Sounds of Black Culture Shouldn't Be Marginalized.
Sounds of Black Culture Shouldn't Be Marginalized.
The culmination of a survey I helped conduct of graduate students in the UVA music department. Survey was done in conjunction with wider efforts across the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences to assess graduate education post-COVID. I organized suggestions and recommendations and sent them to the relevant parties on behalf of some of the graduate students.
-In general (these responses don’t fit neatly into the four categories and/or address several simultaneously)
The diversity in approaches within the CCT graduate community is on one hand a lovely thing. But on the other hand, it leads to confusion and asks, “what is this program?" Some students expect CCT to be more like an artist residency and some expect it to be a research program. How can anyone expect such a wide chasm to be bridged in terms of support? Many of our suggestions here are contradictory. Many of our approaches in general are contradictory! Perhaps this is a good thing for the university, and maybe it's good for us like being forced to engage with perspectives we wouldn't usually. However, as a student it frequently leads to frustration and confusion.
- How can we better prepare students for jobs beyond academia? What kinds of opportunities can we give grad students for work and training (for e.g., equity work, community collaborations, tech skills, design)?
We should be reaching out to more alumni to share their experiences finding work. Michael implemented this idea as part of the colloquia series and arranged meetings with Wendy Hsu and Peter Tschirant, who work for the City of Los Angeles and as a dean at Texas State respectively. We should expand this program and facilitate more conversations with alumni who work outside of academia. We should also facilitate more conversations with alumni who work within academia as well. Alumni such as Shana Goldin-Perschbacher and Maria Guarino have recently presented at colloquia, but can we increase the amount of UVA representation at colloquia? This would offer invaluable networking experience to all UVA students regardless of their career tract. We should finally be cognizant of the identity of the UVA alumni the department brings in. While we appreciate the opportunity to hear about the experiences that someone like Peter Tschirant had in securing employment, the difficulties and lessons of a white male do not necessarily apply to the students in our department who are mothers, disabled, people of color, or members of the LGBTQ community. UVA music has an impressive list of recently graduated students from underrepresented communities who work within and outside academia. We should find every opportunity to network with them and prioritize learning from their experiences.
While we should try to bring more UVA alumni to speak at colloquia, the colloquia should also present more perspectives from people who outside of academia. Martha Diaz, who came in 2018, for instance, did not work at a university. We should find more speakers like her to make students aware of the opportunities outside of academia and expand our list of possible colloquia invitees beyond UVA alumni. Possible speakers include museum curators, individuals working in non-profit sectors, archivists, cultural affairs officers, librarians, etc.
The UVA music program needs to encourage students to publish whenever they can. This is a sentiment shared by both CCS and CCT. Currently, we are actively discouraged from publishing early in our career. The rationale circulating amongst students is that the department does not want students to publish poor scholarship. But given the peer review process at so many journals, we struggle to see how this could ever be the case. Furthermore, we fear that our lack of a strong resume puts us at a disadvantage when competing with other PhDs at other universities for any type of job. Whether or not our work gets submitted to JAMS, Slate, C-Ville Weekly, or wherever a student decides will suit their career desires best, we believe that the department should actively encourage us to get our work to the public. Building a strong and substantive resume will benefit students pursuing academic and alt-academic careers alike.
The department should incorporate students into the process of hiring new faculty. During the hiring process of AD Carson, Ted, for instance, encouraged students to submit feedback based on AD and the other candidates’ presentations. We should continue this project. But we also believe that it would benefit students if we could be privier to the process the department took to not only (1) weed out a considerable pool of applicants but (2) ultimately choose one applicant over several others. Being offered a “behind the scenes” look at what hiring committees value, consider, and debate will help students secure academic employment and employment outside of the academy.
We believe that the department should create a more expansive listserv. Several students recollect that their previous institutions managed listservs that did not only alert students to internal funding opportunities, but also call for proposals, external funding opportunities, publishing opportunities, upcoming conferences, and concerts. This is an unrealistic task to ask of the DGS, so could the department create a student position whose job consisted of managing a listserv tailored to student needs? Relatedly, the DGS or someone else could be tasked with keeping students up to date with requirements within the music department. There used to be document on the Musgrads Collab site, but that has since disappeared. Instead of merely replacing it, however, could we task the DGS or our advisors to email us once at the beginning of the year in order to alert us to the requirements we need to complete and courses we need to take. Similarly, could they email us at the end of the year in order to confirm that we have completed the requirements and offer an opportunity to fill out the required forms for the department and GSAS?
