by Martin Jean
Director, Yale Institute of Sacred Music
I have lived through many moments of racial unrest in American history that stimulate calls for change—often the death of a Black person at the hands of police. A pattern follows: furor in the media, energy from pulpit and lectern, an array of editorials and protests, but then life snaps back to “normal” like a rubber band. White people remain in positions of authority while Black, Indigenous, and other people of color remain invisible and unheard. This is, in part, the cycle of systemic racism that haunts the halls of the academy and our own in Miller Hall at the Yale Institute of Sacred Music. It is the exact opposite of our founders’ intent.
We have all been deeply affected by the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Rayshard Brooks, to name only a few of the most recent victims of this violence. Couple this with the largest protest in United States history as tens of thousands of people joined in solidarity in the streets of our cities and throughout the world. I don’t remember a time since the 1960s calling all of us more urgently to strong, lasting, and infrastructural reforms.
In fifteen years as director of the ISM, I have not done nearly enough to advance our own institutional culture to embrace, integrate, and honor voices and bodies of people outside of White western Christianity. This has caused pain for many people, resulted in countless missed opportunities, and has led to a culture of exclusion. My faculty colleagues and I commit ourselves to a wholehearted and thorough re-examination of our practices and share with you the following first set of action steps we will undertake so that the ISM will be what our founders always envisioned, a community that embraces all who seek to foster, explore, and study sacred arts. I ask all our partners—faculty, students, graduates, and friends—for your counsel and prayers, and I hope you will permit us to engage you in this important process.
Effective immediately, through a series of task forces, the ISM will work to establish new paradigms and goals for equity, diversity, accessibility, and inclusion across its programs, curricula, and community. These actions include, but are not limited to, the following:
Recruitment (faculty, students, fellows, and advisory councils)
- Establish a plan to seek candidates with a demonstrated commitment to fostering diversity and inclusion in our tenure-track faculty lines with our partners throughout Yale in the sacred music, worship, and related arts of the world’s religions and indigenous worldviews. Commit significant resources to diversify our faculty applicant pool.
- Commit significant resources to recruit from colleges, conservatories, and universities which already have strong commitments to Black, Indigenous, and other students of color.
- Beginning with the application cycle for the 2021–2022 year, prioritize applicants for our annual long-term fellowships whose teaching and research focus on African American, Africana, Latinx, and/or Indigenous studies in sacred arts and ritual studies, until we have built tenure-track faculty lines, curricula and programming in these areas with our many partners. Allow for such post-docs to be multi-year appointments.
- Seek diverse representation on all advisory councils and editorial boards.
Scholarship, teaching, and creative work
- Beginning in 2021–2022, convene an annual international scholarly conference on Black sacred music, worship, and the related arts for the next four years.
- Begin a task force to explore new curricula in the sacred music, worship, and arts of underrepresented communities.
- Communicate more strategically the work being done by ISM faculty and fellows, past and present.
- Expand significantly our library of sacred choral and vocal works by Black, Indigenous, and other composers of color, and feature such works in public performances.
- Expand the choral, vocal, and organ repertoire for houses of worship and concert venues by a robust program to commission, perform, and record sacred works by Black, Indigenous, and other composers of color. Partner with major publishing companies to promote these new works in the field.
- Develop a plan in partnership with the appropriate Yale academic units to expand our private lesson offerings to include practices relevant to a more diverse array of worship traditions, including gospel, pop, and jazz.
- Work with the Schools of Music and Divinity to ensure maximum allowable flexibility in the curricula of our shared students to allow them to participate fully and together in these arrays of offerings.
External programs and performances
- Conclude by the fall a feasibility study already underway to explore collaborative, educational arts between churches in New Haven neighborhoods, public school children, retired adults, and Yale students. Aim to launch pilot project for the summer of 2021.
- Explore and implement collaborations between current ISM programs and New Haven churches and schools.
- Further diversify our series of concerts, guest artists, lectures, and exhibitions to extend beyond Western Christianity with special emphasis on issues of race and ethnicity.
- Commit resources to YSM and YDS and all our partners at Yale to support diverse offerings in sacred music, worship, and the related arts.
Last month, my church included in its readings the story of Hagar, servant of Sarai and Abram and mother to their son, Ishmael, from whom many Muslims trace their heritage. Hagar was banished to the desert but rescued by God, who promised that her son would be the Patriarch of a great nation. The Hebrew Scriptures record Hagar as the first person ever to name God—El-roi, “God sees.” Her son’s name—Ishmael—means “God hears.” May these names and images inspire all of us to see and hear each other as God does—as co-creators on earth and precious children of God.