Western Student Association Official Spirituals Statement

On Wednesday, February 19th, the School of Music performed a concert titled "Spirituals." Below is the official statement of the Western Student Association Cabinet, and Lauren V. Smith, Student Body President, regarding the situation. Please use the "Contact Us" section on the website if you have any questions, comments, or concerns. 

February 23, 2020

The Western Student Association (WSA) is aware of the incident involving the School of Music on Western Michigan University’s campus during a concert titled “Spirituals: From Ship to Shore.” As the representative body of students, we feel that it is necessary to address the injustice that happened on Wednesday, February 19. We stand in unity with the Black Student Union (BSU), and all students impacted. We strongly condemn the actions of those involved in the decisions of the performance, the ignorance, lack of inclusion and accountability, and the marginalization of our student voices. 

In a moment like this, we need a gold standard that holds our institution, staff, and faculty accountable. To have the vision of a learner centered, discovery-driven, and globally engaged campus takes an active, intentional effort. Though while these are our three pillars, they must also be our guiding influence in our daily roles. The event “Spirituals: From Ship to Shore” demonstrated the antithesis of our core principles as an institution. The lack of judgment exercised in the directing of the show represents a pernicious past of failing to educate and engage a predominately white institution. Instead of seizing the opportunity to create a collaborative and transformative experience by consulting black leaders and students to help educate a broader audience, the performance continued a long history of perverting and distorting slavery and black history. A university that is learner centered, discovery-driven, and globally engaged must recognize a higher standard of inclusion to appreciate the beauty of having a diverse student body.

We stand in solidarity with Shaylee Faught, and with all students who experience the insidious nature of cultural appropriation. Their experience is characteristic of a lack of accountability to student concerns. When the director is more concerned with investigating the mental health of a student rather than empathetically responding to concerns of students, it further illustrates that students' voices do not matter. We do not and will not tolerate these inappropriate responses.

In a statement from Western Michigan University (WMU), they explained that the concert this past Wednesday was an educational opportunity for students. This concert had immense potential to be an educational opportunity; however, thoughtful planning and consideration of certain cultures were lacking. To combat any future occurrences like so, there are ample opportunities to collaborate within the university; for example, the School of Music could have coordinated with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to ensure that no wrongdoing could occur. Other opportunities include reaching out to organizations like BSU, or even WMU’s Gospel Choir for support. We must acknowledge that WMU has just over approximately 11 percent of African-American students. Meaning, that we may have to broaden our search the answer to questions surrounding African-American heritage and tradition. 

We, as an organization, are tasked with making sure student voices do not go unheard. This letter strongly urges our University officials to make a change to listen, hear, and echo the voices of our students. While there is a long road to healing, it must begin with acknowledgment and accountability. As the voice of the student body, WSA stands with BSU in calling for a formal apology to our students from WMU’s School of Music and WMU’s higher administration.