Our Commitments & Expectations


The MFA Theatre Program at the Oscar Hammerstein II Center for Theatre Studies at Columbia University School of the Arts is specifically designed to train you to become an exemplary theatre artist. The goals of your faculty are to:

  • create a rigorous, graduate-level curriculum that mirrors (as much as possible) the best practices of the various theatrical landscapes you may encounter upon graduation;

  • provide a practical environment that facilitates individual and collective exploration, experimentation, learning, and growth.

This means that during your time here, you will be confronted with ideas, subjects, people, feedback, and texts that may not always conform or relate to your own lived experience. This is based on our pedagogical belief that learning does not happen in safe spaces. In fact, we believe that universally safe spaces simply do not exist—safety is subjective. Instead, the Theatre Program commits to crafting what Rikard and Villarreal (2023) term “spaces of acceptable risk,” where:

  • risk is inherent in any productive learning culture.

  • it takes purposeful and collaborative action from faculty, students, and staff to craft spaces of acceptable risk so learning culture and spaces can emerge.

  • you have come here to learn how to learn – about theatre, the world, each other, and yourself. We are interested in improving your ability, not simply watching you prove it.

  • productive learning spaces exist far beyond the classroom. They include, but are not limited to: studios, shops, rehearsal rooms, performance spaces, staff and faculty offices, and off-campus locations where you are present as a Columbia student.

As such, this document aims to accomplish two tasks: 1) to present the tenets of collaboration as defined by the Theatre Program, and 2) to communicate shared language on how we aim to create learning spaces of acceptable risk together. The faculty and staff believe that risk is an integral ingredient in learning, especially about theatre. Moreover, we embrace Arao and Clemens’ idea (2013) that learning might at times be painful as one lets go of a former way of being in order to embrace a new perspective. By explicitly stating what the faculty and staff commit to, along with naming the expectations we have of every student, our hope is to move that much closer to a constructive learning culture – where every interaction teaches us about art, ourselves, and each other. No one knows everything but together we know a lot.

Defining Collaboration

The faculty and staff know that collaboration is not the same as friendship, sameness, peace, or idea convergence. Collaboration is often a messy, frustrating, and contradictory endeavor. Nevertheless, it is fundamental to theatremaking, and thus, to theatre training. Our work – as educators and those being educated – is to engage in the practice of collaboration with all of the commitments and expectations listed in this document. This means:

  • fully participating in new experiences, even when difficult;

  • respecting others by keeping their shared experiences private;

  • leaning into listening, especially if you’re prone to dominating conversation;

  • accepting that while all truths are valid, not all truths contribute to a productive learning space;

  • acknowledging when we have wronged someone;

  • actively addressing those impacted by hurtful words and actions, so healing can begin and learning can continue.

Our Commitments

To this end, the faculty and staff commit to the following in order to foster spaces of acceptable risk for the sole purpose of learning and growth. We will:

  1. communicate the learning goals of every space we lead;
  2. clearly define how we will assess your progress toward those learning goals;
  3. identify the acceptable risks of our learning spaces;
  4. address your concerns with those risks, as much as reasonably possible;
  5. fully invest in your artistic growth and progress;
  6. provide honest, ongoing, and robust feedback;
  7. listen and respond with positive intention and respect;
  8. remain open to learning from you as you learn from us.

Our Expectations

In return, we expect all students to take the following actions to aid in building our productive learning space. As a student in School of the Arts, Theatre Program, we expect you to:

  1. take care of yourself as you challenge yourself. Maintain a consistent practice of self-reflection and self- awareness to understand and own your personal and learning boundaries, while recognizing those boundaries in others. Communicate with faculty and staff in a timely and respectful manner when issues outside the learning space prevent you from meeting these expectations.

  2. approach the work with commitment and rigor. Respect others’ time by being punctual, prepared, and fully present in the learning space. Respect others’ words and actions by listening with an open heart and mind and assuming best intentions. Remain dedicated to positively contributing to your learning and the learning of others.

  3. move through every learning space with integrity, dignity, maturity, and sincerity. Hold others to the same expectation.

  4. commit to remain open to collaboration. Collaboration is both our ideal and our practice in the Theatre Program. We aspire to it always and in all ways. We expect you to strive toward the benefits collaboration can offer.


By sharing this document, the faculty and staff affirm our commitment to the actions listed above. By enrolling in this Program, you acknowledge you will strive to meet the expectations listed above.

If you display behavior in any learning space in a way the faculty or staff determine does not meet or is in opposition to these expectations, several responses may occur.

For instances occurring in or connected to a class, your grade may be affected. Maintaining these expectations is necessary to meet the School of the Arts Satisfactory Academic Progress requirement, specifically the Program Evaluation section of the policy.

For instances occurring in any learning space, a conversation with your Concentration Head may occur. Subsequent conversations with the Program Chair, Director of Academic Administration, and/or the Dean of Student Affairs may also occur. If you have questions or want to speak to someone outside the Program, please contact the School of the Arts Student Affairs Office at [email protected]. They serve as a general resource, provide support, and answer questions about a variety of topics.

As this is a living document, it will periodically be reviewed and updated to ensure it is representative of the culture we aspire to – both in our Program and in the industry as a whole. We look forward to collaborating throughout your journey in the Theatre Program.

Further Reading

Arao, B. & Clemens, K. (2013). From safe spaces to brave spaces. A new way to frame dialogue around diversity and social justice. In L. M. Landreman (ed.), The Art of Effective Facilitation: Reflections from Social Justice Educators (1st ed.). Routledge.

Boostrom, R. B. (1998). “Safe spaces”: Reflections on an educational metaphor. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 30(4), 397-408. https://doi.org/10.1080/002202798183549

Brewer, N. (2023). Conscientious theatre training. https://www.nicolembrewer.com/anti-racist-theatre.

Dweck, C.S. (2017) Mindset: Changing the way you think to fulfill your potential. Little, Brown Book Group.

Dweck, C. S., & Yeager, D. S. (2019). Mindsets: A view from two eras. Perspectives on Psychological Science: A Journal of the Association for Psychological Science, 14(3), 481–496. https://doi.org/10.1177/1745691618804166.

Haraway, D. (2016). Staying with the trouble: Making kin in the Chthulucene, Durham: Duke University Press.

Rikard, L. & Villarreal, A. R. (2023). Focus on impact, not intention: Moving from ‘safe’ spaces to spaces of acceptable risk. Journal of Consent-Based Performance, 1(2), 1-16. https://doi.org/10.46787/jcbp.v2i1.3646.