- How can we reimagine our course offerings? What kinds of skills & experiences do students want and need?
We believe the department could rethink the purpose of final projects. There have been many courses where professors have asked and encouraged students to submit alternative and untraditional final projects: make podcasts, create critical karaokes, design a course syllabus, interview an author, etc.… We believe this idea should be expanded and taken further. So much of what we do in class, like writing a final paper, lies dormant. Even exercises intended to communicate our research to the public, such as a critical karaoke or a podcast episode, are only viewed by classmates and the professor in charge. But could, for instance, professors encourage that those writing final papers adhere to the formatting guides of a specific journal, and then submit that article to that journal at the end of the semester? Or could a professor encourage that a final project be a book review that a student submits to a journal? These recommendations are specific to academic circles, but they can also be expanded. Could a student be also encouraged to submit a final project that consisted of them writing an op-ed, a newspaper article, or a magazine contribution? In short, irrespective of the students’ research interests, every course encourages and revolves around giving that student the opportunity to present their work – in whatever format – to a wider public.
We believe the department could also more actively engage students during the first two years. Right now, the main project we have to do in CCS/CCT is submit a first-year paper during our second year or have a second-year review. However, several students have remarked that they often abandon their first-year papers after their second year or otherwise do not pursue the compositions they wrote for guest ensembles. Could there be some sort of different project that serves as an alternative? For instance, students could work with their advisors during these initial years to revise and submit either their master’s work (if they have one) or their senior thesis (if they have one). This might be a better, more productive use of time than asking that students beef up an end-of-term paper written in their first year or discuss pieces written for the guest ensembles. The ultimate goal is to, after the first two years, ensure that students have something on their resume, not necessarily to share with the faculty, but to send to various publishers. Similarly, could the first-year seminar, for instance, require students to make something like a personal website or some other act that would contribute to the students’ professional development and that they could bolster during their time at UVA?
We also believe the department should also make clear what expectations exist between the advisor and advisee. Unlike in STEM, graduate students do not work alongside their advisors. Advisors generally do not rely on music students as research assistants or co-composers, nor do advisees work with advisors to become second author on their monographs or co-composers. Thus, within our field, the roles of advisor and advisee are a bit nebulous. We believe the department should stipulate certain expectations that advisors and advisees must meet: minimum meeting times per semester, for instance.
We also suggest a number of additions to the current course offerings. UVA has recently expanded its curriculum offerings and we are looking forward to the results of the newest hire in Black Sound Studies. But for the next hire, could the department consider a candidate who operated primarily outside of academia? We recognize that asking our professors – some of whom have only operated within academic circles – advice regarding non-academic employment is unfair and futile. But could we mitigate that issue by hiring someone who has worked as an independent scholar for the last 10 years, but secured employment somewhere else? We already have a couple of faculty who have worked outside of academia for a substantial portion of their lives, but what about increasing the amount of faculty who have a PhD but also went on to get their MLS, or become a museum curator, or became a lawyer? In short, how can we get someone like Wendy Hsu on faculty? What about someone who teaches coding but in music contexts – either as a composer or in a digital humanities field? By dramatically altering common conceptions of who we think is qualified to teach at UVA, we can make the course content better suited for alt-ac careers.
Another way to improve upon current course offerings is by making them more collaborative. This can happen in a number of ways. For instance, could a cohort work with faculty members to craft a course instead of a “top-down” approach to the current graduate course content? Similarly, could a first-year cohort in CCS and CCT be required to take a first-year seminar together? This would help increase interdisciplinary collaboration and possibly lead to projects that merge artistry with research and publications with performances.
An additional way to improve upon current course offerings is by making them closer resemble current undergraduate course offerings. Graduate composition classes focus mostly on creating works to be performed within the concert hall. Undergraduate composition classes, in contrast, revolve around beat-making, curating mixtapes, and podcasting. Similarly, undergraduate CCS courses require musicianship and theory; graduate CCS courses require nothing of the kind. There are benefits to making CCS and CCT curriculum closer resemble the undergraduate education, particularly for the composers, who could learn additional skills such as recording, mixing, mastering, writing press releases, and contacting record labels. There are also benefits, particularly by revamping the theory and musicianship requirements, to making the undergraduate education resemble what the graduate students do on a daily basis. However, as they exist now, these discrepancies create confusion in students about what aspects of their career they should be prioritizing.
