This play review was kindly contributed by Shakira Martin, NUS President.
I went recently to see the play Admissions, by Joshua Harmon at the Trafalgar Studio in London. Colleagues in the sector had told me how relevant and thought provoking it was, especially in the current times where access and participation is said to be a high priority. The play was about a liberal Head of Admissions at private school fighting to diversify the student population at her school, however, her values were conflicted when her son was deferred for the university of his choice, whist his mixed-race best friend who ‘ticks more than one box’ was accepted.
My first impression was when I was queuing up to collect my ticket from the box office, I saw I was the only black person or person of colour in the queue. I was not surprised as I always saw theatre as a white, middle class hobby. However, because I was going to see an play about education I was almost expecting to see the regular faces of colleagues in the sector, it took me a good while to remember where I was, although I was standing in the theatre foyer.
The Play was gripping from the first scene, which had me sitting up in my chair listening to every word. The first scene between Sherri (Head of Admission) and Roberta (who puts together the prospectus) showed what may be the true nature of conversation happening in institutions across our country. Where diversity is seen as just about getting to have black students’ photos in the prospectus.
As the play went on I began to become very emotional and at one point had to leave the theatre to get some air. I was watching this play as a colleague in the education sector but also as a black woman who has and continues to face stereotypes and discrimination within education. I found it very interesting that the best friend of Sherri ‘s son was mixed race and thought to myself through the play how would the conversation between them have played out if it was a black African American instead?
The play was excellently put together and believe very through provoking for many white people who went to see it. I felt the play highlighted many of the views white people think but would never say out load for obvious reasons. I didn’t not expect this play to make me feel so emotional and angry, and I left thinking three things:
1) This play is a challenge for a sector speaking about diversity, access, participation and inclusivity, and the black attainment gap. Is this just a topic everyone is talking about and therefore a tick box exercise or do those in senior management really believe in the need for our education system to be diverse if it means your children missing out?
2) This play just reaffirmed what I have been saying throughout my NUS presidency “Getting In isn’t the same as getting on”.
3) This play touches on issues that we all need to know about across education sector. The London showing is now finished, but it is going on a short tour. If you can’t make it, I would instead recommend instead reading Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race by Renni Eddo-Lodge.
Admissions is an excellent play, relevant, well put together highlighting such an important message around recognising white privilege and I believe is a play that leaves the education sector and individuals in the sector some food for thought.
I would highly recommend this play although it left me feeling angry as I come to the end of my days as NUS National President. I know I have to continue to talk about race and class and challenge the status quo of the institutions across the UK.
We have come far but still a LONG way to go.
So, my question is: are our institutions really up to it?
I guess only time will tell, but it can not be another 100 years before our higher education institutions truly reflect our diverse society and give black and working-class students the opportunity they deserve.