Theatre chair Carin Silkaitis takes new role at University of Alaska

By Camryn Cutinello, Co-Editor-In-Chief

Photo courtesy of Carin Silkaitis

Carin Silkaitis, the Allen and Lynn Turner chair of the Theatre Department, first started at Columbia thinking it was where they would teach until they retired. Two years and one pandemic later, Silkaitis’ plans have changed.

On June 30, Silkaitis will step down as chair to start a new job as the dean of Arts and Sciences at the University of Alaska in Juneau on July 1. Silkaitis said they will be overseeing both the arts and science programs, which includes the business school and a marine biology lab.

“It will be a new challenge and exciting for me in a lot of ways,” Silkaitis said.

Silkaitis said they want their departure from Columbia to be a positive one and that it is more about what the University of Alaska offers than what Columbia lacks.

“When I interviewed there, I said it’s really important to me that you never ask me to stay in my lane; I want to play in all the sand boxes, and they said describe what you mean by that, and I said I want to play in admissions,” Silkaitis said. “I want to play in recruiting and development. I want to talk to your development folks and give them my ideas for raising money at this place. I want to give you the strategies that I think will work best for alumni engagement.”

Susan Padveen, associate chair and associate professor in the Theatre Department, will take over as chair for the summer after Silkaitis leaves. They said they think the department will conduct a search over the summer for an interim chair.

Padveen said the department will continue the work started under Silkaitis, including implementing the diversity, equity and inclusion initiative and rewriting related curriculum.

“Everyone is experiencing a shift after the COVID break of really looking at our curriculum again and in the light of what has happened and seeing where we can improve and change for the better,” Padveen said.

Silkaitis is proud of the work they have done to implement the DEI initiative, including work to discuss consent as it relates to theatre. They are a certified instructor in Green Dot—a program that trains witnesses to deescalate potentially violent situations—and is helping to train other professors and administrators in the program.

Jesse Carlo, assistant professor in the Theatre Department and Antiracism Transformation Team fellow, said he hopes the department will continue to stress the importance of the DEI initiative.

“One of the things I continue to say is that we are preparing our students now for a kind of theatre that doesn’t exist,” Carlo said. “We’re preparing them for an integrative, inclusive, equitable, diverse theatre that sees beyond the limitations of the current state of theatre.”

Silkaitis, who also was an Antiracism Transformation Team fellow, came to Columbia in the fall of 2019 from North Central College in Naperville where they chaired both the Art and Theatre departments. Not long after they arrived, they helped the department grapple with issues of race and diversity in Columbia’s Theatre Department.

“I want to help faculty grow,” Silkaitis said in a Chronicle article after her first year as Theatre Department chair. “I want to dismantle systems of oppression to make our classrooms truly inclusive and safer for our students. I want to have conversations with students and faculty in safely moderated spaces. We have done that this year in the Theatre Department, and it’s starting to make a difference.”

Silkaitis said they are also proud of the spring play they directed, Tales of Berlin, which was a collaborative effort between Silkaitis and students to put on the first in-person show since the start of the pandemic.

“I love that Columbia refers to their students as ‘makers’ because it’s actually true,” Silkaitis said. “I think that’s really exciting that Columbia College Chicago students are makers because those students made that play, and I’m just really proud that I got to actually work with, direct and collaborate with those students because we made something so beautiful, and I’m going to miss them very much.”