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Our Commitment to Racial Justice

Introduction

On June 18, 2020, in response to the murder of George Floyd, as well as to the much longer history of violence against black people in the United States, jazz trumpeter, composer, and music educator Terence Blanchard reflected on Marvin Gaye's hits song "What's Going On" in an opinion piece for NPR. Blanchard noted that so many people know and love this song:

Mother, mother

There's far too many of you crying

Brother, brother, brother

There's far too many of you dying...

Picket lines and picket signs

Don't punish me with brutality

Talk to me, so you can see

Oh, what's going on

As Blanchard went on to explain, "many people listen to the groove and the melody of this song, without really hearing the words." To put it another way, according to Blanchard, "many well-meaning people have heard only the melody of our plight, without knowing what the song means for us. Sure, they can hum it back with the same phrasing, can mimic all the inflections in Marvin's voice...can groove to the beat...But when it comes to the words, it's like we're singing in two different languages. The pain we sing of is a lingering, never-going-away pain. For the well-intention co-conspirator, it's a temporary pinprick--just enough discomfort to provide a false sense of assimilation and understanding. When the sing along, they never fully realize the luxury of pain that only lasts for a moment."

Action Plan

As faculty members who study and make music, we have spent years training our ears, seeking not just to hear but to listen and to adjust. Much of our training, however, has centered on primarily white musical traditions and experiences. Thus we recognize that we have work left to do, particularly when it comes to identifying and dismantling what music theorist Philip Ewell has termed the "white racial frame" so prevalent in academic music studies. We resolve to engage deeply and meaningfully in this work throughout the academic year.

1. We will educate ourselves about the experiences of BIPOC students on SUNY Geneseo's campus.

2. We will convene a Student Equity Commission of majors, minors, and concentrators to work together with the Department of Music & Musical Theatre faculty on issues of equity and racial justice. We will devote at least one department meeting per semester to open discussion with the members of this commission.

3. We will devote at least one department meeting per semester to be trained by staff from the Office of Diversity and Equity.

4. We will educate ourselves on the efforts at music schools and department throughout the country to identify and dismantle the white racial frame in music and musical theatre studies. We will work to make the culture and curriculum in our Department of Music & Musical Theatre reflective of this broader movement. 

5. We commit to diversifying our required curriculum. We know, for example, that European classical music is but one of our world's rich artistic expressions, and during the 2020-21 academic year, we will revise our music history and music theory sequences to better reflect the breadth and diversity of musical practice. 

Conclusion

Above all, we seek to listen to our BIPOC students, colleagues, and other members of the SUNY Geneseo campus community. We will work to ensure that our BIPOC students feel safe and valued in the Department of Music. We are committed to racial justice, and we will work to make our commitment audible because while the work of antiracism is difficult, it is also energizing, exciting, and essential; it broadens our musical perspective and makes us more conscious of our shared humanity. As Terrence Blanchard asserts, the time for us to write a new song "with a melody that allows us all to say our piece, and lyrics that urge us to be our best selves" has more than arrived. 

--Adopted by the Department of Music & Musical Theatre, September 2020