We’re in This Together

By Jeffrey Pappas

The School of Music is committed not only to diversity, equity, and inclusion of every human being but also to equipping our students to apply their art to changing times.

How can we put the past months in perspective, when the road ahead remains so uncertain? Everyone is obviously unaware and unsure what the future holds.

As fraught a challenge as that is, we as a school must understand what is going on around us and adapt to it. As the School of Music has dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic and our nation’s ongoing crucible of racial injustice, we have been changed forever.

Facing a Pandemic

First, the pandemic. As the university made the decision to take its instruction online, our faculty rose to the challenge. I don’t remember hearing any complaining. Our faculty never whined, and they made it work. Given lemons, they made lemonade. They had to do it and they did, with a can-do attitude and creative solutions to difficult problems. When things change, they were ready to change with them.

This is what makes a quality, effective faculty in the first place, and that’s what came through last spring and throughout this fall semester. It has not been easy, and there is much we continue to address in the lives of students and their studies. We have all had feelings of isolation that human beings are simply not wired for. The School of Music is committed to being there for our students when they need help coping with these difficult situations.

We Stand Together

As 2020 churns on to be a year none of us will forget, quite frankly, COVID-19 is not our only virus. We are again in the midst of another virus, one that has been around much longer than COVID-19. Systemic racism must stop. We already have a vaccine for it, and it is found in the hearts of everyone around us. We must choose to allow it to work.

Near the end of the spring semester, I called on everyone in the School of Music—our students, faculty, staff, donors, friends, and all other supporters—to join with us to condemn systemic racism, and the oppression and hate that fuels it.

It was a time to remind everyone what we stand for: We are wholly committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion of every human being. We are in it for the longer haul for this, in part because we as artists and scholars have always played an important role in influencing the society around us.

As a school of music, it is easy for us to rely on the musical and academic messages that our art form provides. This is not enough.

Yes, we can spread messages of inclusivity, equality, and human rights through our performances and lectures. That works. But we need to do more.

Making a Difference

Last spring, I formed a task force comprising students, faculty, staff, and community members to lead us in initiatives that go beyond the traditional concert hall and outside our classrooms, so we don’t solely rely on these safe spaces to condemn this ongoing brutality.

Musicians have always had a voice. People have looked to us for reflective insights. Now, I’m suggesting we, as artistic leaders in Knoxville and beyond, take a stand to promote love, inclusion and common decency among all peoples. This will not cost us anything. We can’t say that for those we’ve lost and those who continue to suffer. We do not have to wait for a vaccine, we know that diversity, equality, and inclusivity will heal us.

We can provide outlets, specifically to the young people we are molding, to be proponents of social justice and change. That is what we will do—by being proactive, peaceful, and thoughtful change agents.

I’ll say it again: The School of Music is wholly committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion of every human being.

Please join us in supporting this thought and in our future efforts to invoke the changes necessary by being leading voices in this effort. Our positive actions against all of our 2020 challenges will be successful with unity and compassion for each other.