Following up on the introductory comments from Mark Charney, I add:
The need for change is not letting us look away.
It was and remains incredibly moving to see the demands for social justice in the wake of the murder of George Floyd. While that energy is inspiring, it is simultaneously so hard and uncomfortable and dispiriting to see and feel the depth of the need for change. It should never have been this necessary... It cannot be unseen... It never should have been.
It may seem trite in these times to use words like hope or optimism when there is so much hurt and fear around us, encouragement of it even, but I cannot help but look for that bright side, even if the next thought is disparate and challenging, and recognize that even the attempt can build energy and, with sustained effort, clarification of purpose.
It is powerful to be uncomfortable. It is powerful to hold disparate emotions simultaneously in one's consciousness, and this necessary call for action - for change and representation - does make me hopeful and optimistic about the future, and it is calling all of us.
In the middle of a pandemic.
And amidst the fear, hurt and distraction of broken news cycles, forces that purposely distract and anger and silence, we are being called, as educators and students, as artists and as humans.
For all of us, but perhaps even more so as educators, there is a responsibility to be wary of blind spots and to be rigorous in our examination of both the information and the example we convey. I am impressed and thankful for faculty and students who have been examining our ways here at TTU, developing plans, and simultaneously continuing and starting to make changes.
Our students need to see representation – in our syllabi, productions, marketing and recruitment efforts - and we are working to recognize missing voices and incorporate changes that will be substantial, long lasting, and ongoing. That's why during my three years at TTU, I have worked on making sure that we bring guest artists in dance from diverse backgrounds. Of course our students need to recognize themselves in stories that are being told, and be exposed to others' stories; through both, they may have their minds and hearts expanded. Perhaps more pressing than ever, and so crucial in arts education at this time, our conversations should be broad, inclusive, open and nuanced, to seek fearlessness amidst vulnerability.
And with kindness.
I was fortunate to spend much of this summer in a place (Vancouver, Canada) where, due to her leadership through the COVID crisis, the local head of the CDC has been celebrated on billboards and even had shoes and beverages named after her. Barring a discussion at this time regarding the how, why and where, I want to raise the phrase with which she ended her nightly updates: Be Kind. Be Calm. Be Safe.
So simple, but it sticks, and reminds me again just how much we are all going through at this time. COVID-19 has required us to think differently about how we all move through the physical world, and how we may teach and communicate substantial and refined information to our students using a variety of technologies and methodologies - we will all be experiencing new infrastructures in our classes that aim to provide teachers and students with a safe and healthy learning environment.
This transition has been challenging, and I suspect it will be ongoing, but for now I am in awe of faculty, staff and students for embracing this new normal with open-mindedness and flexibility. And, positively, I see that we are learning and developing new aesthetic models, which I hope is just one of many constructive developments that come from a challenging time for so many.
To end on a positive note, I extend a warm welcome to our new BA majors and minors AND our first cohort of BFA students in Dance to Texas Tech University! We are excited that our dance program keeps growing, and recognize it is an awesome privilege to help shape the talent and skills of ALL our wonderful and passionate students!
Be Kind. Be Calm. Be Safe.
And, lastly, another set of words that stuck - a poem from Naomi Shibab Nye, titled Kindness.
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.