Developing Racial Equality in the School of Music - Nyack College


Sue Lane Talley, Dean


The School of Music underscores the fact that we are not only aware of the current humanitarian and racial/cultural crises within our world but are working hard to meet the challenges and opportunities towards peace and justice which are ours in 2020.

During a recent NPR interview, a guest remarked: “Because you have made strides in your racial awareness does not mean you have arrived and are now an anti-racist.” It seemed to be in synch with Paul’s words on the Christian life: “Forgetting what is behind, I strive forward to the high calling in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13).In other words, not only are we not there yet, but we must renew our resolution and look to God for reconciliation each new day. Thanks be to God for reminding us that the goal is still afar off. I believe the goal of racial justice to be at one with the spiritual goal of unity in Christ’s prayer to the Father: “That they may be one, even as we are one” (Jn.17:21). That “one” is not the “one” of a “melting-pot,” but of a creative unity, even as one God in Three Persons form a creative community.

Although we are currently struggling (as of Fall, 2020) with the continuation of enforced isolation due to our national health crisis, we are including motivational speakers, student and faculty recitals, and student participation in regular administrative meetings on Zoom. These occasions can bring growth and healing. Whether we are on campus or working from home, we are preparing for an outstanding semester. We appreciate the challenges that both the health and civil rights events of recent months have presented us with, looking to make the campus stronger and better able to serve the needs of our students as we respond creatively to difficult events that are yet, by God’s grace, means of bettering our relationships with one another and learning what our true and urgent needs are at present.

With God’s help and incorporating the wisdom and direction of all our faculty, we desire to build upon our past efforts toward a much more “diverse” and deliberately-inclusive future—a future that will reflect both our core values and our constituency, but will not be a matter of “correctness” but a matter of heartfelt love and grace. What is included in our curriculum is no less important than the inclusion of people of color in our Music faculty.

In the last fifteen years, eight African American and Hispanic faculty and two staff members have been added to the School of Music. Of those, three are faculty leaders in their fields of expertise. To their credit, our faculty have continued to work toward Doctoral Degrees; four are finishing such at the current time.   In addition to Christian commitment—always a requirement for Nyack faculty and staff—our faculty of color have high-profile places in the community.

Faculty development in the past year has included a very productive meeting by the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities around the subject of Diversity, attended and with chaired sessions by our Director of Gospel Music Performance and me. The same conference featured a book containing our Provost’s informative article about Nyack’s racial progress seen from his perspective. At least one of the needs he observed—the challenge to redesign the first-year curriculum—has been implemented by the School of Music, with the idea of assisting those students who have not had the chance for adequate preparation for the Music major as is “traditionally” assumed.

Nyack College has encouraged and created a Bachelor of Music Gospel Performance major, accepted by the State of New York, and continues to develop with the approval with the National Association of Schools of Music, which, for example, has suggested that even more Gospel classes be created for the major. Additionally, provision has been made for all students to take part in musical theatre, which program has recently been a rich showcase for African American talent.  While Gospel and Jazz repertoires do not constitute the entire repertoire of African American music, the emphasis upon them is significant. While jazz has been a small part of the program in the past, it is growing, and with it, the relatively recent Vocal Jazz program. Having said this, we can improve and extend our understanding of musical diversity at all levels, and that is a very serious goal of this semester, this year, and beyond.

As Dean, I would agree that student and faculty forums would help us assess our development and our way to improve our practice of racial justice.

Our prayer is that both faculty and students will draw closer as Christians, together seeking answers to the hard questions that confront us, believing in one another as Christians and therefore as brothers and sisters under the teaching of Christ. Diversity is something to be embraced and to be the continuing goal of our college and of our lives.

From our Director of Music Education, Prof. Darryl Jordan:

“Nyack College is a diverse community dedicated to the mission of preparing men and women to ‘take the whole Gospel to the whole world.’ Nyack is one of the most ethnically diverse Christian College in the history of American higher education. The School of Music celebrates this as an important part of Nyack’s identity. However, to be this diverse community is not enough. For even the disciples spoke this ‘whole gospel’ through the languages and culture of the many communities to which they were called. Thus, the School of Music must work to preserve and replicate the diversity of Nyack and New York City across the program and through our music making and learning. American Roots music, European Art Music, Indigenous Folk and Art Music from around the world should be our guide in training musicians. Music teaching and learning must be intentionally diverse, culturally responsive, and anti-racist in policy, representation, curriculum, and authority at every level of its program. Reclaiming the mission of its founder, A.B. Simpson…Nyack College and the School of Music must live out the ‘whole gospel’ by expanding the many voices and perspectives of the diverse community it serves.”