Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Sharply Defined Portrait of 1990s Academic Life: `Snowfall' Deals with Race, Isolation and Campus Politics

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Sharply Defined Portrait of 1990s Academic Life: `Snowfall' Deals with Race, Isolation and Campus Politics

Article excerpt

Sharply Defined Portrait of 1990s Academic Life: `Snowfall' Deals with. Race, Isolation and Campus Politics

by Joe Barber

WASHINGTON, -- American University assistant professor of theater and playwright Caleen Sinnette Jennings has provided Washington audiences with an evening of clever, provocative writing in her two one-act plays, "Snowfall" and "The Blues." The plays were premiered recently by the Source Theatre Company at The National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, DC.

"Snowfall" takes place on the campus of fictional Somerset College, somewhere in New England. The weather is often cold, and so is the environment. Or, so it seems to Judith (Eleanor Tapscott), a recently arrived African-American professor of English. She's found it difficult to reach the small community of African-American students at the school. They seem to avoid her in public, and act as if she and they have nothing in common outside of their professional relationship.

One Friday evening, Judith invites a group of selected students to the office she shares with Patricia (Cam Magee) -- a white colleague and her closest friend at the school. Judith hopes to have an oldfashioned rap session with the Black students, like the kind she participated in while attending a largely white university in the 1970s. She wants to offer the students a similar type of bonding experience and give them a chance to share their thoughts and feelings in a racially comfortable environment.

Patricia, who's going out of town for a long weekend with her husband, is concerned. Has Judith talked with the dean about this? Has she consulted Dr. Wheeler (S. Robert Morgan), the university's senior African-American educator? Judith resents the questions, seeing them as an attempt to make more of the get-together than it really is. Questions of inclusion, exclusion and the racial temperature on the seemingly easy-going campus fill the air.

Though Patricia understands what Judith wants to do, she makes it clear that others on the campus will see it differently and their judgments will affect her future. She urges her to seek out Wheeler's opinion. As the time of the gathering arrives, Patricia's concerns seem to be legitimate. A student, Liz (Christa L. Rivers), attends and gives Judith a clearer picture of how the Black students see themselves and their place on the campus. …

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