Music Students, Faculty and Staff Explore Unity

College of Music assesses, strengthens atmosphere of diversity and inclusion.

Talitha Wimberly, student affairs director (far left) and Rodney Whitaker, director of jazz studies (center) pose with student committee members (left to right) Markus Howell, Amy Lewis, Keane Garcelon, Jingyu Xu, Bronwen McVeigh and Daniel Kroth.

Faculty, staff and students within the MSU College of Music are uniting to support diverse and inclusive environments by leveraging the power of music.

Starting January 2016, a group of seven faculty and staff and a group of six students began collaborating on ways to heighten awareness of social and cultural issues that affect the learning environment of the college, campus, and community. Since then, the two groups have devised strategies that answer unique needs within the college while building on MSU’s overarching vision of a diverse and inclusive university.

Director of Jazz Studies Rodney Whitaker is overseeing the ongoing campaign title “Listening & Healing,” that involves listening sessions, a town hall, and other communication and educational pieces. A climate survey designed to assess the college’s working, living and learning environment will provide a basis for organizing activities and future discussions. The survey will also inform continued work toward a diverse, respectful and inclusive community that improves conditions for students, faculty and staff. View upcoming events.

Whitaker says the two committees will work together as well as independently to maximize participation and advance points of view from all areas of the college.

“The number one thing we want to think about as a college is what type of student we want to send out into the world,” says Whitaker. “If we send out students from a diverse and inclusive environment who respect the rights of others, then we’re sending out students who can have a positive effect and change the world.”

Over the last few semesters, faculty and student committees have discussed issues related to Title IX, gender diversity, racial diversity, and other subjects addressed by the MSU Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives.  

“Part of our goal is to bring people from all the different departments closer together,” says Markus Howell, a jazz studies undergraduate and member of the student diversity and inclusion committee. “I feel like this is part of my duty as a senior to not just represent the jazz department, but to be part of something greater. I want to help get this started and pass the torch to future students.”

The Jazz Stryders Combo: Jessica Holmes, piano; Gina Benalcazar, trombone; Louie Leager, bass; Walter Cano, trumpet; Olin Clark, guitar; Nick Bracewell, drums; Seth Ebersole, tenor, performed “Crisis” by Freddie Hubbard.
During and after the “Healing: Listening Across” concert, attendees posted sticky notes and shared their perspectives about diversity on the “healing wall.”

Coming together

Assistant Professor of Musicology Marcie Ray is among the members of the college’s diversity and inclusion committee. She also played a key role in organizing the kick-off activity in November 2016. The one-hour “Anthem for Unity” or “Healing: Listening Across” involved performances by students from various college areas, speakers from the faculty committee, and remarks by Paulette Granberry Russell, senior adviser to MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon for diversity and director of the Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives. About 50 students attended and shared their thoughts by writing their comments on sticky-notes and tacking them to a “healing wall.” The event closed with an interpretation of  the traditional “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands” by Professor of Voice Mark Rucker.

“Our goal was to identify any fears or concerns about cultural issues students may have,” Ray says. “We want students to know that this initiative and our committee exist, and we wanted to spotlight faculty they can speak with about these issues if they are so inclined.”

Ray says another objective of the event and events-to-come is to break down any perceived divides that exist among the various areas and disciplines of the College.

“We’re not sure that always comes across,” says Ray. “Students sometimes perceive a hierarchy, and that’s not our vision. Having all our programs come together to show our diversity is one of the most important things we hope that students can take away.”

Whitaker concurred that the event laid the foundation for creative listening sessions designed to spark conversation between students and college leadership. The sessions will culminate in a town hall style meeting consisting of question and answers sessions, panel discussions and performances—all aimed at fostering a diverse and inclusive environment by bringing forward common themes, perceptions and concerns.

