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Professors, students grapple with election in music education



An untouched Mother Bear’s Pizza box sat on a piano bench in the middle of a classroom in the Music Building Addition on Monday night, but the students and faculty sitting in a circle around it were too deep in thought to eat .

The occasion was a Brown Bag Critique, a discussion focusing on the intersection of race and gender with music.

Jacobs School of Music professor Joyce McCall organized the weekly discussion last semester in response to some of her students asking her how to tackle these topics in their careers. McCall is a professor of music education and almost two thirds of the room studied the same subject.

“As music teachers we’re often told that we have to negotiate the structure,” McCall said. “What if we had the power to influence the structure and change it?”

McCall said this semester the discussions are formatted like an open book club, but last semester the group studied academic articles. This time, the group, which comprises five faculty members and about 10 students, discussed a chapter from “White Like Me” by Tim Wise.

The chapter described the famed Klu Klux Klan leader David Duke and his influence on the Republican Party.

Much of the conversation focused on the recent Donald Trump win, as this was the first time the group was meeting since Election Day.

A faculty member in attendance said he had lived through 12 presidents and one thing his parents had taught him was never to argue politics or religion. He said the current climate is one in which people cannot not talk about it.

“I’m most troubled by the fear in my students,” senior Christian Purdy said.

Purdy is a music education major who student-teaches at a Bloomington elementary school. He said his students are from diverse backgrounds and many of them reacted negatively to the election’s outcome.

When Purdy came into class Wednesday, one of his students was so upset that he did not even want to play music. Purdy said he questions how he can teach children something that requires so much focus when they are so distracted.

“I hurt for a lot of my kids a lot of the time,” Purdy said.

Other students in similar positions to Purdy said they noticed the children in their schools having a different reaction to the election - they were ecstatic.

McCall said a positive effect these discussions have had is forcing some students to look within themselves and the people around them and tackle issues of race and identity. She said she notices students are starting to recognize these obstacles and warning signs of intolerance and ignorance and respond in their own ways.

“Hopefully their own way will become more visible,” McCall said.

McCall served in the United States Army and told the room part of the reason she served was so people could have the freedom to protest things they did not 
agree with.

She referenced football player Colin Kaepernick’s protest against the national anthem, which sparked a discussion in the room about the music’s scarred past.

There was a part mocking the deaths of slaves in the Star Spangled Banner, which has been removed from the standard rendition.

The group tried to tackle how they can address these topics as instructors of music while not showing bias in a classroom that is supposed to be a democracy.

Either way, McCall said she hopes students come away from these discussions with a better understanding of the intricacies of the issues at hand.

“Social justice is a goal, and we haven’t achieved it yet,” McCall said.

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