The controversial play “N*gger, W*tback, Ch*nk,” will no longer be playing at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center after President Jane Close Conoley said the university would not support it as a part of the academic curriculum for the fall 2016 semester.
At the start of this week, Executive Director of the Carpenter Center Michele Roberge resigned from her 14-year career at Cal State Long Beach in response.
Roberge said that the decision was an act of censorship by administration.
“I was floored, flabbergasted. We announced the show in March, it went on sale in March, we started selling tickets and in May I got a call from Cyrus Parker-Jeanette – the dean, my boss – saying: ‘the President wants you to cancel the show,’” Roberge said. The show had a two-day residency at the Carpenter Center in fall 2015, but was pulled off the schedule for fall 2016.
Conoley said that the show was presented to her as a part of a campus effort to inspire progressive dialogue among students regarding race, gender and sexuality. NWC was incorporated with curriculums within Chicano Latino Studies, American Indian Studies and other ethnic studies departments, and was promoted throughout the campus through flyers, panel discussions and class-led trips to the play.
She said that her decision to terminate NWC as a program within classrooms was the result of negative feedback she received from ethnic studies faculty. This feedback led her to conclude that the content of NWC was not inspiring the campus dialogue they had hoped for.
“When it was over, the feedback was pretty negative. Not about the name of the show, but about the worth of it as a conversation starter,” Conoley said. “So I was not motivated to do it again.”
Conoley has not seen the play herself.
While Conoley said that the campus’ involvement with NWC was dissolved, she didn’t say that NWC was no longer welcomed at the Carpenter’s Center. Conoley said that this decision was an educational decision, not a decision of censorship and that Roberge was free to continue the show at the Carpenter Center without tying it to classes.
“People can have different opinions, but at the end of the day if the faculty doesn’t want it and I’m the one who can say up or down — then I can say down.” Conoley said.
Roberge has been a faculty member of CSULB for 14 years, serving as the general manager for Carpenter Performing Arts center for five years and executive director for nine. She said the end of her CSULB career would be the start of her retirement.
After receiving the news of Conoley’s decision, Roberge said she scheduled a meeting with Conoley to discuss the possibility of continuing the show with more education and awareness being spread about the content.
“The president says: ‘this isn’t the right time,’ and that there are people on campus who do not like the n-word and don’t want it used on campus,” Roberge said. “I had a meeting with President Conoley and she seemed nervous that there would be some kind of racial incident, some violent incident.”
Conoley said that after the show was canceled, Roberge considered the possibility of continuing the show without the support of CSULB’s academics. According to Conoley, Roberge found that the attendance for NWC last year was primarily students who had both discounted and free tickets to the play.
American Indian Studies program director and professor Craig Stone said he did not believe that NWC was an effective way to encourage conversation. Stone said that one of his issues with the play was the title, and was grateful that American Indians were not included in the play or on the signs.
“The signs were offensive and created a situation where it became OK to speak these words across campus, I heard students reading the sign out loud on many occasions,” Stone said.
Prior to the play being pulled, Roberge said that both CSU and non-CSU students purchased tickets independently and in groups. Those who bought tickets were refunded their money, and the NWC cast is in the process of receiving compensation.
Though Conoley said she is typically never involved in the happenings at the Performing Arts Center, this play was adopted in the curriculums within various ethnic studies departments which gave her the ability to end the partnership that existed between the pair.
Conoley said that she learned of Roberge’s resignation through the Dean of College of the Arts, Cyrus Parker-Jeannette, but had shared a good relationship with Roberge and says that she has her “full support.”
“I think Michele Roberge has been a fabulous director for 14 years, and I will always respect her,” Conoley said. “I respect her passion for art as a medium for social change.”
Roberge said that Megan Kline-Crockett has already been selected as interim executive director, and that she has been working with Kline-Crockett over the past couple of days to ease the staff transition.
In the official press release by the co-founder of NWC, Rafael Agustin, he said: “The same act of censorship today that may seem to protect a community may be used next time as a justification to silence a community in desperate need of a voice.”
Roberge said Cerritos Community College expressed interest in holding NWC on their campus, and the two are currently in negotiation to organize the production.
Yasmin Cortez and Micayla Vermeeren contributed to this story.