One America - United We Learn Social Action Theater, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse

Program: United We Learn Social Action Theater, University of Wisconsin-La Crosse, La Crosse, WI
Contact(s): Dr. Jennifer B. Wilson, Executive Director for Human Resources: (608) 785-8013
Purpose: To provide a dynamic learning experience for actors and audiences that will foster open and honest dialogue about issues of race and ethnicity

Background Program Operations Outcomes


United We Learn Social Action Theater (UWL/SAT) began in 1994 with a grant which provided 22 members of the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse community with the opportunity to attend a 2-day "train-the-trainer" session on campus. By the end of the training, the participants committed to the creation of a social action theater. This original group formed the core of the project, and they have since been joined by other students and staff. The program helps to educate the predominantly white campus community about racial diversity. UWL/SAT gives students the understanding of diversity issues required for success in our increasingly diverse nation and in our global economy. External grants provide resources for travel, brochures, posters, and training manuals. The group receives no university funding or staff support, but academic credit is provided to students involved with the group.

Program Operations

UWL/SAT creates and performs five to ten minute scenes based on issues related to race, ethnicity, and other diversity issues. The group uses these scenes to generate and guide dialogue. The scenarios typically present three actors playing characters who are involved in a conflict that escalates to a point of no resolution. At this point in the conflict, a moderator calls "cut" and begins to engage the actors and audience in a dialogue. The actors remain in character for about 30 minutes answering audience questions and interacting with each other and the moderator. The group finds that having the actors stay in character gives them freedom from the boundaries of social politeness and political correctness, and allows them to speak bluntly, honestly, and emotionally. Throughout the program, the moderator encourages openness, asks probing questions, and monitors audience response to ensure that anyone who requires debriefing or referral receives it at the conclusion of the presentation. When the role play is over, the actors break out of character, interact with the audience, and assist the moderator in the debriefing process. The group made their debut performance as part of a campus diversity week in 1994. The performance featured a scenario about being a minority student on a predominantly white campus. UWL/SAT used this scene to generate dialogue, educate the campus, and recruit more members to the group. They presented questions such as "what do you think about interracial dating;" "why are you, as a black male, friendly with the Hispanic female, but rude to the white female;" "where do you come from;" and "what was life like there for you with regard to other racial groups?"

Outcomes and Significant Accomplishments

UWL/SAT has made national programmatic and "train-the-trainer" presentations. In addition to its on-campus presentations, UWL/SAT shares its message through presentations at local middle and secondary schools, colleges and technical colleges, hospitals, and conferences. The group also serves as a training resource for the Greater La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce, whose Business Diversity Statement requires a voluntary self-evaluation and action plan for businesses in the area. UWL/SAT was recognized in 1997 by the Society for Human Resource Management with the Innovative Practice Award. The group continues to be a voluntary organization.

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