An opera professor, an investigative choreographer, an Ann Arbor resident, a graduate student and about seven other arts-interested individuals all convened Wednesday in a community room in North Quad to discuss the importance of including arts in the diversity conversation as part of the Diversity Next! series organized by the Center for World Performance Studies.

The event was the first of the series, which, according to the event’s flyer “is an arts-inspired series of conversations… that seeks to broaden the horizons of diversity deliberations on the U-M campus and beyond.” The CWPS said they aim to host three more panels during the winter semester.

Diversity Next! is separate from the University of Michigan’s Diversity, Equity & Inclusion plan launched by University President Mark Schlissel in October and includes campus climate related training and the opening of the new Trotter Multicultural Center to create a more diverse and inclusive campus.

Ed Sarath, interim director of Center for World Performance Studies and professor of jazz and contemporary improvisation, spearheaded the Diversity Next! initiative.

“The idea of the series is to convene a series of conversations on diversity that are inspired by the arts and that seek to put attention on areas of the diversity conversation that don’t necessarily get addressed that often, if at all,” Sarath said.

He pointed to Black music as an example of the lack of interconnectedness between race and diversity.

“So for instance, the place of Black music in the music curriculum and in the culture of Black studies is very marginalized, so that’s an example of a topic that will come up,” he said.

Sarath, Theatre & Drama Prof. Anita Gonzalez and Dance Associate Prof. Robin Wilson were the three panelists at this particular discussion.

The conversation, which was not attended by any students, was largely open-ended. To begin the event, the panelists talked about their experiences with art and diversity.

Gonzalez said the arts have been diverse for a long time but now it’s important to connect that to the University as a whole.

“(I) always found the arts to be diverse,” she said to the group. “The conversation is how diversity can work into the University.”

Wilson echoed that sentiment, saying the arts inherently have a role to play in creating a more diverse environment for everyone.

“One of the ways to look at this is not only how the arts have always been diverse, but how at their best they have erased boundaries,” she said.  

As the conversation progressed, the event’s attendees asked the panelists questions, including on initiatives that panelists have been involved in during their careers and their motivations for doing and creating art. 

Conflict arose between the panelists when they began discussing differences in their art forms and experiences. Sarath talked about how in his experience as a jazz musician, he has occasionally felt like the minority when he was in environments with other types of musicians. One audience member said they felt attacked by Sarath’s statement, as she believed he was generalizing other types of musicians, but the disagreement was short-lived, as they realized that it was an instance of miscommunication.

As the conversation came to an end, the members of the group said they were pleased with how it went and they are looking forward to the panels continuing next semester.

One audience member, Rackham student Jennifer Pollard, said it spurred some unique conversations and thoughts. She added that moving forward, it will be important to continue talking about diversity and how different forums and groups of people can address a lack of it.

“I guess (the aim is) pretty much now to kind of streamline and figure out how we bring people together, how we find them, because sometimes there are people that have been missing from conversations” Pollard said. 

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