The Defamation Experience: A Unique Interactive Diversity Program

By Frances Clause

Since 2010, “The Defamation Experience” has been performed for theatres, law schools, high schools and colleges across the country. The play made its way to Youngstown State University on Oct. 16 in the Chestnut Room of Kilcawley Center.

“The Defamation Experience” is a three-phase interactive diversity event by award-winning playwright Todd Logan, which explores the highly charged issue of race, class, religion, gender and law. The three phases include the play itself, the deliberation and the post-show discussion.

Karen Becker, director of First-Year Experience (FYE), said the play is primarily for FYE students as a part of PenguinThink. The goal of PenguinThink is to involve first-year students with the campus and community through a mutual investigation of a topic or theme.

“This year, the common topic for PenguinThink is difference, and the slogan is ‘Your part matters,’” Becker said. “The program is a way to promote discussion and think about differences and how these differences apply in our own lives.”

Photo by Frances Clause\The Jambar

“The Defamation Experience” reinforced Becker’s message by encouraging the audience to explore the race, religion, ethnicity and class divides the U.S. continues to experience. The audience explored these issues by acting as the jury during the deliberation component of the play and engaging in compelling civil discourse.

Mitch Wilson, a sophomore long-term care administration major, said the play can open the eyes of anyone who attends, especially the first-year students at YSU.

“The PenguinThink events like ‘The Defamation Experience’ really show just how many groups struggle with being treated equally in America,” Wilson said. “High school does not go into much depth about these issues, so FYE students learn much more in the collegiate environment.”

The play follows Regina Wade, an African-American business owner, who is suing Mr. Golden, a Jewish real estate developer, for defamation after she is accused of stealing Golden’s family heirloom watch.

This accusation, according to Wade, caused her to lose a significant amount of income after Golden contacted her business client, Ms. Jordan about the matter.

Wade claimed the reason he accused her in the first place was because he is prejudice against African-Americans. Golden denied the claim, saying he sees beyond the color of someone’s skin.

The audience voted in favor of Wade, and during the post-show discussion, Ms. Jordan, played by Gina Taliaferro, asked the audience if the outcome may have been different if the voting was anonymous.

“I don’t believe the outcome would have been different because the audience still would have seen the religious, racial and gender factors,” Dan Madorno, a senior telecommunications major said. “However, I feel if these factors were taken out, Mr. Golden may have won because it would be based more on the facts presented rather than whose background faced more struggle.”

“Either way, the audience’s conversation during the discussion was beneficial to those who may have been close-minded before this event,” he added.

A list of upcoming PenguinThink events are available on the YSU app and are open to the community and YSU students.