Sunday afternoon, November 8, 2-3:15 CST

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Stories from the Frontlines

Somangshu Mukherji (University of Michigan), Chair

Stifling Sameness: Hardships of Immigration, Parenthood, and Being Non-white Contingent Faculty

Adem Merter Birson (Hofstra University)


I had just returned to the United States from Turkey after only one year there amid the aftermath of a failed military coup in 2016. Many of my colleagues were jailed and my university was taken over by the government. As a scholar of Turkish and Puerto Rican descent, I felt connected to Turkey so much so that I took a position at a university in Ankara. Immediately upon my return to the U.S. came the election and subsequent “Muslim ban.” While Turkey was not on the list of prohibited countries, I was attempting to bring my then-fiancée and anti-immigrant rhetoric was heating up. After two years of struggle with USCIS, we got married and now have a child. I eventually landed on my feet as an adjunct faculty at my current institution. However, being contingent faculty means struggling below the poverty level and without benefits. The difficulties of my full teaching load and working several jobs are prohibitive to maintaining a robust research program. Furthermore, as someone who studies both Western and Turkish music, it is the Turkish music that draws microaggressions in interviews, such as “It must be difficult to find instruments for an ensemble,” or, “What is the audience for scholarship on that music?” This presentation uncovers the inequities that I have encountered within academia involving race/ethnicity and contingent faculty status.

Assessing My Market Value: One Perspective on Contingent Labor in Music Theory

Catrina S. Kim (University of North Carolina at Greensboro)


As the number of tenure-track jobs continues to fall, more ABDs and recent PhDs spend years as overworked and poorly compensated teachers. I discuss my lived experiences of contingent employment during the transition from graduate school to tenure-track employment; I focus on how administrators assessed my market value with respect to my racial and gender identities—among other factors—and on how the sedimented privileges and logics of higher education continue to fuel the exploitation of labor.

(Re)Visioning Race and Gender in Music Theory and Composition

Paula Grissom (Spelman College)

Dr. Paula Grissom-Broughton currently serves as the chair of the music department where she also teaches courses related to women, race and music. An active scholar and researcher on the subject of race and gender in the music classroom, Grissom-Broughton has presented her research at local and national conferences, including the National Association for Music Education.

Before becoming a member of the music faculty at Spelman, Grissom-Broughton taught piano, music history, and music theory at Winston-Salem State University. During her tenure in North Carolina, she was a featured performer for the Focus on Piano Conference at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She was also featured at the Winston-Salem Delta Arts Center where she performed works by Pulitzer Prize Winner George Walker.

Grissom-Broughton's background in music education extends beyond the college classroom. She has several years of teaching experience as a music specialist and choral instructor for both Atlanta Public Schools and Fulton County Schools. During her time as a music specialist for Fulton County Schools, she also created, developed and taught various music courses for After-School Development Programs throughout the district.

A former winner of Atlanta Steinway Piano Competition, Grissom-Broughton remains an active musician, serving locally and nationally as an incredibly versatile collaborative pianist, guest clinician, and presenter for various panels and workshops.


My presentation addresses the need for more inclusion of women, particularly Black women, in the fields of music theory and composition. By “(re)visioning” the role of women and their contributions in the fields of music theory and composition, we can begin to dismantle centuries of social and musical constructs endorsed by the traditional Western-European patriarchal canon.

Spelman College has a long-standing mission of educating women of color and preparing its students to be change agents in their communities. This mission also extends to the music department where we are “(re)visioning” our music curriculum that has historically promoted performance over other musical fields. By implementing curricula changes that promote more Black women to become music “creators” and composers, we are changing the narrative of Black women in music, while creating a new pool of music theorist/composers in the higher education workforce.

Negotiating and Nurturing Ethnicity, Social Justice, Stress, and Trauma, pre- and post-COVID, in an Urban Commuter College

Noé Dinnerstein (John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY)


I have my own story: I am an ambiguous minority (basically I call myself a white Hispanic, never mind my indigenous ancestry). I am a very late return to academia (PhD 2013 when I turned 60), AND I am a survivor of the World Trade Center on 9/11, with significant PTSD.

