Cluster hire delivers boost to music program and ethnic studies
October 11, 2022
By Mark C. Anderson
One plus one plus one equals a lot more than three.
That’s the early indication from a special sort of hire by CSU Monterey Bay’s College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences (CAHSS).
Three new faculty members started this fall in the fields of music and ethnic studies, namely assistant professors of music, Althea SullyCole and John Wineglass, and assistant professor of ethnic studies, Sriya Shrestha.
Each presents impressive accomplishments and plans for their curriculums as individual faculty members. Their interdepartmental potential together might multiply their impact.
Juanita Cole, the dean of CAHSS, describes “cluster hires” as an emerging practice in higher education designed to cross-pollinate new ideas among departments, cultures and campus interests.
“It’s a recruitment practice known to increase diversity and interdisciplinary collaboration that’s really popular among universities looking to diversify and advance research in specific areas,” she says.
A special allotment of funds for ethnic studies helped inspire the group hire, which has included an early orientation and talk of collaborations around performances, curriculum, grants and published articles. A cluster hire helps with recruitment but also with retention.
“They rely and lean on one another," Cole adds. "It helps make sure they’re successful and have longevity.”
She observes a clear chemistry among the group, something that surfaces in separate interviews.
“It’s a special cohort,” Cole says. “We struck gold here—it’s really good for CSUMB students."
Here appears an introduction to each:
Multi-instrumentalist, ethnomusicologist, vocalist and activist Althea SullyCole has spent 3 years in Senegal studying a 21-string West African harp called a kora. She’s worked everywhere from Columbia University’s music department to the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. She’s collaborated with all sorts of stars—from Royal Messenger to Lisette Santiago to her father Bill Cole.
Across those experiences, several takeaways emerged.
One, African and African-descended musicians are generous with their wisdom.
“In Africa, musical knowledge and oral knowledge are disseminated through social connection,” she says. “Most of that was handed to me for free, with kinship and generosity, and I feel invested in sharing it.”
Two, in many places that knowledge isn’t so openly shared.
“The academic world can be exclusive and expensive,” SullyCole says. “I do feel an ethical imperative toward making musical practice and knowledge accessible to as wide a population as possible. I feel like that’s the mission of the CSU [system] and CSUMB’s music department.”
Three, democratization of music can go further than it does.
“People think of music as a world only accessible to people with ineffable abilities,” she says. “One thing I say often: If you have a heartbeat, you’re musical. I want to open up students to their own abilities and their own sound worlds…”
She’s already basking in the chance to work with her cohort, to have intimate access to the Monterey Jazz Festival, and to take a student-centric approach to teaching.
“After working in radio, live programming, and as a touring artist, to use those skills directly with students is a huge privilege,” she says.
As a composer, Wineglass has won multiple Emmys, crafted full symphonies and earned commissions from the likes of Kennedy Center Concert Hall and The National Endowment for the Arts. So when it comes to the cluster hire and his joy at being “part of something that hasn’t happened,” it carries a little more weight than if a less pioneering soul said it.
Wineglass is audibly excited to get back in the classroom after a long stint writing and performing music.
“It’s important to me. That’s how I got where I am. It’s my way of paying it forward,” he says. “It’s also a way to regulate my life as an artist—what do I do with all the experiences I’ve accumulated in my life? I love pouring my knowledge into the students, teaching my theory, sharpening my craft.”
He adds he is eager to be “a conduit” from campus to the workforce, to the music industry, and to the community.
“It is kind of mind-blowing to spend my time doing something useful for the community while connecting students to the arts,” he says.
When the conversation returns to the cluster, the theme of connectivity remains: Wineglass notes he’s looking forward to helping next year’s cluster class enjoy the opportunities and cohesion his class already has.
“We’ve hit it off,” he says.
Shrestha comes to the cluster well familiar with CSUMB, after years spent as an adjunct professor in the Humanities and Communication, and Global Studies departments.
As she lectured in her areas of expertise (race and gender), she found inspiration in the CSUMB Otters’ attentive response.
“Our discussions about the history and present reality of structural inequalities and institutional oppression are not merely an intellectual exercise,” she says. “They are tools for better understanding the dynamics [students] have witnessed in their own lives, neighborhoods, and communities.”
Shrestha has always been fascinated with the “larger social dynamics that create the conditions of hardships and inequities”; one of her more recent papers explores a transnational, relational approach to global inequality.
She further finds CSUMB’s founding mission—to "serve the diverse people of California, especially the working class and historically undereducated and low-income populations"— resonant with her teaching.
“I am happy to be a part of that important work as a professor, and I see it as a continuation of my commitment to social justice,” she says.
Joining the cluster cohort, meanwhile, has widened her thoughts on how to honor that.
“Being a part of this has already expanded my thinking,” she says, “and stimulated ideas about the diverse ways that we can work towards common goals using the tools and skills that are unique to each of us.”