CHS theater department faces discrimination allegations


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The shortlist of cast members all stand, March 8, at the end of a rehearsal scene in Corvallis High School’s 2022 rendition of Mamma Mia!

Sydni Zidarevich, Justice, Diversity and Equity Beat Reporter

Correction: A previous version of this article noted that an email was sent to the Superintendent of CDS and was corrected to the Assistant Superintendent of CDS as of April 27, 11 a.m. 

In 2020, a Corvallis High School alum, Brianna Brady, publicly shared their experience with instances of discrimination and bullying within the theater program at CHS. Now, in 2023, a formal complaint has been filed against the CHS theater teacher, Laura Beck-Ard.

“The general nature of the complaint is twofold,” said Sravya Tadepalli, 2015 Crescent Valley high school alum. “There’s one of discrimination… and also one of bullying. And this manifests itself in a lot of different forms.” 

Following the death of George Floyd, many students of color came together to discuss their experiences of racism in relation to Floyd’s death and the police brutality that many individuals of color were facing and found commonality within their experiences within the theater department.

Some of these issues presented within the CHS theater department included, but were not limited to:

  • Students of color not being cast
  • Students of color being cast into villainous or degrading roles
  • The use of brown face
  • Exploitation of student labor
  • The overuse of adults within the student productions

“The first show I saw at CSD Theatre was The Wiz… Two half black students were cast,” said Isabella Medina, 2013 CHS alum in her testimony. “One was cast as the villain and the other student, who was often referred to as both the ‘token black kid’ and the ‘token gay kid’ was cast in a smaller side role.”

In June of 2020, students and alumni of Corvallis School District created a diversity, equity and inclusion policy and presented it to the Principal of CHS, Matt Boring, along with 40 pages of testimonies. 

In the cover letter presented to Boring, the students and alumni stated, “…we believe [the diversity, equity, and inclusion policy] needs to be enacted and enforced by the Corvallis High School administration to ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to access the benefits of theater and can do so without fear of facing racism or intimidation.”

“This process of establishing this document and trying to advocate for what we felt the students should know, and the faculty should know and all the people working with the shows should really focus on to make it an okay experience for the students,” Medina said. 

According to Medina, the team of students and alumni were met with pushback regarding the timeline, which led to the team releasing a petition in efforts to try and push the school to create a committee and staff it.

After the petition was posted online, Medina received a phone call in the middle of the night from one of the staff members of the theater department, which she ignored. 

The email that followed the late night phone call was directed to Medina and the Assistant Superintendent of CDS, threatening them to take down the petition, stating that it was defamatory.

“The overall sense of the email was, ‘You are being ridiculous teenagers,’” Medina said. “At the time, I’d like to clarify, I was not a teenager, no one involved in this [is]. We’re all adult alumni, which I think really speaks to the pattern of bullying in the department and the power dynamics.” 

In May of 2021, Tadepalli and Medina spoke in front of the CSD at its public school board meeting to further discuss these issues.

“We had asked directly for the TDAC (Theater Diversity Advisory Committee) guidelines to be published online and for the district to begin staffing the committee in June 2020, 11 months ago,” Tadepalli said. “… When BIPOC community members do point out changes that need to occur, the district and community should support implementation as swiftly as possible.” 

According to Medina, “The Corvallis School District should be a model for progressive anti-racist institutional change and education by continually improving and streamlining these processes.”

Although TDAC is now in place and does have guidelines posted online, there are still incidents that are occurring throughout the theater program and no additional education has been provided for the students or required by the staff of the CHS theater department. 

With the current investigation pending, interviews are being done in compliance with the filing of the formal review, according to Tadepalli.

“We’re asking for Laura Beck-Ard to be fired, both for the blatant discrimination that took place in the past, and also for the fact that we’ve given her a second chance and they’re still not abiding by the rules that we collectively agreed upon… it’s clear that there’s no motivation,” Tadepalli said. 

According to Medina, the crux of the situation is the need for accountability and transparency —  along with taking steps towards diversity and equity initiatives.

“If you’re unwilling to grow and change, then someone else needs to do that … students deserve to be treated as people,” Medina said. “Waiting around for other people to figure that out is not necessary.” 

The investigation is due to conclude sometime this month, with those who filed the complaint hoping to see immediate changes implemented in lieu of the results. 

Tadepalli said the students and alumni filing the complaint do plan to appeal to the school district if they feel the results of the investigation are unsatisfactory.

Kelly Locey, CSD communications coordinator, has confirmed that the district has received a formal complaint. Due to the ongoing investigation, Locey and Beck-Ard are unable to comment any further.


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