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YSM commitments to racial equity

Looking over top a piano out window to New Haven

The galvanizing voices of the Black Lives Matter movement raise for YSM the question of how we can be a positive force for increasing awareness and eradicating systemic racism in our nation, our communities, our institutions, and our school. America is in the vortex of a “perfect storm” of crises — police brutality toward Black communities, COVID-19 and the soaring number of related deaths, historically high unemployment rates, and divisive federal governance and leadership­ — and each of these is connected to systemic racism.

At this moment, we must acknowledge and redress injustices to the YSM Black community and indeed all BIPOC who deserve our accountability and commitment. The many communications coming from faculty, staff, students, alumni, and friends have helped inform and enlighten us, and what follows are actions we are committed to making now and in the immediate future.

  • Donna Yoo, Director of Admissions and Alumni Affairs, will lead the effort in cultivating partnerships with Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to increase the diversity of the YSM student body. Application fees will be waived for students applying to YSM from HBCUs. In consultation with the HCBUs and an advisory committee of YSM faculty, students, and alumni she will appoint, the partnership agreement will be determined and recruitment strategies will be designed.
  • Last year, Musical Bridges, a project of the Norfolk Chamber Music Festival, commissioned violinist and composer Daniel Bernard Roumain to premiere a new work that directly addresses systemic racism and police brutality against Black men and communities of color. The new work will be the subject of monthly, livestreamed conversations between Mr. Roumain and Festival Director Melvin Chen as they explore the role of art in our time. The Sphinx Foundation and the Yale University Schwarzman Center are co-collaborators for these conversations.
  • Ellington Jazz Series Artistic Director Thomas C. Duffy and YSM faculty member Wayne Escoffery will explore new ways the Ellington Jazz Series and Jazz Initiative can address issues of race and gender in the jazz genre and beyond. All Ellington Jazz Series artists, like those in the other artist series sponsored by the school, will, as part of their contract, engage with our students in open discussions. The Ellington Jazz Series will seek collaborators to bring a Black artist of national distinction to campus annually as a new Ellington Fellow.
  • In the coming year, Yale Philharmonia Principal Conductor Peter Oundjian will work with members of the student orchestra committee to develop programming that is inclusive of music by women and composers of color.
  • The Strategic Planning Initiative, led by Deputy Dean Melvin Chen, is in full progress through the organizational structure of a central committee and several standing committees for which issues of diversity and inclusion are priorities. Committees with representation from the school’s faculty, staff, students, alumni, and Board of Advisors, and in consultation with other constituents, are developing recommendations for a draft strategic plan which will be distributed to the entire YSM community for review and discussion in online open hearings. The central strategic planning committee will then review and consider all comments for the draft of a final strategic plan.

    There are several important consensus points from the Strategic Plan to report on at this time. The school’s area coordinators will work with their respective faculties and students to conceptualize and re-design area seminars. Specifically, faculty will engage with thematic subject matter and repertoire that will reflect diversity and a broader musical perspective. The colleagues discussing this area are hopeful these changes can be made by fall term 2020.

    Academic Studies Area Coordinator Paul Berry will guide discussions that consider the social and historical forces through which music has emerged and will continue to emerge in our society. Examples include a consideration of not only the composer and their audience, but also those who were excluded from this process and why. Along with these subsequent revisions is a commitment to consider thematic studies related to diversity with the potential to involve the entire school.
  • Black History Month will be observed at YSM, with all events free and open to the public. Associate Dean Michael Yaffe will appoint and chair a committee of faculty, staff, students, alumni, and local leaders/citizens to plan, organize, and oversee our observances, which will feature performances of music by Black composers and conversations with Black artists.
  • Next month, the Music in Schools Initiative will launch MorseOnline, using technology to foster more diverse music-making. Ninety students from the New Haven Public Schools will work with 20 YSM teaching artists for three hours daily on Zoom throughout July. The program includes a new curriculum developed by YSM graduate student composers, wellness practices, an introduction to music theory, private lessons and group classes by area, music production training, and final projects.
  • A Music in Schools Initiative national symposium will convene in August. This will be a timely and crucial review of the 2017 Symposium proceedings, which yielded the school’s Declaration on Equity in Music for City Students, with a focus on current national discussions surrounding systemic racism. The symposium will be designed to determine how the Declaration can be updated to support music instruction for pre-K–12 students. The national leaders who helped create the Declaration will re-convene along with new voices to ensure the continued value of this work in the context of the public discussions about systemic racism in America.
  • The School’s priority to appoint a Director of Student Life has become even more urgent, and the Dean will ask Yale University Provost Scott Strobel to waive the hiring freeze and grant permission to initiate a search by August 1, 2020. We will undertake an exhaustive national search to identify and appoint an administrator with a music background who will create and oversee the school’s diversity and inclusion initiatives and activities, including, but not limited to, mandatory anti-racism training for faculty, staff, and students; professional development seminars for the YSM community; and a re-imagined and revised student government structure. The Director of Student Life will also serve as the Title IX Coordinator and most importantly, will serve as an ombudsperson for students. The position will report directly to the Dean, and the Director will be a member of the YSM Cabinet and also support the work of the YSM Steering Committee as directed by the Dean. The search committee will be representative of YSM,  and interviews with final candidates will be open to all YSM constituencies. 
  • We will engage an expert external consultant to conduct mandatory anti-racism training for faculty, staff, and students during fall term 2020. The consultant will advise us about the composition and size of groups in which this instruction can be most effective. Such training and subsequent conversations are steps toward an anti-racist and belonging environment for mutual learning and work.
  • A faculty resource fund has been established to engage artists, composers, scholars, and leaders of color for area seminars, classes, and workshops. The application procedures for requesting these grants will be forthcoming from the Office of the Deputy Dean.
  • The School further commits to diversify its faculty and staff at every opportunity through more thorough, far-reaching, and transparent candidate searches in consultation and collaboration with university DEI resources, professional organizations, and wide-spread dissemination of position descriptions.

These actions support our unyielding resolve to eliminate the endemic effects of racism at YSM. To assess our progress toward a more equitable and inclusive community, a committee of colleagues, students, and alumni from YSM and the university will be appointed by the Dean in consultation with Vice President and Secretary Kim Goff-Crews to conduct a review by April 30, 2021.

There is much work to be done, and we will relentlessly pursue our goal of becoming a community in which racial justice resides and where Black Lives Matter.