During a special convocation on February 20, the junior and senior classes gathered in McGhee Auditorium to witness the play titled, The Defamation Experience. The play begins as a courtroom drama, where an African American businesswoman sues a rich real estate developer, for defamation. However, the case quickly expands beyond its original scope and touches on issues such as racial prejudice, class difference, religion, and gender.
After the 75-minute performance, the junior and senior classes were given the opportunity to act as jurors in the civil suit. The students were able vote for either the plaintiff, or the defendant, and decide for themselves whether defamation had occurred in the case. After the votes were cast, the actors stepped into the audience to discuss the themes of the play and comment on the different ways that prejudice impacts our lives.
Ms. Ashman, the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, and is the driving force that brought The Defamation Experience to the San Jose campus. “I first learned of this play about three years ago,” she said during an interview in her Bent Center office. “I was interested in bringing it at that time, but I don’t think we as a school were ready to bring that play. We weren’t ready to have those discussions around race. I think we needed to do some foundational work first.”
Over the last few years, Ms. Ashman and Bolles faculty have attempted to lay that foundation by providing students with unique opportunities to discuss race and diversity. In December 2019, Mr. Hopkins’ life management classes met with representatives from UNF to participate in an array of activities, with the purpose of educating students about stereotypes. The Defamation Experience was brought in, in order to continue educating the community about race, religion, prejudice, and gender.
“Bringing it (The Defamation Experience) was a way to get students as well as faculty to see that we should have these types of discussions around race, around religion, around gender issues, it is all a piece of the student experience and we need to discuss it and respect each other’s values,” said Ms. Ashman. “The play was a good way to do that because it involved the students, and everyone got to voice their own opinions at the end. I was pleased with the way the production manager was able to field the questions from the students and provide a safe environment where they could come up and say how they felt and not be judged by that they said.”