Recruitment highlights diversity challenges

By By Chris Mumford

By Chris Mumford

U colleges have been asked to formulate a plan to recruit minority students, but a look at the music department illustrates challenges that stand in the way.

A graduate council review of the School of Music concluded that the U’s music program has difficulty recruiting minority students, though the report did not provide statistics to support its conclusion.

Robert Walzel, director of the School of Music, said there are difficulties associated with minority recruitment but that his own informal count of minority enrollment shows that his department compares favorably with the rest of the U.

A breakdown of ethnic minority music students, given to The Daily Utah Chronicle by Walzel, shows that enrollment levels are generally equal to the rest of the U and above average in female Asian/Pacific Islander enrollment.

The category in which the department lags behind most is in Hispanic female students, who account for 1.5 percent of the music school, versus 3 percent for the U as a whole.

“I was just really glad that we were not as far behind the 8 ball as I thought we were going to be,” Walzel said.

He expressed strong support for minority recruitment, having earned a master’s degree from the University of Houston, where he studied along with many Hispanic and black students, who significantly expanded his perspective on music, he said.

“The opportunity to do that has served me well in my music career,” he said.

The problem with recruiting minority students, he said, is that music lessons are often difficult for minority students to access, leaving them ill-equipped for college-level study and diminishing their chances of getting into a program.

“One of the challenges about music is you have to have a certain level of performance proficiency before you come to the university,” Walzel said.

Furthermore, Walzel said, the definition of diversity at the School of Music encompasses not only students’ race and gender, but also the broad range of different styles and instruments that they play. As a consequence, the department must recruit largely on the basis of what instrument or style that they play, further shrinking the pool of minority students who are eligible.

“I think we always encourage these students from underrepresented populations to apply, but because there aren’t very many of these students, that’s a hard thing to do,” Walzel said.

The School of Music already participates in music programs in low-income Title-I schools, where U graduate students provide music lessons, Walzel said.

Challenges aside, Walzel said he and his department are fully supportive of efforts to expand minority recruitment, pointing to the benefits that he enjoyed as part of a diverse student body. Any difficulties would simply have to be accounted for in developing an effective recruitment strategy, he said.

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