Two professors from the Faculty of Music publish an open letter on the culture of racism and discrimination – The Varsity
On June 11, Tara Kannangara and Jacqueline Teh, lecturers at the Faculty of Music at the University of Toronto, published an open letter on Instagram to the University of Toronto Jazz program located within the faculty, as well as a 98-page report on a survey of students and faculty.
The letter highlights the struggles they’ve gone through over the past year as the only faculty members to identify as women of color. The instructors decided to publish the letter after saying they were upset and excluded by the faculty because of their advocacy actions, such as creating a survey and presentation to present cases of discrimination to which members of the racialized community were confronted within the faculty and University of T Jazz.
The letter also mentions other incidents, such as Kannangara’s exclusion from a meeting of the anti-racist committee while she is one of two racialized women at the faculty, which highlight the issues within the faculty. U of T Jazz.
The Faculty of Music acknowledged the letters in a statement over the summer, pledging to undergo a third-party review and provide updates on the Anti-Racism and Anti-Oppression Committee (ARAO) of Faculty.
The polls met with silence
Kannangara and Teh’s advocacy began when they, along with a growing number of members of the #thisisartschool artist coalition, began to share and collect hundreds of stories about experiences of racism and discrimination in programs. across Canada, the United States and more.
Many stories were about the U of T Jazz, which Teh and Kannangara also attended. “We felt, ethically, [that] we should listen to these stories because they are our students and our friends, ”Kannangara said. They decided to look at the flaws in the program and push for change. “It all started with a lot of compassion,” Kannangara added.
In an interview, Teh said University that they and other members of the #thisisartschool coalition had surveyed U of T Jazz students and faculty. The results were then summarized in a 98-page report to be presented to the jazz faculty of the Faculty of Music.
Teh said they faced many obstacles before the presentation. For example, requests were made to redact certain parts, such as a statement by the founder of the #thisisartschool movement, Modibo Keita, which pointed out the gap between the Faculty of Music as an institution and its students.
The statement reads: “#thisisartschool was a way for me to show the institution that I have power that may be detrimental to them. #thisisartschool was my warning. #thisisartschool was my way of saying I don’t need you. #thisisartschool was my way of saying WE don’t need you. It was my way of saying that YOU need us. You need me.”
After presenting the report, Teh and Kannangara said they were greeted by the silence of the faculty and their colleagues. “There are faculty members who didn’t want to meet with us, didn’t want to talk to us,” Teh said.
The survey was intended to initiate conversations and collaborations that would help faculty address issues of racism and discrimination. However, it quickly became clear that this job involved recognizing many ugly and uncomfortable truths. Teh and Kannangara said the U of T Jazz’s response was not to look at the issues, but rather to blame the people who raised them.
Getting out of the comfort zone
After discovering that solving these issues through traditional channels would not work, Teh and Kannangara decided to take the issue to the public by posting the open letter and investigation report on Instagram.
“We’ve put hundreds of unpaid hours into this job, and generally what we’ve come across is, ‘It’s not good enough’, ‘You are not qualified,'” Kannangara said.
Key action items they discuss include hiring more racialized teachers and putting in place support systems for those who are hired, encouraging people to take diversity and consent training sessions, and ensuring that students are provided with information on where to find accessibility and support services.
These requests echo the points of another open letter sent to faculty last year, calling for anti-racist action.
Nikitha James, external vice president of the Alliance Against Racism Faculty of Music, said in an interview with University that there have been encouraging changes within the faculty.
“It’s not necessarily the majority of teachers, but in some classes we’ve seen some really big changes,” James said. “More and more professors are also listening to students and getting their opinions on all of this. “
James noted, however, that the majority of the changes came from the bottom up, with students and activist groups advocating for policy changes and creating spaces of support for students of color.
“It’s about finding a way for people to survive, first and foremost, and also to thrive in college, and it won’t be because of college,” he said. she adds. For her, while systemic change is a long-term goal, the immediate goal is to keep students safe and build support networks.
Recently appointed Dean of the Faculty of Music, Ellie Hisama, posted a letter on July 15 stating that fairness will be a key part of his leadership at the faculty.
“I am fully aware that I am coming at a difficult time. Some of you have personally shared with me your concerns about our teaching, learning and working environments, ”Hisama wrote. The Faculty of Music has also come under fire over the summer with allegations of a culture within the faculty that perpetuated sexual harassment and violence.
The letter includes a calendar of community calls to action and updates on the creation of the ARAO, which was created in October 2020.
According to an email from a spokesperson for the University of Toronto, the ARAO “is undergoing a careful re-enactment by the Dean of the Faculty of Music, Professor Ellie Hisama, in consultation with the faculty.”
The dean will also ensure that a third party “climate and culture review” is carried out on the faculty, with a summary report published at the end. Hisama noted that the review will be “[allow her] know the experiences and observations of all members of the [the faculty of music community]. “
In a updated September 15, Hisama wrote that the faculty held a number of “listening sessions” throughout the summer, reaching out to more than 70 students at the faculty. She also provided an update on the Climate and Culture Review, writing that it will be undertaken by Rubin Thomlinson, a representative of a third-party law firm, and will begin on September 23.
The exam will consist of an online survey, interviews and an open email address for faculty members to share their experiences.
Once completed, a summary of the review will be available. According to the spokesperson, it is too early to know when the review will be completed.
Hisama also said the faculty is looking for a director of equity, diversity and inclusion who will be dedicated to the faculty of music.
– With files from Lauren Alexander