The most concrete way the department can reimagine its course offerings is by encouraging students to take internships. Currently, several students feel that they have been actively discouraged from pursuing opportunities outside of UVA while working on their dissertation. But this should change, especially since alumni like Steven Lewis have demonstrated the feasibility and success of writing a dissertation while pursuing an alt-ac career. Either the department should actively encourage students to take internships, or ideally, include internships as part of the course offerings. Several undergraduate and graduate institutions allow for internships to count as course credit. The music department could as well.
- What kinds of living support do students need that they’re not currently receiving?
We believe it’s important to note that the “one size fits all” funding package does not accurately meet the needs of several of our students. Some have disabilities, some are parents, single parents, or otherwise have dependents. Is there a way to change the funding package so that it takes these differences into account?
To offer an example of one of our biggest concerns: the stipend has remained constant for the last five years but the rent to my apartment, which I’ve not moved from since I moved to Charlottesville, has increased 27 percent. This experience of rising rent but stagnant wages is experienced by all of us in the department. Is there a way to ensure the stipend rises with Charlottesville’s cost of living? Similarly, is there a way for GSAS to coordinate with UVA housing, for instance, to ensure affordable housing for graduate students that remains proportional to our stipend? And could these housing opportunities through GSAS or Student Housing expand?
Could the Music Department be more responsible for creating jobs? We have already mentioned one possibility: a student tasked with maintaining a robust listserv. Additionally, some students recalled that undergraduates at their previous institutions often ran the sound for all on-campus performances. This offered invaluable experience for individuals who wanted to pursue jobs in recording studios, or even other music industry jobs like sound design or commercial and film work. Could there be more opportunities for such jobs available to both undergraduates and graduates so that they could gain some “on the job” training in industry fields?
- What opportunities for interdisciplinary work do you currently have & what would you like to see?
Richard currently teaches and heads the drama department. Could there be more opportunities to establish collaborations between music and dance, especially given the relationship we have in that department? John, for instance, has tried to integrate visual artists, website designers, documentarians, painters, and artists into the UVA big band. It got off to a rocky start, but we believe his approach is something that could be adopted department-wide, course-wide, and ensemble-wide. Could the New Music ensemble, for instance, try to reach out to aspiring film makers to enroll in the class to document their ensemble for a year, for instance? Or encourage dancers to enroll? Several courses in the composition and ethnomusicology department already appeal to a diverse range of students and majors, but how can we teach a theory, for instance, so that just as many African American Studies, American Studies, and German majors enroll as music majors? Just by changing the definitions of who can – and who can’t – take courses and ensembles, we can establish interdisciplinary dialogues with our undergraduate colleagues, which will be instructive for graduate students as they pursue their own interdisciplinary projects.
It would be helpful if faculty actively encouraged graduate students to reach out to institutions like the Scholars Lab, which offer training in immersive technologies, 3D modeling, animation. Similarly, GSAS has also made exceptions for their language requirement and allowed people to learn programming languages. Some music students have made use of GSAS’s liberal requirements and the Scholars Lab, but others are not aware of the opportunities available to them, either as they prepare to take their language exams or otherwise search out collaborators and instructors in VR or 3D printing. The department always supports these endeavors, but could there be a uniform statement from the department that actively encourages students to pursue such interdisciplinary options or consider taking untraditional language tests?
Bonnie leads a great community engagement program and often sends emails alerting students to opportunities to teach private lessons or otherwise involve themselves in the Charlottesville community. Recent examples include volunteering at the Madison House, working with Modern Improvisational Music Appreciation (MIMA) and the Music Resource Center, and working at the Front Porch through their Roots and Wings program. Would it be productive to require students to participate in one or two community-service events a year as opposed to merely encouraging them to pursue these opportunities? Similarly to how we are recommending internships count as course credit, could community-service count as course credit or otherwise be a requirement to fulfill through GSAS?