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UNC music department's series highlights anti-racism work

The logo for the Do the Work Wednesdays series. Courtesy of Cat Zachary.

Faculty and staff of the UNC music department introduced "Do the Work Wednesdays," a weekly series that highlights anti-racism work being done in the department. It came after the department spent the summer reflecting on their internal systemic racism and ways to enact meaningful change.

The series alternates between featuring individual BIPOC artists and anti-racism resources, such as a catalog of music by BIPOC artists and a series of blog posts confronting racism and sexism in American music theory. 

Cat Zachary, the communications coordinator for the music department, put DWW together hoping it would encourage conversations around anti-racism work within the department and bring the department to confront its own record.

“Particularly as a historically white university and department, it’s important for us to reckon with the past and to work to be better constantly,” Zachary said.

She’s particularly excited for an upcoming installment that will highlight one of the department’s first Black faculty members.

“We don’t want to be the kind of organization that just throws up a solidarity message and then goes back to doing things the way we’ve always done them,” Mark Katz, a professor in the music department, said. 

Katz recently wrote a piece on Alim Braxton, a hip hop artist on death row who he’s been working with for the past year. Braxton’s music aims to raise awareness about the number of innocent people on death row. 

Katz hopes DWW will be an opportunity for students and faculty in the department to keep up with each other’s work, be inspired to do something similar, or at least come away with a better understanding of issues like systemic racism.

“I’ve been pleasantly surprised that there’s more work being done than I realized,” Katz said. “I didn’t know about all the students that are doing really important work, and it was great to learn about them."

A recent piece in the series, "Haydar on the Raydar," written by senior Sophia Rekeibe, describes the music of Mona Haydar, a Syrian-American Muslim rapper whose songs address the experiences of women from colonized backgrounds. Her debut single "Hijab (Wrap My Hijab)" was named one of the top 25 feminist anthems of all time by Billboard.

Rekeibe spent the summer analyzing Haydar’s work as part of the Moore Undergraduate Research Apprentice Program. In the essay, Rekeibe discusses Haydar’s impact as an artist, her own takeaways from Haydar’s work, and what Haydar’s music meant to her as an Arab-American woman.

By elevating underrepresented voices, the music department aims to create a community where students and community members feel seen, heard and welcomed, Zachary said. Still, this series may be only the first step.

"Just because I wrote an article doesn’t mean I’m done thinking about these things, or just because you’ve read an article and you thought about it for five minutes, you can’t just be like ‘okay I’m done,’” Rekeibe said. “Anti-racist work is very time consuming for you as an individual... and the work never stops.”


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