Portrait of Dean Robert Cutietta

A message from Dean Cutietta on Thornton’s commitment to equity

To the USC Thornton Community,

The crisis facing Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) in America has pierced our nation’s soul. The overwhelming public protests, the petitions and the heartfelt emails I’ve received from students and faculty, as well as my own deeply felt need for action, means it is past time to acknowledge and redress many injustices.

My stance up to now has been to be present, listen and, most importantly, learn. In the past few weeks, we have organized three school-wide town halls for students hosted by the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee, and a faculty and staff town hall for the entire school. I personally have reached out and talked, one on one, with Black faculty and staff members. I have listened, I have grown, and I have been humbled.

Now is the time for us to take action, and I want to highlight our first steps knowing that this will be a long and continuous journey.

Here are our first steps:

Town Halls: The feedback we’ve received from students in our three school-wide town halls last week has been thoughtful, passionate, and impressive. It has underscored the need for similar division and department listening sessions. The Popular Music program has taken a leadership role in this, hosting town halls with students, alumni, and faculty, and is developing a plan to move forward. The other departments will be following suit in the next few weeks, and I look forward to hearing the results of these conversations.

Action Plans: Following the various town halls that are occurring, I am charging departments to develop action plans that make specific progress on the issues identified. I am asking them to submit their plans to the DEI Committee so we can develop a school-wide, coordinated approach.

An overriding concern expressed in all three town hall meetings was the limited focus of the music theory curriculum. I concur. I am charging the music theory faculty to review, evaluate, and reimagine the music theory courses and core sequence that all USC Thornton students take.

Another overriding criticism focused on the programming philosophy and repertoire choices that have been made by Thornton ensembles. Again, I am charging the faculty to commit to serious investigation of the significant contributions of women and BIPOC composers and musicians throughout history, and to program accordingly.

I will inform you of our accomplishments in these areas as they occur and ask you to hold me accountable if I don’t.

But we are not waiting to make some specific changes immediately.

The Voices Fund: There has been a call to diversify the faculty and increase the number of full-time faculty of color at Thornton. We have made great strides in our diversity efforts in hiring new faculty in the past years, but USC has instituted a university-wide hiring freeze for at least one year as it attempts to deal with the negative financial ramifications of the pandemic.

We will continue these efforts, but we must do something more immediate. To address this need, we have created a fund for faculty to bring in guest lecturers of color, and specifically, individuals who can address current issues of racism in the music profession. I appealed to Thornton’s Board of Councilors to step forward and they responded with generous contributions to make this happen.

Therefore, I am pleased to announce the launch of “The Voices Fund.” Faculty from across the school can request funding to bring voices of underrepresented, historically marginalized groups to their classes. I plan to create a committee of faculty and students who will read and approve these requests to assure they are distributed across the Thornton School and meet the goals of bringing open conversations about music, inclusiveness, and the profession.

Scholarships: This week, we announced two scholarships in the Contemporary Music Division. The Victor McElhaney Memorial Jazz Drumming Endowed Scholarship will provide support for an undergraduate student who reflects the spirit of what Victor represented and stood for – utilizing the power of music as a tool for social activism. The first recipient will be selected soon for the Fall 2020-Spring 2021 academic year. (Victor, a USC Thornton Jazz Studies student, was tragically killed near campus in March 2019, a month shy of his 22nd birthday.)

Also, Nick Stoubis, chair of the Studio Guitar program, has launched a scholarship drive for BIPOC guitar students in the Contemporary Music Division in honor of Black Lives Matter. He has begun discussions with partners and is also soliciting support from individuals. We all can amplify his efforts on social media by reposting his donation information. Additional information can be found here.

We’ll also work to make two existing orchestral scholarships for BIPOC students, the Rollice E. Dale Memorial Music Scholarship and the Ernie Freeman Endowed Music Scholarship, more widely known to students.

LA Orchestra Fellowship: USC Thornton is continuing its efforts to increase diversity in American orchestras by being one of three core members of the Los Angeles Orchestra Fellowship program. The second cohort of post-graduate orchestral musicians from underrepresented BIPOC communities will be announced shortly for the three-year fellowship. This fellowship, valued at approximately $140,000 per fellow, covers a full tuition scholarship for Thornton’s Graduate Certificate program, housing and utilities, approximately $25,000 in compensation, fully paid AFM Local 47 union dues and eligibility for funds for audition travel during and after the program.

The incredible breadth of the music represented within the Thornton School is one of the many factors that makes us so unique among our peers. We are actively engaged in seeking substantive change as a school, and we are reviewing at every level what we need to do to become – in the words of the petition from students and alumni in the Classical Division – “a beacon of justice” for the music community at large.

These efforts are simply a start. We can, and must, be a community that stands for racial justice and supports Black Lives Matter and other movements to address systemic racism in our society and our profession.


Rob Cutietta, Dean
USC Thornton School of Music

TAGS: Classical Division, Contemporary Music Division,