Rejections, Frustrations, and Elections: The Founding Story

I assume many can relate to the personal frustrations that I have felt over the last few years. I’m often anxious and overwhelmed trying to find my place in the world. And by the hour, my mind changes decisions regarding my personal life, career decisions, and what to eat for dinner. There are too many factors to consider that weigh on other parts of my life. On top of it all, I’m a student, a multiracial person of color, a husband, and soon-to-be father concerned about the world we live in. Whether it’s the environment, politics, or other social issues, the stress seems to bombard me from all directions. Sometimes, I wish it would all go away, or that there was an opportunity to do just one thing that brings some sense of control and fulfillment.

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That was how my early ideas for the Performing Arts Initiative for Students of Color (PAISOC) were formed, although I had not anticipated how quickly the organization would come to fruition. We were founded in the summer of 2017 to resolve three problems I experienced with one solution:

 

1.     My wife and I are alumni of a performing arts organization. We visited a rehearsal and were disheartened by the decline of students of color participating in the ensemble. We observed that as the organization grew, changed locations, and increased tuition rates, there was a decline in membership diversity due to increased financial barriers, especially for students of color. We also heard rumors about students making Islamophobic and other racist ‘jokes.’ To address these issues, we proposed a plan to the board of directors to fundraise for scholarships on behalf of the organization if they committed to a diversity initiative. We offered to do all of the work. A couple board members rejected our plan along the lines of, “it’s not a priority right now.”

 

2.     I am a PhD student in ethnomusicology, studying how and why people make music. I took this path after accepting a fellowship that provides resources to students of color to earn doctorates. The hope is that we diversify college faculty and use our status to expand accessibility to higher education. As many PhD students can attest to, the process still causes me incredible anxiety. There are few job opportunities, poor work-life balance, imposter syndrome, and a constant frustration if what I’m doing will have a public impact. I couldn’t wait for a degree to make change.

 

3.     The 2016 presidential election influenced how I view the world. Regardless of who won or lost, it was clear that there are people on both sides of aisle who lack critical understandings of others’ experiences. Few people seemed willing to listen to opposing perspectives and understand the context of these differing opinions. In part, I think that problem comes from a lack of opportunities where people can interact and learn from others with different life experiences.

 

These situations reflected everything that bothered me, and I was driven to act. PAISOC became my solution. I used my knowledge and skills from graduate school to create an organization that promotes diversity with scholarships and educational opportunities for students to learn from others with different life experiences. The performing arts are perfect spaces to learn from diversity because you have to intimately and expressively interact with others. For once, I can place all of my passions in one project that helps me feel complete. Beyond that, I’m glad that others agreed with my mission and reasoning, and now I have a great team driven to inspire change.

 

Diversity should always be a priority because it encourages individuals to learn about the different ways people experience the world. That makes us all lifelong students who should crave spaces that cultivate learning from those who can teach us something. This makes us better people, and better global citizens.