Faculty Empowerment

Faculty Empowerment

Academic Year:
2021 - 2022 (June 1, 2021 through May 31, 2022)
Funding Requested:
Project Dates:
Overview of the Project:
Faculty Empowerment, created and facilitated by Michael Thornhill and Karen Olivo, is a series of workshops designed to investigate the ways in which tradition, culture, race, identity, and trauma inform artistic training. Through listening sessions and in person workshops, faculty develop applicable tools to build culturally inclusive pedagogies, equity forward teaching strategies, and community building structures to dismantle and innovate training for today’s young artist. Faculty Empowerment recognizes the individual and community trauma experienced as a result of the pandemic, taking of Black lives and subsequent protests that erupted across our nation during mandatory remote learning. As musical theatre training requires students to utilize the full self, a shift in training is needed to encompass the trauma that we all now hold. While building a specially designed program to help us meet the present moment, Faculty Empowerment will partner with University of Michigan’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office as well as Counseling and Psychological Services to create a framework that addresses the whole person in artistic training practice. By teaching alternative classroom culture structures, principled disagreement strategies, and somatic mindfulness, Faculty Empowerment will provide skills and tools for faculty to engaged today’s young artists as we navigate our new normal in the Department of Musical Theatre.
Final Report Fields
Project Objectives:

Faculty Empowerment is a series of workshops created by Tony Award Winner and Chair of Northwestern Musical Theatre Department Karen Olivo (KO) and DEI consultant and facilitator Michael Thornhill. The objectives of the workshops were to listen to the issues, challenges and needs of the faculty and student body, and craft workshops to serve both communities. Over the three days of facilitated sessions each group of our community was provided tools to support the development of a robust and vibrant artistic training environment. Our faculty were offered systems and structures to refine inclusive classroom practices and usable tools to engage a diverse student body from wide range of socio-economic backgrounds. Our students were provided tools for self-regulation, conflict resolution and humanizing our faculty in order to navigate ongoing struggles exacerbated from covid pandemic and quarantine learning practices. Through the work of Empowerment, we were able to come together as a community at the beginning of the fall term and begin building tools to diminish the every widening generational gap between our faculty and students.

Project Achievements:

Students are actively utilizing the tools they were provided during the trainings. They enter into conversations with more grace and care. For some faculty the training reinforced the ways in which they were already teaching and for others offered new perspectives.

In my own teaching practice, that began immediately following the workshop, I shifted my entire syllabus centering student agency in their work. Too often in artistic practice the system sets up a dynamic where students seek approval and lean heavily on the faculty’s feedback for validation as opposed to offerings to inspire growth and transformation. Faculty Empowerment challenged me to be in conversation and release some of the older structures of control in order that students have space to cultivate their artistic voice and begin understanding how to self-critique based on my guidance. This was a challenging concept for me. But what I learned is if the student agency is centered at the beginning of the process, trust can be built, and as one moves forward the work can be fuller, deeper and challenge both student and faculty in the most exciting ways.

After the Empowerment Workshops I took a survey of students who overwhelmingly want the work to continue. I am looking into what next steps look like so that we can build on the structures and processes gained from the experience.
For our first Empowerment workshop, the entire faculty and student body was present. At the end of the coming term, our facilitators will share a working document that can serve as a guide for continued work moving forward. This will be in addition to the documents and workbooks they created for us during the facilitation. From these documents we can create a library for new faculty coming in. It is our hope to continue the workshop in some form at the top of every fall term.
Advice to your Colleagues:
The Empowerment workshops changed the way I enter into community with my students. It has shifted the ways in which I think about the student actor/faculty teaching artist relationship. Post covid quarantine, it revealed the importance of structures and processes for this generation of artists in our artistic care. They have endured a great deal which much of the data reveals will have long lasting emotional effects on their well-being. Our art form is one that depends on the ability to be emotionally open and physically connected. The past few years have deprived this generation of much needed social skills that are integral to artistic training. Empowerment workshops provided a foundational structure that allows students to feel safe and brave to enter fully into the work. The challenge that come with giving this agency to students is ensuring there are still very clear and strong guidelines for being fully present and doing the work in the allotted time frame. I am learning that more clarity is needed as we move forward implementing these new ways of working.