Timothy McNair is a graduate student of opera at Northwestern University’s famed Bienen School of Music. McNair is at the school on a full scholarship, but the 25-year-old is standing up to his school after his professor, Donald Nally, gave him an assignment to perform a song created by a racist American poet named Walt Whitman. McNair asked his instructor if he could be assigned to perform the work of other artists but Nally denied him the opportunity and told him if he didn’t turn in all of his completed work by Friday, May 17th he’d receive a failing grade. McNair refused.
“Certainly I do not deserve to fail this class. I have a 3.7 GPA. I’m an officer on three committees of this university. So what is deserving for me? Is to be able to perform two pieces and have the third piece removed because of the insensitivity,” McNair told Chicago’s WGN news station. Although the piece McNair is instructed to perform does not contain any blatant racism, McNair believes it is still offensive that he was asked to complete the works of a devout racist. “We know (he) was historically racist. He’s called African Americans ‘baboons’ and was for oppressing voting rights,” McNair said of Whitman.
There are far too many instances when African-Americans at predominantly White institutions are expected to compromise their integrity to fit into the mold of the institution. Just last month students, community leaders, and alumni of Temple University challenged Dean Teresa Soufas for decisions she made regarding the school’s prestigious African-American studies program. Protestors believed she was attempting to diminish its profound reputation. Black Blue Dog readers called and emailed Soufas and voiced their concerns. Less than a week later, she finally made the decision to listen to the concerns of the protestors and complied. This week we must contact Richard Ashley, the chair of Bienen School of Music, and let him know about Nally’s insensitivity towards Black history. McNair should not be forced to lose his scholarship for respecting Black history.
Let Ashley know that Nally may not see the value in Black history, but we stand in solidarity with McNair in asking that he receives a replacement assignment that does not insult his integrity as an African-American man.
Tell Richard Ashley that Timothy McNair deserves another assignment. He can be reached at 847-491-5720 or
via email at firstname.lastname@example.org