Petition calls for diverse faculty, student safety

Music+building+sign+stands+in+the+grass+along+Lucinda+Avenue+in+DeKalb.+

Patrick Murphy

Music building sign stands in the grass along Lucinda Avenue in DeKalb.

Kierra Frazier, Senior Reporter

DeKALB — An NIU School of Music student is leading a petition calling for more support for Black, Indigenous and people of color at the school, the creation of a more diverse music faculty and support for keeping students safe during the pandemic. 

Kee Taylor, a senior music education major, created the petition as a call to action to ensure changes were being made in the music department after the university released a statement supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.  

“Racism should also be at the forefront of this conversation and making real change, making sure that your students of color feel like they have a space here and maybe show that you’re keeping them safe,” Taylor said.

Taylor said unless a student is a jazz or steelpan major, students are rarely taught to study music written by non-white music composers. 

“Something that really sticks out to me is just the fact that our music program is very white,” Taylor said. “It’s not diverse at all, a majority of Black and brown students don’t have a great time there and we talk about it very freely amongst ourselves.” 

Taylor calls for four different demands for the school to implement in the petition. The demands include more support towards BIPOC students and safety precautions taken towards fall semester classes during the pandemic, along with the hiring of a more diverse faculty and a report detailing the state of domestic diversity among the School of Music staff. 

Taylor said they created the petition to shed light on what’s happening at the college; it wasn’t created as an attack for administrators to feel offended. 

“Coming from a Black student who’s existed in the space, a statement is not enough,” Taylor said. “We need to see actions as students moving forward and if you feel offended by it, you need to work harder to make sure these changes actually happen.”

Graduate student Chantel Charis signed the petition and said there needs to be an overhaul of the curriculum and changes to the way the school is run. 

“I know that this is an issue everywhere, especially, I feel like, in music schools where our education is coming from predominantly white sources,” Charis said. “We learn 12-bar blues from Beatles songs, which is so wrong.” 

Charis believes that the petition could bring awareness to other disparities for other departments on campus. She said she hopes the School of Music can lead by example and act swiftly on the reforms listed in the petition.

Andrew Glendening, director of the school of music, said in the early summer, the college created a Steering Committee on Diversity and Inclusion, which includes eight faculty members and plans to have student representation. 

That committee was the creative force behind the Black Lives Matter statement crafted earlier this summer and will lead our charge to be purposefully anti-racist and our commitment to creating meaningful change when needed in our teaching, our curating and our recruitment,” Glendening said in an Aug. 20 email. 

Gregory Beyer, professor and director of percussion studies, is a part of the committee and said their goal is to hold the School of Music accountable, make cultural change and more.

“We’re really delighted that the students put together a petition because effectively they’re asking for the same thing,” Beyer said. “In a way, the formation of this committee and the petition coming together at the same time is a great sight.” 

The committee was approved as a formal standing committee at an Aug. 18 School of Music faculty meeting, Beyer said. 

During the summer, Glendening asked all music faculty to submit a statement about their plans to address the action items in the Black Lives Matter statement that was posted by the school. He said those plans will go to the steering committee for recommendations and reporting. 

Glendening also required all new School of Music faculty, graduate assistants and teaching assistants to take a Conversations on Diversity and Equity workshop held by the Academic, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office. 

Vernese Edghill-Walden, vice president for academic diversity, equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer, said CODE trainings allow for faculty and students to become self-aware in realizing the bias or privileges they may hold. 

“I commend the students for putting together the petition and I want students to know that in addition to the work that they are doing, that this is the work that we’re committed to for the entire campus,” Edghill-Walden said. 

Edghill-Walden said she’s been working with every college over the summer to help address issues revolving social justice and racial injustice. 

Alejandra Hernandez, a transfer music performance major, signed the petition based on what BIPOC students have to face every day at universities. 

Hernandez said she hopes to see a support group for BIPOC students at the School of Music as a result of the petition based on her own experiences. 

“One time I went up to another student and I asked what artist he was playing,” Hernandez said.  “He told me ‘it’s some of your people’s music.’ I felt extremely offended and just the fact that we face that on a daily basis just goes to show how much work we need to do as a society.”