As racial and ethnic diversity increases in a multicultural pluralistic society, professional music education institutions like orchestras and higher education institutions strive to incorporate diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives into their programming, missions, and values. However, there is a lack of systematic efforts to holistically portray these initiatives and their outcomes. With the resources provided through the Bush Fellowship, a primary objective of mine was to complete my dissertation at the University of Minnesota.
This study portrayed cultural change as revealed through the initiatives of the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (SPCO) and Augsburg University (AugU), two institutions that have undertaken specific strategies to advance DEI. I revealed both institutions' lived experiences and the essence of their practices through the concept of ‘goodness’ developed by Dr. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot. I merged my diverse skillsets by combining leadership, administration, scholarship, teaching, and performance through nonprofit organizations, higher education institutions, and K-12 school teaching in multiple countries. The findings highlighted this concept of ‘goodness’ from the two institutions' DEI journeys, rather than criticized research failures. The resulting analysis depicts the why and how of these DEI trajectories within each institution, including values, goals, strategies, and progress in achieving outcomes, leading to a final integrative portrait of cultural change. I wanted to provide this snapshot of my research journey that I completed last November 2021.
The support from this fellowship allowed me to grow in multiple directions. My original narrative on embedding DEI into the arts matured and evolved into specific pathways. Having an executive coach allowed me to develop new capacity to fill in the many gaps in my learning. I remember being very nervous and having a sense of imposter syndrome when being selected as a Bush Fellow. It wasn’t until six months in when I started to be my best authentic self. The more self-care I engaged in, the more it allowed me to develop capacity in various areas of DEI. Adding this layer of self-care has been life changing. The more I focus on me, the more I am able to focus fully on my work and research.
Further, the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement after the murder of George Floyd amplified the DEI narrative towards my fellowship focus. The paradigm of how to talk about race and society has shifted. DEI dialogues have placed more emphasis on rooting out systemic racism and being antiracist. Moving forward – COVID-19 and systemic racism will require organizations to commit to a vision for making a difference towards systemic change by engaging at multiple levels in the institution, which involves several people or teams, program directors, senior leadership, and board members. Given the lack of empirical research in DEI, I will continue to study other institutions that have employed DEI initiatives to investigate the effectiveness of their DEI initiatives.
With the BLM movement and the pandemic continuing, the need for DEI work is being increasingly amplified. Again, the timing of me receiving the fellowship and developing my social justice lens was surprising, but I feel happened for a reason. My point is when we talk about DEI, a lot of people fail to fully acknowledge their own biases and positionality in perpetuating this, which all stems from this white dominant structure. That fundamentally digs deep into this cyclical cycle perpetuating inequities ranging from our parents, our family, our social circles, the surroundings we grew up in, etc. When we truly question this, we question our existence, our identity, and ourselves. Without discomfort, without that fear, or without going into that zone of never having done this or that, we cannot stretch ourselves to think beyond our limits. This learning log serves as a current snapshot taken at a moment in time. This is right now.
We live in a society that assumes that no person/institution/organization will ever embed DEI effectively. However, the Bush Fellowship provided me the support and resources to finish my dissertation. The SPCO and AugU (from my dissertation) illuminated how intentional DEI initiatives display goodness. Embedding DEI throughout an entire institution commits to challenging the ideals in decolonizing practices that were chosen and are upheld to maintain an elite status quo at the expense of marginalizing entire historically excluded groups.
We must be intentional with moving DEI forward and held accountable to become inclusive. Good institutions, good leaders, good programs, good intentions, redefine how cultural change can un-camouflage, decenter, and dismantle white dominance. My journey as a historically excluded and marginalized person of color in predominantly white spaces underlies my commitment to assuring more inclusive, culturally diverse, and relevant experience through the lens of DEI thanks to the support from being a Bush Fellow.
Dr. Roque Diaz