Dear School of Theatre and Music Community,
Last year, the School of Theatre and Music (STM) engaged in a series of conversations that began to address structural racism in the arts and how we educate and train students in our own programs. In response to these conversations, STM developed and ratified its inaugural Antiracism Commitment and Action Plan. In the plan, we pledged to increase Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) faculty and staff, strengthen resources for BIPOC students and faculty, develop protocols for reporting and responding to bias, and evaluate and change our curriculum. We are reaching out today to give you a brief update about our work this year and our plans for the coming year.
No meaningful antiracist work is possible without a diverse cohort of faculty and staff committed to putting equity and inclusion work front and center. To that end, we are delighted to welcome six new faculty colleagues to STM whose work will be central to our mission. Xiomara Cornejo, PhD, is a Salvadoran-American theatre director, designer, dramaturg, playwright, and arts activist from Compton, California. Monty Cole, MFA, is an award-winning theatre and film writer-director and teacher from Oak Park, IL, and has workshopped and directed new plays and re-imaginings of classic texts with companies across the country. Profs. Cole and Cornejo join the faculty as part of UIC’s Bridge to the Faculty Postdoctoral Fellowship for Diverse Faculty, which is designed to recruit underrepresented scholars with the goal of transitioning them to faculty members after two years. Liza Calisesi Maidens, DMA, is a choral conductor whose research centers around the expansion of the choral canon and social justice. Prior to her appointment at UIC, Dr. Calisesi Maidens was a member of the conducting faculty at Eastern Michigan University from 2015-2021, where she conducted three different choirs. Jonathan Villela, DMA, will join us as a guest conductor for several weeks this year as he completes a postdoctoral fellowship with the Luce Scholars Program in Japan. Last fall, we were delighted to welcome a new affiliate faculty in music, Associate Professor Johari Jabir, PhD. Dr. Jabir is an accomplished musician and scholar whose research focuses on the intersection of race, religion, gender, and music in the United States. His first book, Conjuring Freedom: Music and Masculinity in the Gospel Army of the Civil War (Ohio State University Press, 2017), is a cultural history of the nation’s first Black regiment, the 1st South Carolina Volunteers. Finally, thanks to the receipt of a Presidential Initiative on Expanding the Impact of the Arts and Humanities, UIC will welcome MacArthur Foundation Fellow Luis Alfaro for a semester-long residency, entitled “‘Are You Listening?’: Tragedy, Trauma, and Therapy--Mental Health in Latinx and BIPOC Communities.”
Central to this work was the development of an official process for reporting and responding to bias. This process, which integrates UIC’s Bias Reporting Tool, gives members of the STM community clear guidelines for how to voice concerns if they witness or experience prejudice or discrimination of any form. We also launched our first Equity and Inclusion Climate Survey, results from which will be shared with current students, faculty, and staff at the beginning of AY22. Building on these results, in the coming year, we will conduct focus groups and/or interviews with current students, faculty, and staff to gain a more nuanced understanding of the issues our community faces. Finally, we also developed a framework for a new section of the STM website: the STM Equity Hub. The Equity Hub will give members of the STM community regular updates on antiracist work at STM, outline the process for individuals to voice concerns related to bias, and connect students, faculty, and staff with campus and departmental support resources. All these changes were developed in consultation with elected student, faculty, and staff members of the STM Antiracism Advisory Committee (STM AAC) and the Office of Diversity.
As part of our commitment to decolonizing our curricula and programming, STM faculty overhauled core course syllabi, renamed most core music courses to acknowledge their position within Western Music, and developed new curricular offerings as a means of centering historically underrepresented groups and topics. For example, in addition to its regular offerings in Latin American music, jazz, and world music, the Music Department next year will offer two new courses, “The Song and the Flame: A History of Black Music” (Prof. Jabir) and “Music of Cuba and its Influence on Music of the US” (Prof. Teruel), as well as a new iteration of the Music and Gender course, “African American Women Artists: 100 Years of Shaping American Music” (Prof. Rosenberg). Likewise, the first production in the theatre season, REVERB, written by five UIC alumni and co-developed by Jessica Fisch, Monty Cole, and Lydia Diamond, provided an in-the-moment response to ongoing issues during the Black Lives Matter movement and the pandemic. STM faculty also developed and organized a range of workshops, master classes, and invited talks by BIPOC scholars and artists, including music theorist Philip Ewell, set designer Gabriel Barrera, Oscar nominated Jose Rivera, and theatre artists June Thiele and Elizabeth Laidlaw, among others.
This is difficult and important work and will require sustained effort. We still have much to do. In the coming year, we will build on last year’s efforts and develop new initiatives to improve inclusive teaching practices, secure additional resources for BIPOC students, and further reimagine our curriculum. We hope that you will join us. Please look for more messages in the coming semester about our work and how you can participate. We feel deeply honored and grateful to work with you, and we look forward to continuing to build our community together as we return to our studios, classrooms, and stages.
Louis Bergonzi, Professor, Head of Music
Christine Mary Dunford, Associate Professor, Director
Yasen Peyankov, Professor, Head of Theatre
James McNally, Lecturer, Associate Director for Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion