Higher Education

On the Market V: Diversity Statements

One of the (least) fun things about the academic job market is that every application asks for a different constellation of documents. This is especially onerous when putting together your first few applications, which can take several hours of (unpaid) labour to piece together. As time goes on, though, you build up a nice little library of statements, philosophies, and other bits and pieces that you can more or less use for any application with a bit of creative adaptation.

This is my third year on the job market, so my library is mostly complete. Or at least it was until recently, when I was asked to write a diversity statement for the first time. Diversity statements are tricky, not least because of the typically vague and laconic prompts, e.g. write “a statement that addresses past and/or potential contributions to diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Since I spend several hours writing something that possibly only one person will ever read (if I’m lucky), I’ve decided to post it here, minus some stuff at the beginning about my own work and experiences that I won’t bore you all with. So, here we go.

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[…] As the issue of institutional diversity is complex, I feel it is best addressed as three distinct but related sub-topics. These are: serving the needs of a diverse student population; promoting diversity within the curriculum itself; and promoting diversity, equality, and fairness within the academic profession.

Diversity in the Student Population

The creation of a diverse student population begins in the admissions office, but the responsibility for maintaining and serving such a population lies with the entire university community. As faculty we should especially be aware of the needs of older and non-traditional students, who may have more pressing work or child-care commitments than their peers and who would therefore benefit from more flexibility in the scheduling of assignments and exams and in the delivery of course content.

I believe it is important to advocate for increased institutional support for students with disabilities whenever possible, and to work closely with the office for student disabilities not only to ensure that the needs of individual students or met, but more broadly to ensure that course materials conform to guidelines for maximum accessibility (e.g. slides and handouts designed with an eye toward common visual impairments such as colour-blindness, etc.).

In the case of potentially sensitive or inflammatory course content, I do think it is appropriate to give students advance notice, while at the same time encouraging students with conditions that might lead to severe negative reactions to make these known to the disability office in advance. In supporting the free exchange of ideas within the classroom, I believe it is especially important to use the discretionary authority of one’s position as professor to ensure that marginalized voices are heard and taken seriously. To this end, I have found the creation of online discussion spaces and short written responses to be quite valuable for their ability to allow students who might otherwise be disinclined to speak in class to make their thoughts known.

Diversity in the Curriculum

Given the current lack of funding for music education in public schools, traditional music literacy and familiarity with the Western canon are unfortunately not equally accessible to students from all backgrounds. Because of this, I think that music appreciation and basic notation and theory courses are some of the most important offerings of any university music department, since they serve as one of the few gateways into music available to all students. In these and other courses, I think it is also important to engage with both popular music and music of other cultures. In recognizing their aesthetic value and validity as objects of study, we create a bigger tent that can also draw a greater variety of students.

For similar reasons, I think it is important to include and emphasize the historically overlooked contributions of women, LGBT people, and people of colour to both the production and study of music. In the case of early music, this translates to more emphasis on women composers and performers, period expressions of gender and sexuality, and more attention to the role of music in the early history of European colonialism and conversion in the New World and elsewhere. I have been studying Japanese for several years and hope to make use of it to further this last discussion, including future projects on the polyphony sung brought by the Jesuits to early modern Japan and on cultural exchange between Japan and Italy following the Meiji restoration.

I believe it is also essential for music scholars to communicate this message of diversity to the broader public as a corrective to the idea that musicology is only about the worship of dead German masters. I expressed as much in a public response to an article by Montreal Gazette music critic Arthur Kaptainis on the 2014 AMS meeting in Milwaukee, which was reprinted on the AMS blog Musicology Now.[i]

Diversity within the Profession

It is my sincere hope that the security of a tenure-track position (and ultimately tenure) will allow me the security and institutional standing to work for the promotion of diversity within the profession of academic music scholarship. This would entail not only a commitment to continued emphasis on diversity in traditional hiring practices, but also for increased institutional support for adjuncts and contingent labour, who are disproportionally women and people of colour. I would also work to ensure that, whenever possible, relevant issues of diversity are accounted for in the programming of colloquia and professional conferences. As an ever smaller percentage of scholars enjoy the protections of the tenure system, it will only become more important that those who are able to do so continue to advocate on behalf of those whose positions are more precarious. Particularly worthy of consideration are the points raised by Alison Mountz et al. in a forthcoming article in ACME: the additional burden of service work faced by minorities as they are (paradoxically) needed to represent the interests of their minorities on committees, the necessity for new means of professional evaluation that take into account work that is important (if difficult to quantify), and a system that recognizes the value of “slow scholarship” rather than penalizing it. [ii]

Conclusion

Thanks in no small part to my background in the liberal arts, I believe very strongly that diversity—in the curriculum, in the student body, in the profession of scholarship—is foundation of the academic project. A community of teachers and scholars, all-encompassing in the diversity of its collective experience: universitas.

 

[i] Donnelly, Daniel. “What about the Beethovenz?” School of Doubt (4 Nov 2014), <http://schoolofdoubt.com/2014/11/04/what-about-the-beethovenz> Repr. Musicology Now (16 Nov 2014). <http://musicologynow.ams-net.org/2014/11/echoes-meeting-in-milwaukee.html>

[ii] Mountz et al. “For Slow Scholarship: A feminist Politics of Resistance through Collective Action in the Neoliberal University.” ACME: An International E-Journal for Critical Geographies, forthcoming. Currently available at https://www.academia.edu/12192676/For_Slow_Scholarship_A_Feminist_Politics_of_Resistance_through_Collective_Action_in_the_Neoliberal_University

 

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Dan

Dan

Dan has a PhD in historical musicology and has taught music history and theory at a major Canadian university. He mainly studies music from the Italian Renaissance when he's not busy performing stand-up comedy or playing JRPGs with his cat, Roy. He occasionally tweets as @incontrariomotu and blogs about geeky stuff at The Otaku Skeptic. He is also the glorious editor-in-chief of School of Doubt.

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