I am honored and challenged as an adjunct at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, CUNY, where the enrolled student population is 47.8% Hispanic or Latino, 18.7% White, 17.7% Black or African American, 10.4% Asian, 1.59% Two or More Races, 0.351% American Indian or Alaska Native, and 0.263% Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islanders. Of these students, many are coming from socio-economically difficult circumstance, with far more challenges than middle-class students in residential colleges. The issues are: how do I nurture my students, and help them move forward? How do I use teaching of gen-ed classes in music appreciation and world music survey to present a de-colonized, anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-ableist curriculum that engages and inspires my students, and allows them to integrate what they learn from me into their larger weltanschauung? At the same time, how do I not hurt myself through constant triggering of PTSD as I deal with real-life issues ranging from slavery to the Holocaust?

A Perspective from the Academic Labor Movement

Sumanth Gopinath (University of Minnesota)


I will discuss the power and strategic necessity of solidarity to: (1) countering the for-profit business turn in higher education, and (2) enabling academic workers to rise to meet the challenges of a transforming society. It is solidarity between academic workers like contingent and tenure-line faculty; between students and faculty; among fast food workers, faculty, and students, that can truly turn the tide, as has been demonstrated in SEIU’s Fight for 15 campaign, the Chicago Teachers Union progressively more powerful and groundbreaking strikes, and the great industrial unions of the CIO.

Fighting for Class Equality Through the Power of Collective Bargaining: Toward Livable Working Conditions for Graduate Students in the Performing Arts

Anna Nelson (University of Michigan)


The Power of Collective Bargaining:

Fighting for Class Equality and Livable Working Conditions for Graduate Students in the Performing Arts

Graduate students face a long and difficult path to stable employment, but this path need not include living in poverty, insecurity, and fear. Unfortunately, unstable power dynamics and issues of diversity and inclusion continue to underlie and underscore compliance with this narrative of suffering. Through the lenses of racial and class inequality, tropes about low wages, starvation, and doubts about the value of students and their work are seen to strike a painful chord for many—especially those disproportionately affected by the strains of higher education.

In this talk, I seek to illuminate these issues by sharing my experience as a union organizer at the University of Michigan, focusing on the Graduate Employees’ Organization (GEO) strike for a safe and just pandemic response and an ongoing campaign toward equitable pay for graduate employees at the School of Music, Theatre & Dance (SMTD). I detail the fight for parity at SMTD, describing past conversations with administration, recent attempts to alter GEO contract language, and plans to continue to pursue equality for performing artists. Finally, I consider the unjust power dynamic causing the mistreatment of contingent employees by describing our strike demands and the obstacles encountered while seeking a safe environment for teaching, learning, and growing.

My work with GEO has taught me valuable lessons about allyship and intersections of race, ethnicity, and class in academia, and that many of the issues facing academics today can be distilled into one simple truth: the risks of pursuing a terminal degree vary greatly based on personal identity.

Make Sure Your Own Mask is Secure before Assisting Others: Contingent Faculty as Care Workers

Michael Berry (University of Washington)


Due to the precarious nature of our jobs, contingent faculty are more likely to be aware of and sympathetic to issues in the lives of our students that may be interfering with their ability to learn. Many of us have experienced (or are experiencing) housing or food insecurity, the challenges of balancing work and family lives, or a whole host of other issues. The nature of our work puts us in contact with a large number of students—many of whom are in their first or second year at the university—who may be facing challenges. We need to be prepared to help the students navigate the system(s) in order to access the resources they need. This becomes increasingly difficult if we ourselves don’t have the resources that we need to do our jobs effectively. In this talk, I’ll share some examples from my nine years as a part-time lecturer in the University of Washington system.

Extreme Adjuncting: When Contingent Labor Becomes the Norm

Reba Wissner (Columbus State University)


This paper discusses what will happen to the disciplines of music theory, music history, and ethnomusicology as contingent labor continues to become the norm. It will discuss my experience as someone who teaches many classes at multiple universities. It also considers the implications of contingent labor disproportionately affecting women-identifying scholars and scholars of color and how this will also affect what happens to these disciplines.

Navigating Academia, Single-Parenthood, and First-Gen Experiences

Patricia Hall (University of Michigan)


In this essay, I describe some of the challenges of being “first-gen” before the concept existed, as well as navigating academia as a single parent. My preparation for graduate school in music theory was also unusual, in that I had an undergraduate degree in psychology and was taking undergraduate courses in music theory while in graduate school. I emphasize the importance of mentors in this somewhat precarious environment.