Oberlin Establishes Minor in African American Music

Interdisciplinary course of study available to all students in the college and conservatory.

February 1, 2022

Erich Burnett

Aerial view of Tappan Square in Oberlin.
The pathways of Tappan Square connect Oberlin's college and conservatory buildings and link the campus to the community.
Photo credit: Bryan Rubin

Oberlin College and Conservatory has formalized a new course of study in African American music, a program that will draw upon resources from multiple corners of campus.

Beginning in fall 2022, Oberlin will offer an interdisciplinary minor in African American music, which will be available to current and incoming students in both the college and conservatory.

The newly established minor is one of numerous initiatives under way in the conservatory to expand offerings in the study of African American music. Those include the appointment of a new tenure-track faculty member in African American and African diasporic music, and an additional faculty position dedicated to the study of jazz history. Both positions will be in place for the 2022-23 academic year.

“We feel very fortunate to be able to create a program such as this, bringing together offerings through the conservatory, the college’s extraordinary Africana Studies Department, and more," says Dean of the Conservatory William Quillen. "In many regards, this program formalizes and recognizes pathways of study long pursued by students in these areas, and lines of scholarly and creative inquiry of interest to faculty and staff throughout campus. We are delighted to create this program in partnership with our colleagues in the college, and we look forward to the intellectual and artistic explorations it helps inspire.”

The new minor also represents the latest in a growing suite of interdisciplinary minors and concentrations that draw upon resources from both the college and conservatory and are available to all students at Oberlin. Those minors, first introduced in the 2019-20 academic year, also include Music, Music and Cognition, Music and Popular Culture, Interdisciplinary Performance, and Arts and Creative Technologies.

Available interdisciplinary concentrations include Arts Administration and Leadership, Education Studies, Global Health, International Affairs, Journalism, Peace and Conflict Studies, and Pedagogy, Advocacy, and Community Engagement. In addition, all Oberlin Conservatory students may pursue minors in any of the 43 areas of study offered by Oberlin College.

To earn the minor in African American music, students must complete 20 credit hours of related course material (generally five full courses), including three required courses that account for 12 of the 20 credits: Introduction to African American Music I and II in the conservatory (classified in the course catalog in several ways, including JAZZ 290 and JAZZ 291), and Introduction to Africana Studies (AAST 101) in the college.

Students are invited to envision the minor in African American music from a variety of perspectives—performative, creative, or academic—in accordance with their specific areas of interest. Their chosen focus informs the remaining eight required credits, which may be selected from an extensive array of approved courses in both the college and conservatory, among them Gospel Chorus (JAZZ 702), Ethnomusicology as Activism (ETHN 303), African American Drama (THEA 264), and Beginning Hip Hop Dance (DANC 180).

In addition to 20 credit hours, completion of the minor requires the creation of a learning portfolio that chronicles students’ development through their coursework.

“The new conservatory minor in African American Music will reinforce and strengthen a bridge that has been under construction between the conservatory and Africana Studies for years,” says Charles Peterson, associate professor and chair of Oberlin College’s Africana Studies Department. “Many of the department's courses examine musical forms in the African diaspora through the lenses of theater and dance, history, cultural studies, literature, and philosophy. The new minor expands that study by directly bringing musicology into the arena.

“The minor in African American music is a perfect example of the new and innovative ways the conservatory and college, in concert, can expand student curricular opportunities. There is a long and honored list of conservatory and Africana studies double majors at Oberlin, and this new minor allows for a broader community of students in the conservatory and the college to participate in that experience."

All proposed minors must be approved by the chairs in each corresponding area of study. The African American music minor is co-chaired by Peterson, Associate Dean for Academic Support Chris Jenkins, and by an incoming African American music faculty member in the conservatory.

Oberlin Conservatory’s newly established minor in African American music continues the institution’s ongoing efforts to expand curricular diversity and support inclusion. Learn more about Oberlin's commitment in the Presidential Initiative on Racial Equity and Diversity and the conservatory’s Racial Equity and Diversity Action Plan.

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