On the morning of Tuesday, April 5, Goucher students who live on campus woke up to signs on their doors that read “Eviction Notice.” After the initial shock, most students realized that these “eviction notices” were actually advertisements for the Senior Theatre Project production of “Hot L Baltimore,” a play by Lanford Wilson dealing with themes of class, eviction, and moving on.
There was a lot of response from students throughout the day, and many students posted negative comments on social media in which they wrote that the flyers were classist and that it is not okay to joke about eviction.
“These eviction notices caused quite a stir across Goucher’s community, mainly on Facebook posts and comment sections,” Sarojini Schutt ‘18 said. “Having never been in the position of being in danger of eviction, my heart skipped a beat when I saw it, but I immediately read the print and realized it was for a play with some pretty cool themes and I considered going out and seeing it that weekend.”
“It takes three minutes to read it, and says on the second sentence to it wasn’t a real eviction notice. Also…it’s common sense that if you see it on every door, you’re not getting evicted,” said Corey Tatz ‘16, who was on the publicity team for the show.
In light of the incident, Dean of Students Bryan Coker sent an email to the Goucher community inviting people to join “a community conversation about privilege, impact, and art” on Sunday, April 10, before the performance. The conversation was facilitated by Luz Burgos-Lopez, Assistant Dean of Students for Race, Equity, and Identity, and Nyasha Grayman-Simpson, Associate Professor of Psychology. Both Burgos-Lopez and Grayman-Simpson are part of the Bias Education and Response Team (BERT), which “acts as Goucher’s ‘first response’ team when dealing with reported bias incidents,” according to the college website. The two explained that once BERT assessed the flyer, they determined that it was not a biased incident because it did not target a specific group and was not a hate crime.
At the beginning of the conversation, Burgos-Lopez set some ground rules, and Grayman-Simpson mentioned that the purpose was to have a discussion, not a debate. There were three segments to the conversation: individual writing and reflection, small group discussion, and a big group discussion. Many cast members and other students involved in the production were present, as well as Theatre Department faculty, and other students not affiliated with the play.
Of course, the people who chose to attend the discussion were a self-selecting group—people who were willing to discuss the flyer and its implications. Greg Borodulin ‘16, who composed music for the show, said he hoped that people who were offended by the flyer “would come and explain why they felt that way.” Additionally, Burgos-Lopez mentioned the conversation was “missing a whole layer of experiences, of thoughts that are not engaged.”
During the discussion, participants discussed the question of what went into the creation of the flyer. All four members of the publicity team for the production were present and said that the implications of putting up mock eviction notices were heavily considered. However, both the publicity team and cast members believed it to be “an artistic extension of the production,” and something that would catch people’s attention and bring them to the performance. Other students brought up that the notice and performance brought real issues here to the “Goucher Bubble” and let students know that people want to talk about difficult issues on this campus.
“The PR team explained that the poster was intended to shock and surprise people, but I feel that they failed to use shock in a way that was useful,” Clara Hartman ‘16, wrote in an email following the discussion. “I also wish we’d addressed the issues of public versus private spaces. These were not just advertisements at the school, they were advertisements on people’s bedroom doors.” This brings up a point of contention on campus. Although students’ dorm rooms are living spaces, they are also owned by the college, so there is a question of what counts as public space, and what counts as private space.
“I enjoy going to the theatre as a place to explore difficult issues,” Ian Furst ‘18, who attended the discussion, wrote in an email. “Sometimes people are not ready to delve into such hard issues that the theatre presents, and for good reason. This flyer changed the theatre for this production. It turned from a space to be entered to a space that enters you. By going to the theatre, I give consent to be disturbed…to be frightened or hurt. But when the theatre leaves its space and enters mine, consent is no longer considered. It forces everyone, whether they are ready or not to confront this issue.”
Corey Tatz, on the publicity team for the show, pointed out that the flyers did achieve their goal of getting students’ attention. “I’m a pretty frank guy, and some say I’m being insensitive, but I think Goucher students overreact with everything…I don’t feel like Goucher students care that much about the Theatre Department, so we found a way to go to them and get their attention, and even though some if it was negative, we got their attention for sure,” Tatz said.
A few students chatted afterwards about how the discussion felt limiting. The discussion only lasted an hour, so it just scratched the surface. However, it did provide some context for the flyers and gave those involved with the production a chance to explain why they made the choice to advertise in that way. This conversation is likely just the beginning of a longer conversation about classism on campus.