On Friday October 26, 2018, I had the honor to be part of the panel “Equality, Diversity, Gender” (see program here) with Thomas Hilder (chair), Jill Diana Halstead Hjørnevik (panelist), Sunniva Skjøstad Hovde (panelist), Vivian Anette Lagesen (panelist), and myself (panelist). This panel was held during the conference Knowing Music - Musical Knowing Cross disciplinary dialogue on epistemologies, organized by the International Music Research School (Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Trondheim) together with the Grieg Research School (Western Norway), and hosted at the fantastic Dokkhuset venue in Trondheim.
Between the panel members, we had in common our backgrounds related to music as well as work around equality, diversity and gender. At the same time, the background of the panel members was interdisciplinary and diverse, including: musicology, ethnomusicology, anthropology, arts education, performance, gender studies, sociology, computer science, and digital arts. My role was to talk particularly about the field of music technology, drawing on my experiences with the organization Women in Music Tech at Georgia Tech (co-founder and co-chair in 2016-2017), the authorship of my paper “Who Are the Women Authors in NIME?” (Xambó 2018) —explained in this blog (see Improving Gender Balance in NIME Research), and the recently launched organization Women Nordic Music Technology (WoNoMute) at NTNU (co-founder and chair).
Thomas Hilder did moderate excellently the panel and the core themes. We had vivid discussions, which started a few days before the event via email and culminated in the panel’s day. In this blog post, I highlight three of the themes and reflect on how it can inform the music technology curriculum and industry.
Equality, diversity, feminism: defining the terms
Equality vs Egality: We often times discuss about equality as a term that refers to bringing equal opportunities and treating everyone equally. However, it is worth mentioning the nuanced difference between equality and equity. The latter refers to the quality of being fair and impartial, and adapting to the needs of everyone. Offering equal opportunities might not be enough because some people might need more support to get to the same point. The Music, Communication and Technology (MCT) master program (NTNU-UiO) is based on team-based learning and active learning, which aims to promote student-led learning based on the interests of the students, where students learn from each other. Not only the support of the teacher, but also from the other students, is necessary to promote both equality and equity.
Diversity: This term refers to not only variety in genders, but also in ages, ethnicities, abilities, religions, sexual orientations, physical appearances body sizes, economic backgrounds, and so on. As part of the actions of the organization WoNoMute, we have started a series of lectures of women in music technology. Miranda Moen led the first talk entitled Diversity, Ableism and Technology in Music. Miranda talked about the diversity wheel, a visual representation that is helpful for understanding the dimensions that diversity can take. Interestingly, an undergraduate student in music technology was not sure whether to come to this talk because she did not understand the title (and the context), which indicates that we might rethink how to raise awareness of these terms and their contexts.
Feminism: This is a complex term to be defined, with a huge historical and sociocultural legacy. Here I would like to focus on the notion of advocating for making women’s work in music technology as visible and valued as possible, and as deserved (a good example in music industry is the online directory female::pressure founded by Electric Indigo). There is a classic TED talk about what feminism means by the acclaimed writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, where she advocates that “We should all be feminists”. A good example of a feminist music netlabel is Pan y Rosas run by Keith Helt: “pan y rosas is feminist, it will always align with the oppressed over the oppressor, it will always be free and support free culture.” (interview with pan y rosas, netlabel interview project).
How can the above working definitions, combined with the other panelists’ perspectives, which were enrichingly different, inform the university’s agenda of music and music technology programs e.g. in terms of recruitment, course syllabi and teaching? Perhaps there could be an online space of debate or a glossary or a collection of use cases that could help to understand the complexity of these terms and why we should care and raise awareness about them.
The impact of the #MeToo movement
A movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault, the #MeToo movement started in October 2017 through social media. One year later, we can say that the movement has become mainstream and reached international attention. It seems that, from the perspective of those who have been talking about these topics for many years, there are cycles of peaks and valleys. Raising awareness of the importance of policies, such as having de facto codes of conduct, becomes easier during the peaks, so we should take advantage of this momentum to progress.
The concept of “safe space”
The notions of “safe space” seem to be broad and varied. In the context of music technology, I have seen a number of successful only-for-girls workshops. For example, here at the music technology department of NTNU, the study program leader Andreas Bergsland coordinates the organization of a few of them every year, and students seem to continue their careers in music tech afterwards! This can be useful to expose girls to the topic, make them confident about working with technology, and encourage them to taking ownership and preparing them for the real world.
There is also the role of “Safe Space Professor”, a teacher who has been prepared to make sure that the environment is safe for freedom of speech and free of bullying and harassment. Another emerging pattern is to offer unconscious bias training courses to teachers. In male-dominated fields such as music technology, these courses can be helpful to help teachers keep reflecting and improving their teaching in an inclusive and respectful style. In the panel discussion, we agreed that the notions of gender identities are becoming more fluid, which can be a new challenge in education.
From participating in this panel discussion, I realize that there is a wide range of perspectives and amazing work from other scholars on the above topics. It has been enriching in many ways. First, it is important to listen, dialogue, and cooperate with different disciplines in order to build a more informed perspective that can inform the university, in turn, on how to address the students’ demands of bringing more diversity and inclusion. Second, this cooperation should expand to those interested scholars who are based in formerly colonised countries, and face major challenges related to little supportive contexts. A question was raised by the audience on this matter. Third, hosting a panel of these characteristics is a positive sign of change. We agreed with all the panel members that this discussion should continue. This blog post is the first step towards this goal.
Note: The ideas of this text were presented in Panel Session 3: Equality, Diversity, Gender with Thomas Hilder (chair), Jill Diana Halstead Hjørnevik (panelist), Sunniva Skjøstad Hovde (panelist), Vivian Anette Lagesen (panelist), and Anna Xambó (panelist). Knowing Music - Musical Knowing Cross disciplinary dialogue on epistemologies. International Music Research School 2018, NTNU. Dokkhuset, Trondheim, Norway.