Letter from the Chair: An Invitation

A Letter from Department of Music Chair Professor Wendy Heller:

Dear students, faculty, and staff,

Over the past few weeks many of you have taken to the streets and raised your voices not only to protest the murder of George Floyd by four policemen in Minneapolis on May 25, but also to denounce the systematic racism and white supremacy that has normalized anti-black violence for too long. We face a difficult and traumatic reality, and I for one know that I have much to learn from those whose experiences we continually fail to understand and from those who have been deeply engaged in this fight for many years. Even so, as musicians and scholars, our work has always been the work of the imagination, of bringing into existence the possibility of other, new worlds. Now we are on the precipice of a new world in life as well as in art. As Chair of the Department of Music I offer our full support to a world of true equality. Black Lives Matter.

I recognize that statements such as these are insufficient, and so I ask you to join me in moving towards this new world as a community. Let’s redouble and refocus our efforts to strive for systematic and meaningful change within our lives, within our institution, and within the profession. Indeed, we have an extra responsibility since music holds a special power in the world, and presents us with the opportunity to see how far we can push for change beyond our walls, as we continue to progress beyond Princeton’s history with slavery. Our new undergraduate curriculum was reformed to allow for a greater diversity within our course offerings, and I am committed to ensuring that we fulfill that goal. This, in conjunction with reenergizing our efforts to diversify our faculty, graduate student body, and guest lecturers and performers, is certainly a step forward. I know, however, that this only skims the surface of a greater, more nuanced, and more deliberate movement. And so, most importantly, I want to invite you to join me in immersing in this important conversation. I, and my colleagues, want to listen and to honor your voices and ideas.  

To get the dialogue started, I ask you to reach out to us in any way you see fit. You can email me or any of my colleagues individually, or send your thoughts anonymously through this form. We welcome your ideas for what we can do better and aspire to, what our failings are, what can we build on, or anything else that comes to mind. These ideas can be specific—suggestions for new programs or revisions to current programs, specific guests we should bring, course offerings we should create, etc.—or be broad and ambitious. We want to hear it all.

The Department of Music will then establish a working group comprising faculty, staff, undergraduate and graduate students, and alumni that will meet regularly to tackle difficult questions and make specific recommendations for priorities and initiatives regarding our department and our efforts to be broadly inclusive, with a specific focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion as we continue to tackle racism on campus and beyond.

This will NOT be a committee in name only—but rather will be charged with an urgent mission to address shortcomings in our department and to bring into focus the changes that we are going to need to make. Topics will include (but are not limited to): representation and admissions, repertoire and ensembles, curriculum, faculty and staff hires, outreach and recruitment, safe spaces and communication, disciplinary boundaries, implicit biases, and more.

Among the first steps of this committee will be to a hold a town-hall meeting in the new academic term, open to the entire Department community. This will be the first of an ongoing series of such meetings as we continue the long and challenging process of learning, listening, building, and rebuilding, and we want as much of your involvement as you can give.

Thank you for listening and helping us, as a Department, move forward together.

Wendy Heller

Scheide Professor of Music History and Chair, Department of Music
Director, Program in Italian Studies

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