Excitement grows for first female theatre department head

Portrait+of+Dr.+Pullen

Portrait of Dr. Pullen

By Mary Kate Kiley, Staff writer

Big changes are happening at the University as the first female was hired as head of the Department of Theatre. The hiring of Dr. Kirsten Pullen, who holds a Ph.D. and master’s in theatre research, is a catalyst which many within the theatre department have been waiting to see.

Some students throughout the department said they are thrilled with the change, openly expressing their opinions and even actively making an effort to induct Pullen as the new head of the department.

Allie Wessel, senior in the College of Fine and Applied Arts, attended many meetings and discussions in order to learn and form an opinion about Pullen and some of the other candidates.

“Each time a new department head was visiting the school, they each held an hour long talk about who they were and what they’ve done in the past,” Wessel said. “We, as the student body, were encouraged to go as we were sent an email with a Google Form after each candidate so that we could weigh in on our thoughts for each.”

Wessel described the process and explained how follow-up questions were allowed in a more relaxed setting and lunch was catered.

“The candidate would host a lunch hour talk, where the department would order pizza and only students were allowed to go,” she said. “There, we could ask more follow-up questions on what we learned from their presentation the day before and get to know them better.”

Wessel also said she was interested in Pullen’s previous work with sexual expression and minorities. 

“Her research on this topic is something that I hope she brings into this department,” Wessel said. “Because now more than ever I think it’s important to incorporate plays with themes on not only feminism, but any minority into the plays we do here.”

Kevin Blair, senior in FAA, is also excited about the department head change.

“I attended her interview discussion when she was in the process of applying for the job, and was very impressed by her passion and vigor for inclusivity and exploring,” Blair said.

Blair explained he is interested to see how Pullen will interact with students because in the past, department heads rarely reached out to students.

Not only was Pullen’s interview panel uplifting for students, it also gave them hope that her perspective can bring light to problems and guide students on solving issues more effectively.

“Having Kirsten coming into the department will bring a new light to issues and problems we may have not known how to deal with before and will hopefully bring our work to the forefront of theatrical research and performance,” Blair said.

As for Pullen, she developed a plan on what she will attempt to tackle this academic year.

“I am going to work with the faculty, staff and students to ensure the Department of Theatre leads the discipline in terms of inclusivity, equity and diversity,” Pullen said. “We are going to model how American theatre can finally represent the full demographics of America. We are going to produce exciting and challenging plays for our students and audiences.”  

Being the first female department head is a monumental achievement for both Pullen and the University; however, it has not changed Pullen’s theory on how to lead the department. She plans to execute the same rules and make the same decisions as any other head would do.

“Being a woman doesn’t mean I’ll necessarily do things differently than a man,” Pullen said. “But being a feminist means I’ll put principles of justice, equality and balance at the front of all decisions I make, and build a department that values all kinds of experience, especially those that have been traditionally overlooked or ignored.”

Pullen has prided herself on letting students know she is here for them, and her expectations are very high for what students can achieve.

“They should expect me to listen and they should expect to hear from me,” Pullen said. “They should expect me to work with them to develop a department that offers terrific education, grounded in history and social context but preparatory for professional careers that includes a mosaic of voices and experiences.”

The new department head described her journey as something she is thrilled to begin and expressed some of the important principles she will implement as department head.

“I’ve been looking for an opportunity like this; a chance to lead a great department in ways that will make it a model for theatre programs across the country,” she said.

As Wessel said, her optimism for what students can achieve was apparent to students throughout her interview process and now in her position as head of the department.

She urges students to try their best and always stand up for what they believe in, even if it means not always succeeding.

“I want (students) to risk, fail and then risk again,” Pullen said. “If it doesn’t work out, learn from that failure, pick yourself up and try again.”

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