You don’t need emotional collateral to provide improv scholarships

Last week, Natalie Varabasso had a viral tweet about applications and privilege:

The tweet, and some of the responses from the theatre world reminded me of improv scholarship applications. There are still some applications with pre-requisite questions for equity seeking people to answer as part of their scholarship request. The questions are not related to the workshop content and are therefore a request for unnecessary labor.

Like the question in the tweet, this practice comes from a place of privilege and lack of mindfulness from the organization. Scholarships are a mechanism to support equity seeking people, and often touted as part of a diversity strategy. It is hypocritical to ask for emotional and psychic labor from equity seeking individuals in order for them to receive assistance from your organization.

This policy isn’t unique to one organization. So turnabout feels fair play. Here are some questions for you. Answer in essay form:

  • Do you expect people to create unique responses if they apply for multiple workshops?
  • Are their requests ignored if the answers aren’t complete?
  • Do you hope people tire from the process so you can pretend to offer help and not need to follow through?
  • How can your educational strategy possibly be considered well-informed when you’re only receiving information from a subset of your student base?
  • If it isn’t part of that strategy, what other tactics does the information positively fulfill?
  • On the accessibility side, if people cannot provide written responses, are you asking them these questions in person or by audio?
  • Are you translating the questions into ASL/BSL? How about Braille?
  • Would you finally feel embarrassed to require that effort?

Suggestion: Solicit feedback from everyone in the organization instead of limiting it to those marginalized individuals seeking assistance. If you want to have bespoke programs, offer that as one solution within your curriculum.

There will always be a subset of people able to respond to the questions. Their compliance doesn’t validate this form of gatekeeping. Capitalism trains people to believe that you have to jump through bureaucratic hoops to get anywhere. What a cold system for community-based organizations to maintain.

Finally, another invisible impact to this policy is that some people will distrust your organization. They may not be able to name where their unease lay, but they will still express the distrust to others. Even if they engage with you, their commitment level may be diminished. You’ve made it more difficult to keep them in the community and to expand your community through them.

Suggestion: Remove the questions without fanfare. You are correcting an injustice that you enforced — you don’t get to count it as an equity win.

Improv organizations are not banks. You don’t need emotional collateral to provide improv scholarships.

Published by thedukers

Velvet Duke is a Black autistic queer entertainer from Toronto, Ontario, Canada

One thought on “You don’t need emotional collateral to provide improv scholarships

  1. Thank you for this! You continue to add to the kit of equity tools I regularly use. I remember you sharing your experiences with grant applications last year during the pandemic. You taught me a lot about recognizing barriers around funding and you changed the way I share some of the community resources and policies I share through my indie biz.

    I’ve been second-hand involved in conversations about how to allocate micro-funding and I also brought what I learned from you into those conversations. I think it made the process more accessible and effective at its stated goal, which should always, always be the point with these things.

    And now, with this blog, I have a great resource I can directly link people to explaining what I was trying to explain second-hand before. So again, thank you!

    Liked by 2 people

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