Next Steps: A Message from President Kalyn

To Members of the NEC Community: 

I write now in follow-up to my statement earlier this week.

This remains a deeply sobering time. The killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd have underscored yet again the stark reality that racism and injustice remain deeply embedded in our society. Last week we watched video of Mr. Floyd’s death at the hands of former police officer Derek Chauvin, now charged with murder, in full public view and without intervention by his fellow officers; this week we watched video of Gregory McMichael, Travis McMichael, and William Bryan pursuing and killing Mr. Arbery. We share in the outrage expressed by so many over the past two weeks. We stand in solidarity with the Black community. And we extend our support and love to our Black students, faculty, and staff in this most recent time of pain and grief.

I have focussed personally this week on listening more intently. Amongst all that I’ve heard, the letter from NEC’s Black Student Union to our community resounds most strongly. Our Black students are in pain, they are mourning, and they are tired. They have exercised courage and commitment to overcome systems of oppression that are centuries old and daily perpetuated; they have modeled leadership, inclusion, and love; and, even in their grief, they have extended themselves to help us understand what we can do to support them:

“It is now time for anyone who believes in the right to life, who believes in equality, and who cares about anything that may be associated with black lives and black art, to step up and help carry the load. ​Black students can no longer take the time [they] need to use to learn how to survive, teaching people how to live.”

As the head of an institution whose work is premised on the most fundamental elements of humanity, and centred around creation, expression, curiosity, and connection, I am embarrassed and heartbroken that our students had cause to write these sentences. But I am also listening with new ears, and I am committed to positive change, both personally and institutionally. 

Systemic racism, unconscious bias, and white supremacy generate countless imbalances of equity, equality, and access. It doesn’t matter whether these imbalances are unintentional; what does matter is that we as an institution take action to identify them, understand their impact, and intentionally dismantle and reset them. We must examine ourselves, and systematically advance respect, equity, and justice—within NEC first, throughout our field more broadly, and ultimately across society. 

Towards that goal, I have appointed Stanford Thompson as Special Advisor to the President. Starting this summer, Stanford will guide NEC through a process of listening, self-examination, education, planning, and action. A musician and educator, Stanford serves as the Founder and Executive Director of Play On Philly and Founding Board Chairman of El Sistema USA, bringing music education to students in underserved areas throughout Philadelphia and beyond. Recognized as a TED Fellow, Stanford believes that music education is a powerful tool for positive personal and community change. He serves on the faculty of the Global Leaders Program and regularly presents at major universities and music conservatories about leadership, entrepreneurship and social justice. As a consultant, he has guided the development of dozens of music programs across the United States and collaborated with major orchestras, higher education institutions, and arts organizations to develop new strategies and initiatives that help provide equitable access to the arts. As a professional trumpeter, Stanford has performed as a soloist and member with major orchestras around the world and continues to perform chamber music and jazz. He is a native of Atlanta, GA, graduate of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s Talent Development Program, and holds degrees from The Curtis Institute of Music and New England Conservatory’s Sistema Fellows Program.   

As we continue to navigate a pandemic, develop and implement NEC’s strategic plan, and newly confront and replace systems of inequity, the year ahead presents a powerful opportunity. We are building a model of musicianship that seeks to elevate both our art form and our shared humanity, and we will use this year to build actively, effectively, and concretely towards that vision—to what we want NEC to look like in Fall of 2021, across all aspects of our work. 

In closing, our Black students have asked for time and space to heal, and respecting that request is our first best expression of support. When they are ready, I look forward to working with the BSU to accomplish the three priorities articulated in their letter. In the meanwhile, we are developing a plan and a timeline for the work ahead, and will communicate both as we have information to share.

Finally, I would encourage students in need of support at this time to contact Steven Sweat ( or Nick Tatar ( in the Office of Student Services, who will connect you to appropriate resources. Additional resources outside of NEC are listed on the OSS student resource page

Please be well,

Andrea Kalyn

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