The climate survey, listening sessions and town hall are part of a 12-point plan laid out by the faculty and student committees. Other recommendations include:

  • Building and sustaining diversity and inclusion committees for students and faculty
  • Offering programs and resources for minority and international students
  • Seeking equity funding for gender neutral restrooms
  • Creating diversity awards for faculty, staff and students
  • Organizing retreats and convocations to discuss key diversity and inclusion issues
  • Creating message boards and displays in high-traffic areas
  • Heading up a task force to address inaccessibility issues
  • Encouraging the ongoing exchange of ideas from diverse and inclusive groups and organizations within the college and campus community

“Diversity and inclusion needs to be part of everything we do here at the College of Music,” says Dean James Forger. “These ongoing and persistent efforts show our collective commitment to an academic environment that is civil and that respects differences. We want everyone to know we are a welcoming and supportive place that advances the interest of each and every individual, and that we’re part of a larger university that values equity, inclusion and diversity.”

Diversity and Inclusion Working Groups

In November 2015, the College of Music set about to form two diversity and inclusion working groups—one comprised of faculty, the other exclusively of students.

Since then, these two groups have met collectively and independently to formulate strategies for strengthening equity, inclusion and diversity both within the college and across campus.

Members of the faculty committee were selected to represent all disciplines and areas of study within the College of Music. Students were selected based on recommendations from faculty and staff and represent both the graduate and undergraduate levels.

Faculty and Staff Group

  • Juliet Hess, assistant professor of music education
  • Chen-Yu Huang, assistant professor of harp
  • Marcie Ray, assistant professor of musicology
  • Diego Rivera, associate professor of jazz studies, saxophone and Improvisation, and associate director of Jazz Studies
  • Mark Sullivan, associate professor of composition
  • Talitha Wimberly, director of Undergraduate Student Affairs, College of Music
  • Group Facilitator Rodney Whitaker, university distinguished professor of Jazz Bass and director of Jazz Studies

Student Group

  • Keane Garcelon, undergraduate, Voice
  • Markus Howell, undergraduate, Jazz Studies
  • Daniel Kroth, undergraduate, String Performance
  • Amy Lewis, doctoral student, Music Education
  • Bronwen McVeigh, undergraduate, Piano Performance
  • Jingyu Xu, undergraduate, Piano Performance

Climate Survey: Definition, Need and Purpose

Provided by the MSU Office of Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives. 

Campus climate is defined as “the current attitudes, behaviors and standards of faculty, staff, administrators and students concerning the level of respect for individual needs, abilities and potential.”* Studies have concluded that how students experience their campus environment impacts both learning and developmental outcomes, and discriminatory environments have a negative effect on student learning.  Studies also support the role that a diverse student body and faculty has on enhancing learning outcomes.  With respect to faculty and staff, workplace studies demonstrate that a healthy working environment enhances the personal and professional development for those in the campus workplace.  Faculty and staff who encounter discrimination and prejudice have negative job and career attitudes, and decreased health and wellbeing. 

Campus climate assessments are intended to support the efforts of the institution to create and sustain a diverse, respectful, inclusive community, and improve the working, living, and learning environment for students, faculty and staff. Campus climate studies provide a baseline of data that helps the institution better understand how members of the campus community relate to one another on a daily basis, and allows the institution to determine what is working and what is not.

*The definition of campus climate was provided by Dr. Sue Rankin, a scholar and lead consultant on a number of higher education campus climate studies.


Pascarella, E. T., & Terenzini, P. T. (2005). How College Affects Students: A Third Decade of Research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass; Cabrera, A. F., Nora, A., Terenzini, P. T., Pascarella, E., & Hagedorn, L. S. (1999). Campus racial climate and the adjustment of students to college: a comparison between White students and African-American students. The Journal of Higher Education, 70(2), 134-160. doi: 10.2307/2649125; Harper, S. R., & Hurtado, S. (2007). Nine themes in campus racial climates and implications for institutional transformation. New Directions for Student Services(120), 7-24. doi: 10.1002/ss.254; Higher Education Research Institute. Diverse Learning Environments: Assessing and Creating Conditions for Student Success Retrieved August 15, 2010 

Faculty and Staff
Settles, I. H., Cortina, L. M., Malley, J., & Stewart, A. J. (2006). The climate for women in academic science: The good, the bad, and the changeable. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 30, 47-58. doi: 10.1111/j.1471-6402.2006.00261

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