Diversity is commonly defined by race, ethnicity, gender and gender identity, national origin, religion and spiritual belief, age, geographic origin, sexual orientation, ability/disability and veteran status. Although these factors are crucial in the context of diversity, I believe another very important factor, socioeconomic status, is the key to encouraging, increasing and supporting diversity. As an academic, I believe our number one priority is the students. Throughout my teaching career, I have worked to foster access to higher education to students from diverse backgrounds and to support and facilitate support for them during their education journey, guiding them toward graduation. I believe by building a strong student community and a culture of inclusion, supported by faculty/staff/administration, all students can succeed.
Encouraging student diversity begins with recruitment. It is imperative to reach out to students in economically humble communities. I often perform outreach/recruitment concerts in public, inner city schools, because often times those are the students who are hesitant to apply to four year colleges due to fear of the financial strain of attendance. I believe is of most importance to speak to the students and convince them of all the financial aid/scholarships which are available and encourage them to apply. It is also equally important to speak with high school teachers and counselors, since they often advise the students. I have heard stories of students being discouraged from applying to certain colleges for economic reasons, and this truly saddens me.
My commitment to diversity has resulted in a MUW music department that is truly diverse in gender, race, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, age, veteran status and religion. Even though we are a small public university in Mississippi, we recruit musicians everywhere, and, as a result, many of our students are from out of state (Arizona, Florida, Montana, Tennessee, Wisconsin, etc.) and we have several international students (Nepal and Romania). Most importantly, everyone feels included in the musical community and supports one another.