School issues apology for ‘out of context’ flier promoting only white performers at Black History Month event

School issues apology for ‘out of context’ flier promoting only white performers at Black History Month event

Ohio’s Oberlin Conservatory of Music apologized after sparking outrage with a flier promoting a Black History Month event that, puzzlingly, highlighted only white performers.

The flier advertised the virtual event as a “Celebration of Black Artistry,” but the images on it of those performing showed they were five white musicians: cellist Darrett Adkins, violinists Francesca DePasquale and David Bowlin, pianist James Howsmon, and harpsichordist Mark Edwards.

The Sunday afternoon recital was intended to be a celebration of music created by people of color and featured the works of notable black composers William Grant Still, Jeffrey Mumford and Joseph Bologne. 

After numerous critics took issue with the billing, the Oberlin Conservatory, which is housed within Oberlin College, claimed the promotion had been taken “out of context.”

“We acknowledge that it was a mistake to post this event out of context, and without pictures of the composers themselves, and we are deeply sorry,” read the apology. “We will continue to be reflective and consider our policies moving forward in order to prevent a post of this nature from happening in the future.”

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Numerous former students of the college took to social media to express their dissatisfaction, and many of the comments were subsequently deleted by the college, along with the flier.

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“I was taught better by many of these people in the roster here,” alumna Sara Sasaki said, according to Chroniclet, referencing the lack of racial diversity in the ensemble of musicians performing, who were faculty members.

“We Black composer grads exist. Commission us,” fellow former student Serena Creary added. 

The event was one of a number celebrating Black History Month. The institution’s president, Carmen Twillie Ambar reassured critics in her own statement that “the work of dismantling the vestiges of white supremacy, anti-Black policies, and gender inequality has long been embedded in the promise of Oberlin College.” 

A number of notable black musicians have graduated from Oberlin, including composer George Walker, who won a Pulitzer Prize for ‘Lilacs’ in 1996. 

The Conservatory announced in September new efforts to promote racial equity and tolerance. It promised changes to “curriculum and pedagogy; programming, repertoire, and performance; admissions and auditions; personnel; climate; and student success.”

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