAMS says, "It's not so much that UCSC is racist. It just dis-acknowledges race."

As a third-year student, McWilliams says AATAT has always had to struggle to be acknowledged.

"AATAT always put on a good show, but some theater arts heads have been disrespectful and called it ghetto theater," he said.

(A call to theater arts department head DANNY SCHEIE had not been returned as of presstime.)

With blacks accounting for only 2 percent of UCSC's student population, McWilliams says, "It's discomforting to see so many people who don't look or think like me and whom I can't relate to. It's kind of a challenging to always be conscious of your race, when the rest of the campus isn't."

Meanwhile, Don Williams, who founded AATAT in 1990 to deal with such issues, says the unsuccessful struggle to get the troupe back on campus for Black History Month was "hurtful."

"The troupe is a major focal point of diversity. It's the flagship for UCSC," says Williams, noting that AATAT travels to local community colleges, has given 5,000 scholarships totaling $60,000 in 14 years, and along with Rainbow Theater is a major academic recruitment vehicle at high schools, and helps with retention on campus.

Asked if enough is being done to further diversity on campus and across the UC system in general, Williams, who in March will receive a CALABASH AWARD for excellence in ethnic arts, says, "My main motto in life, something I say after every production is, 'I can always do better.' And I think they can do better in every aspect."

Call 831.459.3409 or 831.459.2159 for details of Urban Transitions: Loose Blossoms showtimes.

20/20 Vision at UCSC

It sounded like a DeCinzo cartoon: "UCSC as an 800-pound gorilla that dominates the cityscape, stops traffic and won't listen." It was in fact a flier distributed by the COALITION FOR LIMITING UNIVERSITY EXPANSION, as it protested UCSC's long-range development plan (LRDP), a plan that involves growing from 15,000 to 21,000 students by 2020.

CLUE says the plan will cause beastly amounts of traffic and congestion--downsides they say outweigh potential positives like more local spending and jobs.

With only one public scoping forum scheduled so far for Feb. 16, CLUE wants incoming Chancellor DENICE DEE DENTON to delay the process until she meets with them. Meanwhile, the Santa Cruz City Council, variously calling the 21,000-student proposal "absurd" and "irresponsible planning," unanimously voted to ask MAYOR MIKE ROTKIN to send a letter to Denton, requesting official participation in the EIR scoping process and expressing opposition to the planned increased enrollment and concern about potential impacts. At present, the city can comment, but UCSC isn't obligated to make changes and UC Regents have the final say so.

"I've never accepted a charge from the council with more pleasure than this one," says Rotkin, whose biggest concern, beyond the plan's impact on housing, is what's going to happen to people "trying to leave campus ... when they reach Bay and Mission or High Street and Storey ... if they add a thousand more students to the campus without some new serious mitigation."

Meanwhile, CLUE's JOHN AIRD, who says he usually shows up to lambast the City Council, praised the seven councilmembers for taking this step, while urging them to be more explicit.

"There is a tremendous residential concern over both the fact that the last LRDP which took the population from 9,000 to 15,000 has not been adequately mitigated ... and the fact that this tips the scale from a city that happens to have a university to a university that happens to have a town."

UCSC will have two scoping meetings on the LRDP's EIR on Wednesday, Feb. 16, 3-5pm and 6-9pm, at the University Inn & Conference Center, 611 Ocean St., Santa Cruz.

Sweethearts at UCSC

Speaking of incoming UCSC Chancellor Denton, she may have started her job here on Valentine's Day, but chances are her first week won't be a bed of roses, even though she did score some major butt-kicking Brownie points last month when she blasted Harvard University President LARRY SUMMERS for suggesting that innate differences between the sexes could help explain why fewer women succeed in science and math careers.

Saying she needed to "speak truth to power," Denton told Summers she believed his assertions had been contradicted by research materials presented at the very conference they were attending at the time.

That said, Denton faces protests around the above-mentioned LRDP, not to mention bitterness over her partner GRETCHEN KALONJI's perceived sweetheart deal, thus described after UC created a $192,000-a-year job for Kalonji, and threw in $50,000 in moving expenses. Yes, Kalonji has been recognized internationally for her work in developing new approaches to teaching, but her package seems a bit over the top, what with the university cutting budgets and raising student fees by 29 percent. And then there's the fact that in addition to receiving a salary of $275,000, Denton got a moving allowance of $68,750.

"It's not a great way for Denton to start her career here," said Rotkin, who predicts massive protests and union unrest when she shows up.

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From the February 16-23, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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