The brutal police murders of Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd highlight the systemic racism that pervades not only law enforcement, but every aspect of life in the U.S. In a year in which the COVID-19 pandemic has also raised awareness of systemic racism, many white faculty members, students, and administrators at colleges and universities in the Anglophone world are taking action, particularly by adding anti-racist texts to their summer reading lists. Undoubtedly, some of these people will return to the classroom, rehearsal hall, and studio energized to be anti-racist allies and advocates. But, even armed with a new vocabulary with which to signal their allyship, many will need help developing an agenda to combat racism and anti-blackness within their department or school of music.

The purpose of this piece, then, is to offer several suggestions to help students, faculty, and administrators in higher education music begin the long and constant work of anti-racism. The result of discussions between a Black-queer postdoc music educator and a white cishet male tenured musicologist over the course of thirteen years, this brief piece offers some strategies that we believe will help white anti-racist allies to undertake the necessary work beyond this immediate moment. We also recognize that, although the call for anti-racist action is acute at the time of this writing, many people were engaged in this fight long before this moment. Drawing on, amplifying, and extending the work of those who have come before, this piece offers suggestions that could be useful for everyone working in music in higher education, but especially for white allies and advocates who wish to take up anti-racist work. Departments and schools of music in the U.S. are predominantly white institutions (PWIs) that disproportionately benefit white students, faculty, and administrators. (According to the 2017-18 data summaries published by the Higher Education Arts Data Services (616 reporting music institutions), there were 372 Black male faculty members and 124 Black female faculty members in National Association of Schools of Music-accredited institutions, compared to 6055 white male faculty members and 2886 white female faculty members. Data on non-binary faculty was not reported.) At the same time, the pervasiveness of white supremacy within departments and schools of music has embedded colonial attitudes in the curriculum and pedagogy at historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) as well as tribal institutions (Njoku & Patton 2017; Tuhiwai Smith, Tuck, & Yang, eds. 2019). With that in mind, we would like to offer the following points for further consideration and action as we collectively dismantle our institutions and remake them as vibrant spaces in which everyone can thrive:

