The Office for Inclusive Excellence (OIE) and the Slippery Rock Student Government Association (SGA) hosted an interactive court drama titled “The Defamation Experience” on Thursday, Sept. 24 to explore issues surrounding race, class, religion, gender and law.
The fictional case revolved around Ms. Wade, an African-American business-owner, and Mr. Golden, a Jewish real-estate developer, for defamation. Attendees were tasked with watching the court proceedings and then, following a short discussion period, act as a jury to declare a verdict.
Keshia Booker, assistant director for multicultural development in the Office for Inclusive Excellence, worked to bring “The Defamation Experience” to Slippery Rock University. The primary goal of doing so, Booker said, was to raise awareness of the societal issues featured in the play and use that to facilitate conversation.
“I hope that this was an opportunity for students to reflect on the way that race, class and gender play into scenarios, and that they’re able to take those reflections and use them to start conversations with their peers,” Booker said.
In the play, Wade sues Golden after he accused her of stealing his watch during a private meeting between the two. Golden shared his suspicions with a client of Wade’s, potentially costing her both the client and a large portion of her yearly earnings.
Ultimately, the final verdict was in the hands of the jury: the audience. Over 200 participants were surveyed over Zoom after the play had concluded, and their one task was to decide in favor of either Ms. Wade or Mr. Golden.
Race and class were central issues to “The Defamation Experience’s” narrative, and they are also of key concern in the current political climate. Booker explained that the fictional context of the court drama helps students to engage with the event in a more meaningful way.
“’The Defamation Experience’ gave a hypothetical situation that tackles themes that are ever-present in today’s society,” Booker said. “This allows students to really detach and focus on the play, but then later apply the aspects of the play into their own lives and personal beliefs.”
Three days before the event took place, a grand jury presided over the case of Breonna Taylor: one of many incidents sparking protests and outcry across the nation. This event’s timing and subject matter, Booker said, were carefully considered by its organizers
“They asked questions specifically about what we would be using this for,” Booker said. “We had a few email exchanges and phone calls as to what the state of our university was, what was going on as far as racial tensions and if we had that here and we also had conversations about who would be in the audience.”
Booker said that bringing awareness of these issues and starting a conversation about them was the event’s primary goal. The intent, Booker said, is for students to reflect on the case’s contents and consider how it relates to them in their daily lives.
“I hope that this was an opportunity for students to reflect on the way that race, class, and gender play into scenarios, and that they’re able to take those reflections and start conversations with their peers and with others,” Booker said.
A follow-up discussion for “The Defamation Experience” took place on Wednesday, Oct 3. This discussion focused more acutely on the social issues at the core of the court drama rather than the legal proceedings themselves.