Op-Ed: How Recent Budget Cuts to the F&M Music Program Will Perpetuate Racism in Classical Music

By Glory Jacquat || Contributing Writer 

In response to the protests against systemic racism on F&M’s campus in the fall of 2019, F&M promised to do better for BIPOC by increasing Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) initiatives including hiring Dr. Gretchel Hathaway as Vice President for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Although these are steps in the right direction, F&M’s administration has a long way to go in order to actually uphold their promises and address racism in all areas of our education. 

From beginner to professional levels, racism is an inextricable part of the systems of classical music. We see it in the lack of access to musical instruments and funding cuts to music programs in predominantly BIPOC communities. We also see it in the erasure of Black artists and their contributions to various genres of music throughout history. These systemic barriers cannot be simply bypassed by getting into college. Franklin & Marshall College should be supporting their minority students in their academic pursuits. However, with the recent announcement, as covered by The College Reporter, that credit-bearing lessons will become an additional cost and no longer included in tuition, the systematic inequalities keeping BIPOC from equitably accessing an education in music are perpetuated further.

These budget cuts first hit the more vulnerable departments, those which don’t cater to strictly wealthy white students. Last year, the Arabic Department experienced budget cuts, as well, due to “low enrollment,” which resulted in the reduction of faculty from two to one professor. But how does F&M expect a department without any tenured faculty, a continually limited set of resources, and a slashed budget to be able to draw in more students? The Arabic Department did not have the support or resources to sustain their program, and the work of doing so was placed primarily on faculty; this became an additional task for professors rather than a college-wide goal.

And now they are attacking F&M’s Music Department, which like most classical music organizations is predominantly made up of white people. Since pursuing music is still a dramatically more accessible option for those with the necessary resources, F&M must alter its decision and continue to provide students music lessons as a part of their tuition. Although there is discussion surrounding fee waivers for only music majors and students who have accepted all of the financial aid, and would be available for only four semesters, this band aid solution does not help all who need financial assistance. Whether one receives financial assistance or not, charging for music lessons adds further unnecessary work for BIPOC to receive the same education as their peers at F&M. 

I think of the famous poem “First They Came…,” and its echoes of protecting others different than ourselves; there was not enough pushback and outcry to guard the Arabic Department last year, and now the Music Department is facing a similar fate. These changes harm the current students, faculty, and staff, and will continue to hinder future undergrads from obtaining the quality education they deserve. Why are we letting this happen again?

Such inequalities are also seen in the price tag that comes with music engagement. There is a financial burden involved in acquiring a music education, from purchasing to learning how to play one’s instrument. For many folks, scholarships, fee reductions, and public music opportunities have enabled them to get this far in their music education before reaching F&M. To enter into a private, higher-ed institution that preaches the freedom to explore all areas of interest only to then be denied the opportunity to continue learning something that has had a clear benefit on their life is not only problematic; it’s hypocritical. These cuts to the music department will directly impact F&M’s diversity goals, further perpetuating the additional challenges people of color face within the realm of music education. 

DEI initiatives are part of Franklin and Marshall’s strategic plan. If F&M can’t seem to understand why this change is counterintuitive to their strategic plan, perhaps bringing in some context about the negative consequences will be helpful.

Students apply to F&M every year for a variety of reasons, including F&M’s promise of a quality liberal arts education. As Dylan Brandt ‘21 suggested in his Op-Ed published last week, it seems as though the arts are sold separately from the rest of the education one expects when enrolling. The first change F&M will see is a reduced enrollment, with fewer music students attending F&M. From here, our music programs will also begin fading away, and the music performance quality will drop. This shift in the sheer number of strong musicians will cause a domino effect in which music majors, minors, and ensembles all begin to vanish into the background, followed by the loss of professors who will seek greater career and musical growth elsewhere. Devaluing the work that students and professors are already putting in leaves many to question why stay at F&M at all. 

Students who are deemed diverse by the college often find themselves plastered on marketing materials to attract more variation in the student body and preserve F&M’s image. As a queer and trans poster child, my image has been used countless times for this exact purpose, but I would not be here had these financial limitations been in place upon my arrival. As more F&M students become alumni and voice their grievances with the college and why they would not recommend the school to any who want support in their education, F&M’s reputation of grandeur will quickly fade. 

With the college’s recent ceremony for the class of 2020, student musicians gathered to learn, perform, and record music for the virtual commencement. Even the administration was elated to have F&M musicians be a part of this celebration, for without them, graduation would have been a dull powerpoint presentation that could have been sent as an email attachment. And now you plan to take away the music that you previously held such high regard for and brought students such joy? These actions scream that the college does not value its current students let alone those who have put their time and energy into graduating from this tiring institution. 

By actively not working against systemic racism in the arts, Franklin & Marshall college continues to perpetuate this inequality further. Until their decisions begin to hurt their finances, the college is unlikely to alter their plans, which speaks volumes about where their priorities truly lie. 

Franklin & Marshall, you continue to break your promises and let students down. I implore you to consider this the next time you try and justify a budget cut that so significantly goes against supporting DEI initiatives, minorities, or any other projects the students have asked for help with. You claim that our voices are powerful to enact change in the world, and if this is true, I should hope you start listening. 

I will end with a couple of questions for the administration:

When will it all end? With which cut will you finally be able to say we are finally out of the deficit again? When can your promises of an individualized and quality education be met, instead of it being created by a smattering of professors and communities we create ourselves? How do you intend to justify honoring students’ pleas for DEI initiatives that are meaningful while simultaneously upholding other tenants of racism? 

As a white musician, I recognize I have the privilege of speaking out about a system that I continue to benefit from, and thus it remains an area where I will continually educate myself in and uplift BIPOC voices and their music. One thousand three hundred and twenty eight other people have signed this petition telling you to do better. We are trying, even though it is clear you are not.

Junior Glory Jacquat is a contributing writer. Their email is gjacquat@fandm.edu.

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