Decentering Curricula: Questions for Re-evaluating Diversity and Inclusiveness in HMEIs

On the importance of continuous self-reflection – why this publication?

This publication is grounded on the knowledge and understanding we have been building through several years of collaborative and dialogic work within the Diversity, Identity and Inclusiveness Working Group (DWG) of the AEC’s Strengthening Music in Society (SMS) project. Similar to the first publication of the DWG – How Are ‘Diverse Cultures’ Integrated in the Education of Musicians across Europe? – this publication evolved from our personal experiences and reflections, continuous discussions and insights gained through the vast body of scholarly knowledge. At the same time, it was enriched in myriad ways by reaching out to different Higher Music Education Institutions (HMEIs) in search of existing practices and reflective actions on challenges posed by the wide area covered by our Working Group under the SMS project – that is, issues of identity, diversity and inclusiveness. 

Acknowledging different histories and legacies, and thus also different contexts in which individual HMEIs across Europe operate, we wish to offer a framework of common questions that allow an institution to consider a wide range of factors according to their own unique circumstances. This compendium of self-reflective questions is aimed to challenge the ways of thinking of curricula and institutional culture from a diversity perspective. These questions are meant to be used as a self-assessment tool for you, the reader, and your institution. Our aim is not only to challenge perceived dogmas, but also to raise some issues with which our field and institutions have not yet actively engaged.

Diversity can enrich as well as challenge the educational experience, and HME institutions play a critical role in this effort by strengthening the focus on promoting access and inclusivity.

HMEIs can define what is meant by quality and success when different genres and musical traditions coexist and influence each other through teaching, performance and research; both within institutions and through outreach work. As a Working Group engaging with our topic and compiling this document, we have not only been influenced by our own experiences working in higher music education, but also by recent broader movements like #metoo and Black Lives Matter. These movements have highlighted many difficult questions that have been acknowledged before, but have at times been brushed aside. We are also aware that these issues have been received and are being discussed in a variety of ways by different institutions, and that they have also led to uncertainty on how to deal with many of the topics they raise. Institutions are dealing with questions about artistic and pedagogical content, code(s) of conduct, and about the responsibilities of staff and students; many of these issues overlap. While there may be several shared aims for equality and respectful behaviour, there are also voices that call for a substantial shift in conservatoires’ core activities.

These discussions evoke strong responses, reflecting the professional integrity and passion music professionals carry for the field. For instance: should we start decolonising our curriculum by replacing the ‘bro-triad’ of Haydn-Mozart-Beethoven with composers of colour like Chevalier de Saint-Georges, Chiquinha Gonzaga and Nora Holt? Should we call for a one-year moratorium on performing Beethoven, and instead focus on works by current composers neglected due to their race, ethnicity, gender, class or genre? The latter was proposed in an episode of the podcast Switched on Pop dedicated to Beethoven’s 5th symphony (accessed 02.10.2020).

These are issues on which we as a Working Group do not have a common opinion. But what we agree on is that we want to start a reflective process through our questions which will hopefully lead to a more inclusive and diverse institutional culture by decentering current paradigms. While this process is intended to improve access to and inclusivity within our institutions and a greater recognition of artistic plurality, we are also aware of the fact that other omissions will emerge. We acknowledge therefore that re-examining our institutions is an ongoing process that will never be completed.

Posing the questions – how to use this publication?

We have structured this document in four sections highlighting the four pairs of fundamental questions. Please click on the links below to find out:

Each section, bringing further questions aimed at highlighting different aspects of the overarching pair of questions, is preceded by a brief introductory paragraph explaining the main aim behind the section. A useful addition to our document is the AEC handbook on Learning Outcomes.

Although the questions in this document could be used in surveys open to students, teaching staff and administration making the community of HMEIs, followed by analytical process and re-evaluation, we strongly encourage institutions and individuals to use them in the more participatory ways – in different kinds of forums and discussion groups that allow for dialogic and collaborative exchange of experiences, knowledges and ideas and open the safe space for different voices to be heard and acknowledged.

Bearing in mind that diversity labour is a never-ending effort, and that exclusionary practices are not always immediately perceptible, but often persistent and elusive, the questions this document brings should not be considered exhaustive. We hope, nevertheless, that they will provide a good starting point to be further developed by productive discussions bringing change to institutional practices across the field of HME in the future.

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