Con frustrated with homogeneous faculty

Curricular and faculty diversity questioned

by Victoria Ravin

Other stories in this series

"No way" is there diversity in the Conservatory faculty, said B.J. Johnson, a senior in bass performance. Faculty, student and curricular diversity are under dispute by Conservatory students who, like Johnson, have strong and diverse opinions on the issue.

Limmie Pulliam, a Conservatory junior majoring in vocal performance, feels that the racial diversity among faculty is limited.

Pulliam thinks that minority faculty members are supportive of minority students and demonstrate their support in attendance at performances and being available to discuss problems or concerns.

"But I think that there could still be more done," he added. "I have no problem with the diversity of the curriculum," he said. "The courses are there."

A common feeling among many students, and Double-degree students in particular, is that their rigorous schedules don't leave them time to take many courses outside of those required for their major. Therefore, for these students, curricular diversity doesn't become much of an issue.

"For me, my four years are pretty much planned out," Pulliam said.

Jung Lee, a Double-degree sophomore in biology and flute performance, thinks that the Conservatory student body is racially diverse while the faculty is not.

As a Double-degree student trying to meet all of the requirements, Lee said that she does not have room for many choices. Requirements are instated to make students diverse and well-rounded in the fields that they are studying, she said.

"It's very important to learn more than just Western music," said first-year composition major Yun Du.

Though Johnson believes that there is a lack of diversity among faculty, he feels there is a fair amount among the students. He classifies course offerings as good, representing a "wide variety of different countries and cultures."

"With my experience there hasn't been much support because they don't understand the importance of having that representation of professors," he said.

For students who come from all-black backgrounds, adjusting to a different racial environment at Oberlin is difficult, Johnson said. "There's definitely no representation just because we don't have the numbers in the faculty. It's unfortunate that we have a good deal of minority students and don't have the faculty."

Not seeing the representation among the faculty raises the question of "Do they want us as students of color here?" Johnson said. But, he says he doesn't know what the pool of applicants is like and whether minorities are applying for positions.

He thinks that it would be beneficial for minority musicians to see minority faculty, providing inspiration for their future careers.

Double-degree first-year Tiffany Tucker, majoring in voice and creative writing, said, "The only teacher I have of color is my voice teacher. There are not a lot of minority faculty members in the Conservatory." But, Tucker stressed that she has not been at Oberlin for long and therefore can't generalize the situation.

In terms of curriculum, she said that the emphasis on Italian performance in her voice program, for example, is "not racially unfair" because it is necessary for job and skills preparation.

Rebecca Garcia, a senior vocal performance major, feels that the curriculum is not as diverse as it ought to be. "I think that everyone should be required to take at least one ethnomusicology course," she said. Garcia said she felt the faculty was not diverse at all.

Tucker said, "From the Conservatory students that I've met there isn't too much diversity, but I wouldn't say it's any less than what's in the College."

She estimates that there are three or four students of color in her Conservatory classes, which she feels is probably not very different in the College.

Garcia would like to see certain changes, such as employing more faculty members of color, enrolling and retaining more students of color and expanding the curriculum.

"More attention should be given to the contributions of other composers," Garcia said, including women composers and those of color.

She said that only a small amount of time was devoted to jazz and other forms of music, as well as black and female composers, in her history of music class.

Waldo Gonzalez, a Double-degree fifth year in history and voice, said, "When you go to a place like Oberlin or Eastman or Julliard, you're saying that you want to be a professional musician and want to be taught by the best musicians, and color shouldn't matter."

Regardless of color, he hopes that his teachers will be the best for his musical goals.

"In an ideal world teachers would be from all different backgrounds," he said. "I want to be taught by the best and I don't care what their background or color is."

Not all students are complacent with the curricular scope of the Conservatory. Double Degree Junior Manu Vimalassery felt the diversity of the curriculum is important and neglected. "Multiculturalism isn't even a word in the vocabulary of the Conservatory," he said. "With Oberlin its got a name and it wants to uphold that tradition that it's got," Vimalassery said.

"When you say you want to be in this business you do it for the love of music. That love goes above and beyond all colors," Gonzalez said.

Professor of ethnomusicology Roderic Knight said that the Conservatory's curriculum is diverse in terms of courses offered and performance options. Many other schools of equal size or larger are in the same position of having only one instructor in this department, and Oberlin may even offer more options, he said.

"Even though I'm the only one doing it we offer quite a lot of exposure to non-Western music," he said.

"I cover a lot of music traditions in my own courses." He teaches such classes as Introduction to Musics of the World and Music of Africa. Over the years, he has added various courses, offered at different times, within the department. Professor of African American music Wendell Logan's courses supplement his own as part of the diversity of the curriculum.

The ethnomusicology courses "don't necessarily draw from minorities," Knight said.

One course that is not currently offered and is being considered is American popular music, he said.

Knight feels that a part-time, visiting position devoted to a specialized aspect of ethnic music needs to be established, something that he is planning to recommend.

This article is part of a series of articles addressing issues of diversity, race and class at Oberlin. The following is a review of the topics the articles have covered. The series will take a final look at the issues next week.

October 31 - What are Oberlin's progressive roots? A preliminary look at Oberlin's reputation as a progressive institution.

November 7 - How does Oberlin support students? Administrative mechanisms of providing institutional support were examined, including the Bonner Scholar Program, Financial Aid, the Multicultural Resource Center and Student Academic Services.

November 14 - How does Oberlin support administrators and staff? An exploration of recruitment and retention issues facing staff and administrators of color.

November 21- Welcome to Oberlin. A look at the interactions between the College and community. Race relations and formal linkage programs such as the Host Family Program were examined.

Today- Is the Conservatory different? The experiences of minority students and faculty in the Conservatory.


Back // News Contents \\ Next

T H E   O B E R L I N   R E V I E W

Copyright © 1997, The Oberlin Review.
Volume 126, Number 11, December 5, 1997

Contact us with your comments and suggestions.