Harvard created ‘exclusive space’ for ‘Black-identifying audience members’ by basing theater admissions on race

The Ivy League school advertised a 'Black Out' night for a Macbeth production in which the university requested non-Black patrons to 'join us at another performance.'

Foundation for Individual Rights in Education has put out a statement on the discrimination laws Harvard University may have violated with that programming.

A Harvard University production of Macbeth includes “Black Out” dates when only “Black-identifying” audience members are allowed to attend. 

Harvard asked non-Black patrons not to attend the Oct. 29 performance of Macbeth in Stride, a spin of William Shakespeare’s famous Scottish tragedy. 

“The Friday, October 29 performance of Macbeth In Stride is designated to be an exclusive space for Black-identifying audience members,” a statement on the university website reads. “For our non-Black allies, we appreciate your support in making this a completely Black-identifying evening. We invite you to join us at another performance during the run.”

The production, which Runs Oct. 27 to Nov. 14, uses a variety of music genres such as pop, rock, gospel, and R&B to tell the story of Lady Macbeth while “lifting up contemporary  Black female power, femininity, and desire,” according to the event page. 

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Yet the show’s “Black Out” date raised concerns over the university’s commitment to ensuring an inclusive environment on campus.

Campus Reform spoke with the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education after the nonprofit organization published a statement on the potential race-based discrimination violations the event may have committed.

“Harvard hosting public performances—or any event for that matter—that seek to exclude individuals of certain races runs afoul of Harvard’s own policies, which prohibit discrimination on the basis of race,” FIRE Litigation Fellow Kelley Bregenzer told Campus Reform.

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“Indeed, the American Repertory Theater itself pledges commitment to creating a welcoming space for individuals of all identities and backgrounds,” Bregenzer. “This particular performance flies in the face of that commitment.” 

Though FIRE acknowledges that the University maintains the right to host a performance where a targeted audience is encouraged to attend, that the line is crossed, according to the organization when patrons of a particular background are barred from attendance. 

Massachusetts law prohibits such discriminatory policies in places “which is open to and accepts or solicits the patronage of the general public.” According to FIRE, such a place would include theatres.