In recent years, the United States has been experiencing a renewed wave of civic unrest and social movement in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement and violence against people of color. In times like these, it becomes necessary for all institutions to rethink accepted values and cannons in the name of greater equity and inclusion, starting with curriculum.
Over the past year, each undergraduate department in the LMU College of Communication and Fine Arts – communication studies, dance, art history, studio arts, music and theatre arts – has hosted town halls and listening sessions with students and alumni, to learn more about the impact of the curriculum and find ways to bring more equity to our academic offerings.
The goal of the college is to expand course offerings and find ways to decolonize curriculum in a way that places more emphasis on non-European experiences and schools of thought. Doing so will provide a more balanced and inclusive educational experience for all our students.
We spoke to Associate Professor of Art History Melody Rodari, who organized the listening session for Art History, as well as Music major Gabrielle Poma ’21, who facilitated the town hall for the Music department, on their experiences guiding this process, and what comes next for CFA.
What made the listening sessions so necessary?
Melody Rod-ari: As faculty of the art history program, we knew that it was important and necessary to organize a listening session centered on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion for our students. Our goal was to provide a space to hear our student’s concerns, but also to use our time together to come up with solutions on how to make the study of art history at LMU more diverse and equitable. Often, faculty, staff and university administrators make decisions without student input, even though it impacts the very people who are not at the table. What I have found in my six years of teaching at LMU is that our students are thoughtful, critical and creative thinkers, and that they are a profound but underutilized resource.
Gabrielle Poma: In a time of so much uncertainty and frustration, this listening session was intended to signal to the students that the department takes their concerns seriously. No environment is inherently free of inequities, whether implicit or explicit, so we need to facilitate opportunities to hear feedback from students and adjust accordingly.
What did students and alumni engage on most?
Melody Rod-ari: With the help of recent art history grad Alex Henry ’18, along with students Becca Simor ’21 and Jordan White, we came together to take on the challenge of highlighting areas in our program and curriculum that needed improvement and provided recommendations on how to move forward. The students guided the conversation with their experiences as students and beyond. As an alum, Alex’s experiences at LMU were still fresh in her memory, but she also a new and valuable perspective as a grad student at a large research university (UC Riverside).
Gabrielle Poma: During the session, students and alumni talked about the importance of representation, as well as combating power imbalances among students and between students and faculty. Students desire a curriculum that delves deeper into the impacts of women musicians and musicians of color. This requires an approach to music that is not Eurocentric and takes stock of the contributions of many different countries, individuals, and traditions.
What was your main takeaway from this experience?
Gabrielle Poma: My key takeaway was that students care about their education and their peers and in turn want to feel cared for. Even if students do not belong to the groups that are underrepresented in the curriculum, they still possess a desire to broaden their learning and support their classmates who do feel underrepresented. Students want to feel that the very qualities that make them unique as individuals are assets to be embraced, rather than erased, as they pursue their academic and professional goals.
As musicians, be it composers, performers, conductors, and so on, what we do is inherently vulnerable. We put pieces of ourselves in our work, and that work is offered up to others for entertainment and critique. That means we need to create a space of constant trust and tolerance. This listening session pointed us in the direction we need to go as we continue to build and shape that space.
What comes next?
Melody Rod-ari: Over the spring and summer months, the art history faculty have worked hard to rethink our curriculum. Somethings will take time to change; however, we listened to what our students were telling us and what they wanted and needed in terms of our course offerings. To this end, this fall we are offering a variety of courses including African American Art, Pre-Columbian Art and the Arts of Asia. Spring 2022 will also include a diversity of courses, and I am personally putting together a course on Asian American Art that I hope to offer in the fall of 2022.
Gabrielle Poma: My hope for the department is that we grow our curriculum and course offerings to reflect our vibrant students and their many passions. This goes beyond lesson plans; it extends to changes like expanding the repertoire of our ensembles, inviting guest artists whose lives and careers enhance what is being taught in the classrooms, and a faculty hiring process that is more inclusive of and transparent to students. It’s my desire that students see themselves reflected in what they are learning and performing, and that the department will shift and evolve to make that possible.