Action Steps for the Conservatory to Create a Better Community

The only way to combat the ever-growing tide of racism and racist policies in this country and world is to broaden our understanding of their insidious nature. To that end, it is also important to construct systems based on a clear understanding of anti-racism. Anything short of a radical dedication to these transformative policies is tantamount to kicking the can down the road for another generation to deal with. We must be thorough, compassionate, and patient in our examination. We must also be unflinchingly clear about our dedication to cultivating not only allies, but accomplices that will stand with us in solidarity as we root out the rot produced by centuries of bigoted and biased policies and attitudes. To that end, these are just a few of the first steps that we can take to better our community for all:


1. Ensuring that the voices of the Black, Indigenous, and people of color community on campus are not discarded when discussions of equity are on the table. 

a. Committees of students and alumni taking part in discussions regarding change is the first step of taking into consideration the BIPOC voice.

2. An anti-racist colloquium required for every student, faculty, and staff. This anti-racism colloquium should be held to the same mandate as the Preventing and Responding to Sexual Misconduct training.

a. Accountability for attendance via surveys and reflective cohorts to occur afterwards.

b. One session per semester would be a requirement.

3. The founding of an African American Music Department that focuses on the education of Black music in America.

a. The formation of an African American Educational Policies Committee to establish new academic curricula for Black musical education.

b. The creation of an African American Music Program that works in concert with the Africana Studies department to create a holistic and thorough examination of the role of African American music in the United States.

c. To further explain, please follow this link to an article written by Daniel Spearman, OC ’16, that goes into detail about what this would entail.

4. Providing institutional support for the Community Music School to aid younger students in their music education.

a. Training Conservatory students to go into the local schools to work with younger students of the BIPOC community. Community engagement is a necessary component in building a holistic music education and career in music.

b. This would be a lasting system of strengthening the relations with the Conservatory and the surrounding public schools, providing our own students with experience in engaging and teaching as well as giving younger students a more immersive music education.

5. Creating a culture of anti-racism that is sustained not only by the students, but also the faculty and staff.

a. Addressing the definition of racism in our community and recognizing a history of racism within the Conservatory. 

b. Removing the fear of being called racist and of not knowing how to respond to situations regarding racism. 

c. Being ready and excited to unlearn and relearn racist constructs of our society.

d. Fostering and encouraging a community of accountability and understanding.  

e. Faculty integration of Black music in private lessons for recitals.

f. Standardizing Black music in the curriculum of the non-Musicology departments, such as Music Theory.

6. Ensuring that future hired individuals will have an idea of the importance of Black music and its historical figures in the faculty member’s respective field. 

a. Oberlin has a rich history of prominent Black musicians, composers, and faculty — for instance, former Professor of Piano Frances Walker-Slocum, who passed in 2018, and her brother, George Walker, also a pianist but mainly known for his compositions.

7. The addition of music from an underrepresented community as part of the audition requirements for the Conservatory.

a. A requirement of one piece regarding this criteria.

b. As the music community continues to address equity, it is a fact that the accessibility of a large portion of the music suggested is difficult to find. To support this, Oberlin Conservatory and its individual performance departments should aid prospective students in searching in the form of collecting databases. 

c. To ensure that the music is learned for a performance rather than a recording, it is best to have the piece performed at the live audition round.

8. The expansion of accessibility for regional auditions to better accommodate underprivileged groups.

9. Increase the institutional support of Oberlin College Black Musicians’ Guild initiatives. As we move to give Black music and its students a voice, it is the students that must lead, but that is only possible with the proper support. 

10. An updated statement from the Conservatory that expresses a commitment to make institutional change in both the culture and curriculum of the Conservatory. 

11. The formation of an extensive database that would hold orchestral, contemporary, jazz, and choral pieces composed by living and deceased Black composers.

a. Partnering with organizations to create such a database or to get guidance on who to go to.

b. Working with BIPOC conductors to find this music would be the best way to go about this. 


Oberlin College Black Musicians’ Guild Action Objectives and Proposals 

Relieve the national student debt crisis:

1. Expand federal work-study opportunities in the Conservatory to low-income students through Northern Ohio Youth Orchestra, Conservatory Library, Community Music School, Ensemble Library, and Conservatory Audio Services.

2. Partner with outside organizations that can offer grants, scholarships, and other financial and educational assistance programs to underrepresented students in the Conservatory. In a partnership with the Sphinx Organization, the Cleveland Institute of Music runs an institute for Black and Latinx graduate students that wish to be music professors. Perhaps Oberlin could have a similar initiative for undergraduate students by applying to the Sphinx Venture Fund. Americans for the Arts also has great resources for these topics.

3. Fundraiser recitals featuring BIPOC artists at Oberlin. The raised funds can be used for a tuition assistance program for low-income students in the conservatory.


More representation in programming/faculty:

1. In partnership with OCBMG, Oberlin Conservatory of Music could initiate institutional advocacy work by sponsoring a monthly digital lecture series that features Black and Latinx guest professors and/or artists. Additionally, we could do a monthly showcase that features talented underrepresented students in the Conservatory.

2. Oberlin could sponsor an annual commission for a piece written by a black composer or another composer with an underrepresented identity. 

3. In order to be committed to President Carmen Twillie Ambar’s Presidential Initiative, perhaps Oberlin College could consider hiring a Cultural Affairs consultant, perhaps a BIPOC alumni, that has influence over the Conservatory’s curriculum and other important funding decisions that could benefit the learning environment for all students — especially those that are underrepresented.

4. “Integrated” concerts. Beginning in 2021, at least 51 percent of every Oberlin-sponsored concert should consist of compositions by BIPOC composers. Programming simply one or two pieces by composers of color is not inclusion, it is tokenization. 

5. Degree recital requirements must be flexible enough for underrepresented composers — as many as a student wishes — to appear without any departmental challenges. 


Improve Conservatory community outreach:

1. In partnership with NOYO and/or the Community Music School, perhaps the Conservatory could expand its community outreach initiatives to underprivileged parts of Lorain County and Cleveland. Ideally, we would want the performers to represent and relate to the underprivileged communities that are being served.

2. In order to give incentives for students to participate in the community outreach expansion, a community outreach component could be added to the chamber music curriculum. The majority of practicing professional chamber musicians engage in outreach. Adding this component to the curriculum gives students exposure to the real world of serving and possibly improving a community through performance. Additionally, it makes the Oberlin Conservatory of Music a generous donor to those that are underserved.


Troy Stephenson, ’20

Isaiah Shaw, ’22

Daniel Spearman, ’16

Katelyn Poetker, ’23

Kurton Harrison III, ’23

Marlea Simpson, ’17

Angelique Montes, ’17

Karisma Palmore, ’20

Laressa Winters, ’23

Georgia Heers, ’21

Joe Williams, ’15