Women and Berklee

by Harmony Department Chair Barbara London

Lead Sheet: Women and Berklee

"Women's issues" has recently become a hot topic at Berklee. In the past, it has been a missing, dreaded, or painful topic, so "hot" is welcomed. The reasons are many, including the acknowledgement by college leaders that it is an important consideration for the health, vibrancy, and mission of the college. The recent college-wide involvement in writing Berklee's vision statement has provided fuel and enthusiasm. At one of the V2.0 days, two male colleagues returned from a brainstorming session to report, "It is the single issue that, if improved, would positively affect all areas of the college." It was a passionate sales pitch, and, true or not, I loved them for saying it.

With the leadership of Karen Zorn and Harry Chalmiers in academic affairs, Stephanie Sullivan in student affairs, and others throughout the college, fresh commitment is obvious. There is recognition of shortcomings and the need to build on the progress reflected in the growing number of female students, new hiring of talented women, and a packed house at last year's Women Musicians Network concert. Female chairs, trustees, faculty, staff, and students are meeting for support and discussion. There is a desire to move beyond excuses about "the music industry model" and arguments such as "women can learn just as well from male faculty." Strong female role models will benefit all students.

Dialogue focuses on three major areas: numbers of women, the climate for women, and women and the curriculum. Progress in one area leads to progress in the other two. Important questions are being asked. How can we provide the best mentoring for female students, faculty, administrators, and staff? How can we increase the pool of qualified women for future positions? What behaviors or paradigms do we need to change to improve the recruitment and atmosphere for women? How can we ensure that women are involved in decision-making?

Plans are underway for a broad-based equity study of salaries, benefits, and opportunities. As part of the assessment of core curriculum, we will consider ways to correct the neglect or marginalization of women's contributions. We look forward to the day when the work of Mary Lou Williams, Nadia Boulanger, Ella Fitzgerald, Maria Schneider, Carla Bley, Marian McPartland, Joan Tower, Laura Nyro, Joni Mitchell, Terri Lyne Carrington, and other women will appear in course descriptions and be played regularly in classrooms.

There are many areas of the college that seek attention and growth. Whenever one group becomes a focus, the challenge is to not overlook the needs of another. When analyzing a piece of music, we discuss one element at a time while keeping the entire piece in mind. Just as it is the sum and interaction of the parts that give a composition its strength and integrity, it will be the respect, equity, dialogue, and shared concern between all groups that will add to Berklee's success. There will continue to be passionate discussion on "how," but we agree on one thing: we want our women to succeed. As we cross the millennial bar line, I look forward to the progression we create together on this subject.