New USITT Fund to Grow Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in Industry

January 13, 2021

The USITT Board of Directors has established the Tayneshia Jefferson Fund for Inclusion to support USITT’s efforts in the growth of equity, diversity, and inclusion in the industry. This fund builds upon the gifts made to USITT’s Diversity Initiative and honors the memory of USITT Board Member Tayneshia Jefferson. 

USITT continues its commitment to working for a more inclusive live entertainment design and technology community through initiatives such as the Gateway Program, which opens doors, provides mentoring, and grows the professional network of underrepresented individuals. This program, in its seventh year, is taking the opportunity to reflect and examine how it should operate in a post-pandemic theatre industry. The Institute also has established the Community Conversation series allowing voices from around the industry to discuss what inspires and motivates them.

Gifts to the Tayneshia Jefferson Fund for Inclusion help to underwrite the costs of these and similar programs that open doors, create awareness, and promote discussions that advance the goal of inclusion.

The fund is named for Tayneshia Jefferson, who died unexpectedly in 2013. Jefferson was a stage manager for opera and dance, production manager at Utah Festival Opera & Musical Theatre, USITT Board member, and educator. She made everyone feel welcome while making sure that everyone was aware that they could all work on being more welcoming, accepting, and attentive to all voices in the room.

“Tayneshia was at the forefront of activism for the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) design, technology, and production leadership community,” noted David Stewart, USITT Board member and chair of the Institute’s Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Committee.  “In an industry that generally has its diversity lens focused on those on stage, Tayneshia advocated not only for representation in the production landscape but that production leadership made meaningful strides in inclusion.

“Never one to be deterred, Tay would use her grace, charm, and steely determination to build a coalition of BIPOC and allies to further this critical work through mentorship, leadership, and sometimes simple cajoling. She was a master at using every tool in the toolbox to make the industry she loved so dearly a better place for everyone. Although she may not walk amongst us any longer, her influence and legacy live on.”  

Jefferson’s mother, Nan Arceneaux, shared that, “Tayneshia was passionate about her works and involvement with USITT. She looked forward to participating in the Conferences and embraced the opportunity to give her input and to receive any new technology offered. Tayneshia viewed the members and officers as her extended family. She shared with them a mutual love and respect for the business while looking for ways to better the USITT. When she saw the need for diversity among the students attending the Conference she was overjoyed when her suggestions were accepted. She immediately started putting plans in place to make it a reality. She would be so proud to know her mission has been accomplished.”

“On behalf of Tayneshia's family and friends,” Arceneaux continued, “I want to personally thank [the Board] for naming this initiative the Tayneshia Jefferson Fund for Inclusion. She was always a giving person with her family and friends, and she touched many of their lives. I am so proud that God continues to use Tayneshia to make a difference in other people's lives. I was so touched when my sisters and I attended the Conference after her death and met the young people that resembled her. We will work with the Conference to keep this fund alive. Tayneshia would be so proud!"

The Tayneshia Jefferson Fund for Inclusion supports a variety of programs, scholarships, and initiatives that impact people in all areas of live entertainment technology and design. People who would like to help further these programs and join USITT in building a more inclusive industry may make a gift at