Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Initiatives at Frost

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August 19, 2020

Dear Frost Community,

Although COVID-19 has required an enormous effort to prepare for the safe return of students to campus, the culture of our school has not taken a subordinate position in our planning and action. The Frost School hosted a series of town hall meetings last spring, and we received frank input from hundreds of students, alumni, staff, and faculty. What we heard caused a difficult and painful period of reflection, but, we did hear you.

As a result of those discussions, in recent months we have focused on culture and inclusion for black students, staff, and faculty with the following steps to report:

  • The School Culture, Equity, and Diversity Committee has named Professors Melvin Butler and Jennifer Grim as co-chairs. This group has been meeting throughout the summer to advise school leadership.
  • There is a new Frost School Staff Equity and Diversity Committee.
  • The School Culture, Equity, and Diversity Committee has interviewed and selected a consultant to begin work with the school during the current academic year. We will probe deeply into our culture and actions, and we expect to explore unconscious bias and how to evolve holistically into a more inclusive society. This work will examine attitudes and behaviors, course content, concert programming, recruitment of students and faculty, media messaging, etc.
  • Valerie Coleman was appointed Director of Chamber Music for the School. Among other goals, Professor Coleman and her colleagues are revising the program to more greatly embody multiculturalism in repertoire and learning.
  • UM’s One Book, One U program for freshman students has selected So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo. We are asking all Frost School students, staff, and faculty to read the book, and we encourage students to create musical performances and repertoire inspired by themes from the book. The University hopes to invite the author to campus in the Spring, and during that visit we plan to present our music inspired by the book.
  • As a result of several years of effort and intention, the fall classes of new undergraduate and graduate students in the Frost School are both 8% in the representation of black students. This is a significant improvement, as the black graduate student enrollment had fallen to just over 1%, and the undergraduate figure was around 4%. We are pleased with these increases by 100% and 800%. We pledge to build on this success in the years to come, as we are not where we need to be.
  • Also resulting from years of effort, there are more black faculty members in the Frost School than ever before. For 2020-21, new appointments to the full-time faculty are Troy Roberts (Jazz Saxophone) and Nicole Yarling (Contemporary Music and Musicology), and part-time appointments are David Chiverton (Jazz Drums) and Leon Foster Thomas (Jazz Studies). The full-time faculty of the Frost School is now 8% black, and as recently as 2016, there was only one black faculty member with a full-time appointment. Among the 90 full-time faculty members of the Frost School, 23 are women (25.5%), 14 are Latino/Latina (15.5%), and 7 are black (8%).

Research has shown that homogenous societies make decisions more quickly than diverse ones, but diverse societies make better decisions than homogeneous ones. We will be better as we become a more diverse and inclusive school. We are pleased to be making progress, but far from satisfied with where we are in the journey. We ask that you continue to let us know how we are doing, whether we are succeeding, and where we are failing. We will continue to hear, respond, and grow.

Sincerely,

Dean Shelton G. Berg