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UNC music department launches initiative to fight racism through blog posts

Focused on intersection of race and music

The music department at the University of North Carolina launched a new program this semester called “Do the Work Wednesdays.”

It highlights work on racial issues as well as black musicians, composers and other contributors.

Cat Zachary, the department’s communications coordinator, created the series.

“Particularly as a historically white university and department, it’s important for us to reckon with the past and to work to be better constantly,” Zachary told student paper The Daily Tar Heel.

“As the program website notes, the discussion series has been highlighting diverse and often underrepresented voices in the study of music,” Zachary said in an email to The College Fix.

“The series just launched this fall and we aren’t sure yet how long it may continue,” Zachary said.

On the subject of who may write blogs and overall engage in the project, Zachary told The Fix that the project “is an optional discussion series open to faculty, staff and students.”

For example, one professor highlighted the work of Philip Ewell, a music professor at Hunter College, who wrote a blog series titled “Confronting Racism and Sexism in American Music Theory.”

Another blog from a doctoral candidate, A. Kori Hill, discussed cultural appropriation in “Western classical music.”

Hill explained:

Music cannot be created, cannot be sustained, without the exchange of creative practices and ideas. But sometimes these exchanges are not equitable or respectful, leading one party to receive the praise and credit at the expense of another (or others). It is this power imbalance that sits at the core of cultural appropriation.

Other topics include “Teaching Tolerance” and “Resisting Orientalism and Global Patriarchy.”

But the music department did not stop at blog posts. It created an anti-racism music resources page, full of articles, book chapters, news and music all focused on combating racism and sexism.

“On this page, you’ll find resources that have been used and recommended by our faculty, staff, and students in anti-racism work, specifically in music pedagogy and performance,” the introduction explains.

“We acknowledge that anti-racism work must be an ongoing and intentional effort, and we are striving to make systemic changes that will last beyond the tenure of any individual currently in the department,” it pledged.

On the landing page for the project, the music department at UNC gave a thorough explanation for the reasoning behind the project.

MORE: U. Illinois music workshops to focus on Black Lives Matter, white supremacy

“Over the summer, the faculty and staff of the music department have been hard at work examining our internal systemic racism and looking for ways that we can begin to enact real and meaningful change,” Zachary wrote in her August blog post introducing the series.

“We believe anti-racism must be a community effort led by individual action,” the introduction said.

The music department has also fully committed to highlight black music and faces on their Twitter page, pushing not only their project but also black students and faculty that are heavily involved in music.

Another section of the department website is focused on its role and experience with African-Americans.

One tab is titled “Department History of the Black Experience,” but it lists little information.

“The Department of Music recognizes our imperfect, and sometimes harmful, history towards Black students, faculty, and staff,” the description said.

“This history is provided as a starting point for the reckoning work that must be done,” it said.

MORE: College music department pledges to remove ‘systemic racism’ from curriculum

IMAGE: Marius Masalar/Unsplash

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About the Author
Adam Burnett - Illinois State University