Listening to Perspectives on Cultural Equity and Belonging: Part One

NEC's Cultural Equity & Belonging initiative will release a report and action steps this month, with recommendations informed by over 140 listening sessions with NEC community members.

In advance of that report, join us in taking a look back at the first phase of this initiative.

How can NEC better live up to our shared commitment to cultural equity, and create a culture of belonging? “The first step is taking the time to really listen, and that's what we've done these last few months,” says alumnus Stanford Thompson ’10 Sistema Fellow, who joined NEC as Special Advisor to President Kalyn in June with the task of helping unite the NEC community behind this shared purpose.

This work began with meeting the needs requested by the Black Student Union, and with listening. Over 140 meetings and listening sessions have been held since June.

We've spoken to every stakeholder group at NEC from students, including our Prep students and families, to Board members, alumni, faculty and staff,” shares Thompson. “And we've heard great ideas and important needs from groups including the Asian Student Association (ASA), Queer Union for the Equality of Students and Teachers (QUEST), Students Advocating for Gender Equality (SAGE), and the Progressive Alumni Coalition.”

Those perspectives have deeply shaped the report and recommended action steps that we're releasing this month.”

Recapping Our Community Conversations: Part One

In addition to one-on-one and small group conversations, the NEC community has begun a public-facing conversation through the NEC Perspectives Forums series.

The first five Perspectives Forums focused on the past, present, and future of The Black Experience at NEC. In the coming school year, monthly Perspectives Forums will branch out into other topics related to cultural equity and belonging on campus.

July 14, 2020: Interview with the Revolutionary Students Alliance

The first NEC Perspectives Forum was moderated by David Norville ’20, Cheyanna Duran ’21, Noga Cabo ’23, Jahnvi Madan ’23, and Tyler Wagner ’21 of the Revolutionary Students Alliance.


  • Introducing the Cultural Equity & Belonging initiative. The goal:

"To ensure that every member of the NEC community feels that they belong, in a diverse and equitable institution.

“We will measure our success of cultural equity by our ability to create an environment of belonging where members of the NEC community feel respected, valued, accepted, cared for, included, and that they matter—in the classroom, on campus, in the community, and in their destined life path.”

  • "I'm going to spend 40 years in my professional life; ten of them I've already logged. I'm going to spend my professional life fighting for equity [...] I love the music, and I simply believe that way too many Black and brown people have been left out. And I just want to make sure that when I retire, that is fixed." —Thompson
  • What are diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging?
    • "I define diversity in two ways: a diverse group of people who make up a community of people, and a starting point of race, ethnicity, and culture within that same community."
    • "Equity exists when everyone has an equal opportunity to overcome structural barriers to achieve success."
    • "Inclusion exists when everyone has the space to voice their perspective when making decisions."
    • "Belonging is the feeling the person has when they are free to explore the breadth of their intellectual and musical curiosity at NEC. I believe NEC can't make people "belong" here, but they can help create a diverse, equitable and inclusive environment with the people who make up the community."

"Everybody's journey before they walk in the door is completely different. The types of support that folks need aren't the same, and I think that is one thing that our institutions struggle with—of wanting to be able to provide that space of equity to everyone.

"And then also, it's a two-way street—even once you are in the equitable space, you actually have to feel it, and feel like you belong in that space.

"Making progress for cultural equity will take the entire NEC community working together to accomplish that task. A mandate or top-down decision won't fix all of the problems. It is my goal that we all will better see how each of fit into this ecosystem and the important we all play to bring about change."

Join us tomorrow for Part Two in this five-part series, in which we'll examine the beginnings of jazz at NEC with founding chair Carl Atkins, current chair Ken Schaphorst, and music historian Susan Calkins. Subscribe via email

Learn more about Cultural Equity and Belonging initiatives at NEC