Esperanza Spalding to leave Harvard, citing different priorities over curriculum

The Grammy-winning jazz musician has been a professor of the practice in the Music Department since 2017.

Five-time Grammy award-winning jazz musician Esperanza Spalding, a professor of the practice in Harvard’s Music Department, is set to depart the ivy league university, citing different priorities over the curriculum.

Spalding sent an email to department affiliates last week in which she explained that she is leaving the university because, “Sadly, what I aspire to cultivate and activate in organized learning spaces is not (yet) aligned with Harvard’s priorities,” she wrote, according to The Harvard Crimson

Spalding has taught courses on songwriting, performance and musical activism since joining the Harvard faculty as a part-time professor in 2017. There is a typical five-year renewable contract for Harvard’s professors in the practice but Spalding appears to not be keen on extending her time with the school. 

62nd Annual GRAMMY Awards – Press Room
Esperanza Spalding, holding her Best Jazz Vocal Album Grammy at the “62nd Annual Grammy Awards” in 2020, is leaving her Harvard University teaching position.. (Photo by Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

She noted in the email that she spent several months proposing to Harvard officials a “decolonial education” course that she dubbed the “Black Artist-Educators Decolonizing and Placemaking (BAEDAP),” but the school wasn’t receptive to the initiative. 

A description of her educational initiative accompanied her email, in which Spalding explained that the program would help institutions and instructors “move beyond metaphorical commitments to decolonial education, Black and Native solidarity (respectively), and reparations,” The Crimson reports.

According to Harvard Magazine, BAEDAP “works to devolve portions of colonial institutions’ holdings, and through doing so, help heal their impact-on, and relationships to, communities of color.”

A key component of the BAEDAP model is the university’s rematriation of some of its land and properties for the benefit of Black and native artists, scholars, students, and activists.

In her proposal, Spalding described Harvard’s history as “inextricably linked to Black and Native subjugation.” She also noted that her continued involvement with the school would be dependent upon her ability to redress its “historical and lingering colonial impacts.”

“To remain in relationship to Harvard, I must be directly engaged in generative and reparative interventions to restructure and remediate the historical and lingering colonial impacts of this institution,” she wrote, according to Harvard Magazine. 

“I am no longer willing to endorse a cultural norm whereby artists & artist-educators passively participate-in, and benefit-from institutions born and bolstered through the justification, and/or ongoing practice of exploiting and destroying Black and Native life,” she states in the BAEDAP proposal. 

The Crimson reported that Dean of Arts and Humanities Robin E. Kelsey noted that the university hopes there are “possibilities for future collaboration” between Spalding and Harvard. “Having Esperanza Spalding at Harvard these past five years has been fantastic,” he wrote in an email. “My admiration for her work is immense. She is a beacon in a turbulent world.”

Spalding plans to return to her hometown of Portland, Oregon to continue work on “an iteration of BAEDAP” she said in her email.

“These past 5 years have been so fun, so generative, so challenging, so full of new sounds and stories, new friends,” she wrote to her Harvard family in the email. “I’m gonna miss y’all!”

TheGrio is FREE on your TV via Apple TV, Amazon Fire, Roku, and Android TV. Please download theGrio mobile apps today!