Luther College Chips

Increasing Inclusivity

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Increasing Inclusivity

Aurora members perform in Christmas at Luther 2017 in their previous uniform of black dresses.

Aurora members perform in Christmas at Luther 2017 in their previous uniform of black dresses.

Kien Dao (‘20) | Photo Bureau

Aurora members perform in Christmas at Luther 2017 in their previous uniform of black dresses.

Kien Dao (‘20) | Photo Bureau

Kien Dao (‘20) | Photo Bureau

Aurora members perform in Christmas at Luther 2017 in their previous uniform of black dresses.

Hope Gilbertson, Staff Writer

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The Luther Choral Department made changes regarding inclusivity to the concert dress and the use of pronouns and gender inclusive language for the 2018-19 academic year. These changes were made in an effort to make gender less binary in the wardrobe of the ensembles and be a more welcoming environment for all students.

According to Instructor in Music Mark Potvin (‘01), these changes are a continuation of Luther’s efforts to promote equality.

“I think that there is an ever-increasing awareness of the complex nature of the human experience,” Potvin said. “I think Luther College has worked hard through its history to acknowledge and celebrate humanity’s diversity. This is another part of that process.”

Vicky Agromayor (‘19) | Photo Bureau
Christmas at Luther 2017 performance also included Norsemen members who formerly wore tuxedos for performances.

One of the most noticeable changes within the program is the change in dress code. In previous years, first-year sopranos and altos performed with the Aurora choir and traditionally wore dresses with nude nylons and black shoes. First-year tenors and basses performed with the Norsemen  choir and wore tuxedos with black dress shoes. From now on, both ensembles will wear black robes.

Every choir now also has the choice to wear black pants and black shoes or black tights and black shoes underneath their robes. The new policy is an attempt to be more inclusive of all genders by moving away from binary conceptions of gender.

Colin Cosgrove (‘20) says that these changes are positive but believes there is more room for improvement.

“The syllabus no longer reads men and women for dress options but rather option one and option two,” Cosgrove said. “The shoes that the option two mandates are not available in my size. I think this example alone serves as a reminder of the work we have to do on an institutional level to facilitate a truly inclusive musical community.”

Not only have there been cosmetic changes, but there have also been changes to the vocabulary used as the department strives to be more gender-inclusive. For example, the department now refers to each section as their designated vocal parts instead of men and women.

This year’s Christmas at Luther program, written by Campus Pastor Mike Blair, also strives to use inclusive language.

“Although scripture and text of historic sacred pieces most often used male pronouns in referring to community and to God, it is helpful to remember that God is beyond human gender, and the promise of peace on Earth is given to all people and all creation,” Blair said. “Artistic choices are made whenever possible to incorporate inclusive language.”

According to Potvin, this means that at times the music department works to remove gender pronouns from the mass dialogue.

“For instance, the epilogue from [Ralph] Vaughan Williams’ ‘Hodie’ that we are performing for Christmas at Luther has some gendered language regarding God and regarding humanity writ large,” Potvin said. “After much discussion and research, the choice was made to keep the gendered language referring to God in deference to the historical context of Vaughan Williams and the lyricists. However, to align with the theme  ‘Every Voice In Concert Ring,’ the gendered language regarding humanity was made inclusive.”

Photo courtesy of Thea Morris’ Facebook page
Aurora and Norsemen debuted their new robes at the Homecoming worship service.

Anna Tahnk (‘22) is appreciative of the efforts that the department is making.

“I think that the changes are an amazing step in promoting a gender neutral and accepting program for everyone,” Tahnk said. “Right now especially, it is important that we, as a campus, provide a safe space for everyone. Music is a great way of providing that space and support for everyone. I am proud to be a member of a choral department that is respectful of all people.”

Cosgrove is optimistic about the changes that have been made, but acknowledges room for further improvement.

“These are well-needed, admirable changes,” Cosgrove said. “But we can’t let them overshadow the many issues regarding equity that still require massive amounts of attention.”

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