  1. Music faculty and administrators must reconsider the extent to which western art music informs and shapes our work. We must recognize what musicologist Loren Kajiwaka (2019, 167) calls our "possessive investment in classical music" and reckon with the fact that "schools and departments of music… have played a role in helping to define whiteness and white privilege (and have in turn benefited from their association with both)…"
  2. We must build new curricula—from the level of individual courses to degree requirements—that decenter western European repertoire, composers, performers, and expressive techniques and instead draw uncritically upon musical practices from around the world (cf. Walker 2020). It is also necessary to reconfigure curricula in such a way as to decenter white voices in music scholarship, including especially readings in musicology, ethnomusicology, music education, and music theory and analysis. Here, we echo music theorist Philip Ewell, who, critiquing the Society for Music Theory's mission statement, observes that "If we truly 'embraced all approaches and perspectives,' then we would make them—the music theories of Asia, Africa, or the Americas—part of required music theory classes in our curricula, from freshman theory to doctoral comprehensive exams, and our undergraduate textbooks would not be based solely on the music of whites" (Ewell 2020, para. 5.5). That is, it is not enough to diversify the objects of our study; we must also broaden the methodologies used to engage with them. The dominance of white male voices in our pedagogies and our scholarship has led to implicit Eurocentrism and evidence of white supremacy within music studies. The recent racist responses to Ewell's work that were published in the Journal of Schenkerian Studies (cf. Beach 2019 [2020]; Jackson 2019 [2020]), as well as Danielle Brown's open letter to the Society for Ethnomusicology (2020), point to the ways that individual and structural racism underpin some of the core tenets of music pedagogy in higher education. Curricular repertoire, research, history, and theory classes should instead work to center artistic contributions of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) while also critically contextualizing the constructions of race and racism in music and society (Bradley 2007; Bradley et al., 2007; Madrid 2017; Ewell 2020; Quevedo 2020; Robinson 2020; Stimeling & Tokar 2020).
  3. Faculty and administrators must listen carefully to our BIPOC students and colleagues when they point out the systemic racism they must navigate and challenge the practices, pedagogies, and pieces that we have learned to hold dear. Our students may be bold in making these observations, and it is up to white faculty and administrators to resist the impulse toward "white fragility" (DiAngelo 2018; Oluo 2019), because defensiveness, tears, and requests for absolution will undoubtedly stop the conversation and prevent anti-racist change. As widespread changes unfold, those people who have benefited from the old regime must learn to sit in the discomfort.
  4. Faculty must take responsibility to research and learn Afrocentric performance practices (e.g. singing in African American Vernacular English). For instance, if a choir is singing an African American spiritual, Black students should not be singled out to provide guidance on vocal production, diction, phrasing, etc. Should a student volunteer to do so, that is wonderful, but at no point should an individual student be singled out as a stand-in for a broad and diverse group of people.
  5. Students should be required to participate in vernacular ensembles, including popular music groups, not simply as a one-time requirement, but as a core component of all undergraduate music curricula (Byo 2018). Moreover, we believe that these groups should be directed by musicians who bring both musical and cultural expertise within those traditions, prioritizing the hiring of BIPOC faculty. At the same time, it may be worthwhile to reconsider ensemble audition requirements so that non-majors with cultural expertise may also participate in the ensemble. Undoubtedly, this suggestion will require significant budgetary investment, but such investments are necessary to effect change.
  6. BIPOC students and colleagues should be given space to develop ensemble dress codes and to set standards for professional appearance. Many band, orchestra, and choir dress codes currently prioritize white beauty standards, particularly regarding professional expectations around hair, makeup, and jewelry. Moreover, white faculty should educate themselves about BIPOC beauty standards, white supremacy's links to worries about obesity, and to the complex history of skin lighteners and hair straighteners (Hochschild & Weaver 2007; Oluo 2019; Omi & Winant 1999; St. Jean & Fagin 1998; Strings 2019; Walker 2007).
  7. Music departments and schools of music should broaden audition requirements and expand pre-college programming to engage BIPOC students who may have great potential to grow within a program but are not prepared to meet entry requirements. Socioeconomic pressures on BIPOC students may make it difficult for them to meet audition expectations, where students need to demonstrate knowledge of the histories, repertoires, and practices of classical music (Koza 2003). BIPOC students may also have limited access to lessons, travel, and ownership of an instrument, making it difficult for them to compete with students from more advantaged backgrounds. Once these students have been admitted, it is essential that BIPOC students be offered continuing financial and mentoring support throughout their academic careers to help remove potential barriers to professional success (Hamann & Walker 1993).
  8. Echoing Ewell (2020, para. 6.8), we call for the elimination of folk songs with ties to blackface minstrelsy from undergraduate textbooks. Similarly, we call for the elimination of those compositions that betray racist, exoticist, and colonialist attitudes from textbooks and concert programs (Hall 2000). These pieces only belong in settings where they can be suitably contextualized as historical artifacts.
  9. We should provide intentional physical and virtual spaces and opportunities for BIPOC music students to congregate and dialogue about their experiences as BIPOC music students (Engram, Jr., 2020). These spaces may take many forms, from dedicated lounge areas to special audiences with department chairs, directors, and/or deans. Although such spaces may already be available within the university at large, music students often spend a majority of their time in the music building. As such, administrators should be proactive in fostering student solidarity and dialogue among BIPOC students.
  10. We must consider the systemic inequalities of police, campus security, and other enforcement agents in institutional contexts. Because police brutality disproportionately impacts Black people in the U.S., we should never call campus security or police in a situation involving a BIPOC student (Holmes & Smith 2008; Oluo 2019; Northeastern University School of Law Criminal Law Project/National Lawyers Guild, NUSL Chapter 2020). As in #9 (above), music students often keep odd hours, practicing and studying when faculty and administrators are not present in the building. Such common practices put BIPOC students—and Black students, in particular—at risk of being accosted by and mistreated by armed campus security. Additionally, we advocate for the removal of police from university campuses and from spaces where university students may be working to fulfill degree requirements, including especially public schools and hospitals that may have armed security on site (Peak 2015).

We firmly believe that this work is both necessary, possible, and long overdue. At the same time, we know that this work is hard and requires rethinking many of the things we take for granted in our daily work. White allies and advocates will certainly make mistakes, but that should not prevent good-faith effort. Finally, these suggestions are just a starting point. Some institutions will be more prepared than others to implement them in the short term, so they may wish to go even deeper in these efforts. Other institutions may need more time and/or resources to even begin this work. Nevertheless, it is essential that we all work to dismantle white supremacy in our institutions and to make them spaces where all students can develop the tools necessary to express themselves musically.


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