June 7, 2020
Dear Schulich Community,
The recent tragic events involving anti-Black racist acts and the ensuing protests have highlighted for all of us the ongoing racism and unacceptable and persistent inequities in our society. They have stimulated activism and have encouraged us to question our own contributions to society and to interrogate the ways in which we may participate in bias, including implicitly. They have also led many in our community, particularly students, to examine the environment in which their musical studies are taking place here at the Schulich School of Music of McGill University. And this environment has been found wanting.
The concerns that have been expressed, fervently, thoughtfully and eloquently, have centred on the issue of diversity—diversity of repertoire, demographic diversity, curricular diversity. While many have focused specifically on the lack of representation by Black musicians and composers, the lack of diversity extends beyond that. For example, the School staff complement makes it one of the least demographically diverse faculties at McGill, not only in terms of people of colour, but also in other important ways like gender. We acknowledge as well how the Eurocentric, colonial foundations of higher music education have narrowed the focus and excluded diverse voices, and how invisible privilege (e.g. white, male, straight, European) can become encoded in social/cultural structures to the degree that it goes unnoticed and is silently reproduced in a vicious circle (e.g. “we need to train students to know Beethoven because professional orchestras program Beethoven”).
Questions have rightly been asked about what the School is doing to address the issue of diversity, and requests have been made for transparent reporting. I offer the following in response to that request.
Most importantly, the desire voiced recently by several different groups for greater diversity resonates strongly with similar concerns raised repeatedly during our year-long period of public consultation with the entire Schulich community of students, faculty and staff in 2019. This led to the goal of diversity being identified as one of five strategic directions the School is actively pursuing over the next 5 years.
Specific actions in our implementation plan include:
Enhance the diversity of curriculum, repertoire and teaching modalities
We cannot presume to know what curricular and programming diversification might specifically look like in advance for each area of activity at the School, but we’ve envisioned a framework by which we can have the conversation and involve members in individual areas to explore what diversification would be the most meaningful in their own context. Some areas have already initiated those conversations—and some individual instructors have already challenged themselves to embrace diversity in their courses—other areas will start discussions in Fall 2020. These conversations are a first step and will require commitment to implement changes that will be sustained into the future.
To support the goal of curricular diversification, we also created a new faculty position for a specialist in music pedagogy in higher education with expertise in increasing and supporting diversity and a demonstrated engagement with issues of decolonization. I will soon be making a public announcement about the successful candidate, who is eminently qualified to contribute to the School in this way.
Diversify our community by implementing strategies to recruit underrepresented populations
We know that if we want to attract student applications from underrepresented populations, we need to reach those populations in our recruiting. This means developing targeted recruitment activities and engaging our musicians in strategic outreach. Those responsible for recruitment activities at the School have been asked to develop these plans, and many of you will be asked to participate in activities. We cannot be complacent and expect students to come to Schulich, particularly if they do not see themselves reflected in the student body.
In addition to developing a focused recruitment strategy, we are working actively to secure more philanthropic support for diversity scholarships. We’ve already successfully implemented a program devoted to this purpose, but it needs to grow.
The goal of diversifying our staff complement, critical as it is, will necessarily unfold over a longer period of time given the pace at which academic renewal takes place. McGill has a very robust equity framework in which academic hiring takes place, including equity training for all search committee members and requirements to actively recruit diverse candidates. I am convinced this change will happen in due course. However, I recognize this is unsatisfactory to many.
What we can do now is focus more effort on bringing guests into our community that represent diverse cultures, populations and viewpoints: guests such as Terri Lyne Carrington, who was here in March 2020 to offer workshops on jazz and gender justice; and Beverley Diamond, distinguished scholar of indigenous studies, who spent the winter term in 2018 at the School teaching a seminar and partnering with local indigenous scholars and cultural leaders to offer a symposium on “Decolonizing Arts.” Everyone responsible for inviting guests to the School, both scholars and performers, will be expected to actively seek out candidates who are underrepresented in our population.
Improve equity, diversity and inclusion in personal awareness and practices
Raising awareness is one of the first steps towards cultural transformation. The School has been growing in that direction, liaising with University units to hold workshops for staff and students on topics such as accessibility, diversity and inclusion; sexual and gender diversity; and responding to disclosures of sexual violence. In 2017 we established an Accessibility Working Group, whose mandate soon grew to include issues around equity, diversity and inclusion. In 2018 an Ad Hoc Jazz Equity Committee was struck to develop area guidelines for instructor/student interactions, and a multi-year strategic plan for recruiting and highlighting women and other underrepresented groups in the instrumental jazz program. Their recommendations, currently being implemented in the Jazz Area, will also form the basis for a School-wide Working Group on Instructor/Student Interaction, whose members are doing preparatory research in advance of launching their official work in Fall 2020.
As a next step, awareness raising needs to mature into changed practices. A proposal has been developed for an Equity, Diversity, Inclusion standing committee of Faculty Council, that would serve as an ongoing champion, support and liaison to resources and models for change. This group would be responsible for guiding the School’s engagement with McGill’s recent strategic EDI plan and for ensuring that the School deepens its participation in community celebrations such as Black History Month and Indigenous Awareness Weeks. The EDI Committee proposal is due to be discussed by Faculty Council in Fall 2020.
Is this enough? Unquestionably it is not. We need to do much more and we need to do it faster. I understand—and share—the impatience that has been conveyed. But many of you have also acknowledged an understanding of the length of time that is needed for change to take place. This is not an excuse, it’s a reality.
Who will lead the change? I would respond, all of us. Each one of us has choices to make and a role to play, no matter how small—and our power to change things lies in all of us working together. Many of the recent voices have spoken out with passion and put forward concrete ideas for change. This clearly shows that people are engaged and ready to apply their energy to action.
Thank you for raising your voice and for your commitment to the community and to the Schulich School of Music.
Brenda Ravenscroft, Ph.D.
Dean, Schulich School of Music