On July 31, a group called the Student Coalition of Diversity and Inclusion at DePaul University’s School of Music sent an open letter to DePaul President A. Gabriel Esteban. The coalition wants sweeping changes to the curriculum at the School of Music and called for the dismissal of Dean Ronald Caltabiano.
The group criticized Caltabiano in a number of ares, claiming that during his four years at DePaul, there have been numerous incidents of negligence and insensitivity regarding the concerns of the student body. The group said these included what they called the dean’s disregard toward students’ feedback as well as what they termed his “ineffectiveness in creating a safe space for students of color.”
A representative of the group talked to Good Day DePaul, asking that his identity be concealed.
“A lot of the professors, a lot of the administration, have been living in a shell of white supremacy and comfortability of white supremacy in music. Most of how they teach music is through western European composers, who were all at that time, white male composers and it is funny how they did their best to avoid teaching anything that was not from a white European male.”
The coalition’s letter came in the wake of last summer’s police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis – a killing that led to protests throughout the United States and the world. At DePaul, the school’s colleges sent out solidarity emails to students to express their concern and unity. The School of Music’s response was delayed, which prompted music students to voice their concerns.
Following this, on June 3, Caltabiano sent an email apologizing for the delayed response,
“I apologize if the school of music has not lived up to your expectations in recent days. I apologize that the lateness of this message of solidarity has caused additional pain. I apologize that our efforts toward diversity, equity, and inclusion have fallen short and are progressing too slowly.”
Caltabiano also invited students to attend three discussion forums in June to provide a space for students to talk about what had been happening in the city and the country. The first forum was on June 3, the second on June 17 and the third on June 29.
One of the goals of the forums was to create a comprehensive plan for addressing diversity, equity and inclusion within the music school’s academic, professional and social spaces. But some members of the student coalition were unhappy with the meetings.
“Every meeting was messy. Every meeting. At some point, it didn’t even feel like people were complaining and raising a problem. It felt like they were arguing because some professors said that “no we’re right, we’re not oppressing you.” The professor actually said that. The tensions went way through the roof. It was really rough to go through and it was sad.”
The coalition also criticized the dean’s approach to the meeting – claiming he was defensive and disrespectful. They felt he lacked the empathy to fully comprehend the experiences of his students of color.
All this led the student coalition to write the open letter and send it on July 31 to president Esteban, calling for Dean Caltabiano’s dismissal. Before sending the letter, the coalition started a petition asking students to share their experiences with the School of Music and the dean. The coalition says it received almost 100 negative responses, some of them detailing what the students felt were inadequate facilities for jazz students.
“There’s one and a half and I say one and a half practice rooms because in our second one, that drum set needs to be moved around for rehearsals and other stuff because we don’t even have enough equipment to have rehearsals simultaneously, class simultaneously, lessons and have people practicing. You may think that’s not that big of a deal but to give you some context, the classical percussion has 10 rooms compared to our one. Their inventory is 30 times bigger than ours and they don’t share their stuff with us. We actually get in trouble as a jazz student if we try to use their equipment but they can use our equipment for whatever they need.”
The coalition called for the appointment of a diversity mentor in the school. The students also requested a change in the curriculum to prioritize global music over just classical music.
“We did research on this, a lot of schools and especially major schools, it’s just music theory and they teach it in a way where they show classical examples, jazz examples, examples from latin music, examples from African music. And DePaul doesn’t do that obviously and that’s why we’re so frustrated.”
On August 7, the School of Music, also known as SOM, released a diversity, equity, and inclusion planning document.
In the document, the school said,
“In these forums, our students bravely shared their feelings and realities of systematic racism within the SOM. We heard their concerns and recognized that we must find a way forward together to create an environment within the SOM that allows everyone to feel welcome and be their authentic selves while in the school. The report went on to say that some systems and decisions in the past were designed and made as well as directed and coordinated by individuals with privilege, favoring some while marginalizing others, and regardless of intentions, can be improved to more adequately and equitably serve and address our community.”
The report then listed short-term goals that include:
- Advising students about course offerings within the SOM and across the university that incorporate black, indigenous and people of color as well as other historically marginalized groups such as women and LGBTQ communities.
- Encouraging faculty across the curriculum to adopt more inclusive and broader range of repertory and communicate resources available at the university and within musical fields to facilitate faculty access to teaching materials that support an anti-racist agenda and more diverse course content.
The short-term goals also include programming works for performing ensembles to include more diverse composers and a wider range of musical viewpoints.
The reports’ long-term goals include revising the music core curriculum for undergraduate students and rethinking how the curriculum centers on musical traditions. It said these programs have been rooted in western classical norms, reducing the space for the voices of other traditions and people.
The report says the school will assess its allocation of various rooms for practice, rehearsal, classroom and performance and ensure that all programs are given the resources they need to learn and grow.
The report goes on to say that the school will require anti-racism training for all faculty and staff.
Despite the School of Music’s new plan, coalition members remain skeptical.
“They hush it up, they try to make it seem like they’re going to do something, and then they sit on it for another year or two. And that’s why I told you this planning document is nothing new for us. We’ve gotten multiple action lists from the dean that says, “by this time this quarter, by a time this year we’re going to have these changes” but none of those changes happen.”
Good Day DePaul requested an interview with a School of Music representative, but the university said no one is available. But in a statement to Good Day DePaul a university spokesperson said,
“This is an ongoing process and will be a focal point all year. Some changes will be implemented this academic year. Others, however, notably curriculum changes will take a little longer, since they would need to go through a university review process.”