Dear Members of the Mason Gross Community,
I am writing to introduce myself as the new Dean of the Mason Gross School of the Arts and to express how excited and honored I am to be assuming this role. Though my appointment was announced only a few months back, it somehow seems like a lifetime ago in light of the profound ways in which our world has changed since then. Below I outline some of the ways I intend to lead the conversation around how Mason Gross might respond to the present moment, but first I want to say a few words about the nature of leadership itself.
I believe that effective leadership requires the ability to listen empathetically to as many voices as possible and to understand the history, context, and aspirations of an institution. Such objectives will guide me now and into the future, even as the goal of getting to know the Mason Gross community is made all the more challenging by remote interactions and social distancing. I will therefore plan to meet online individually and in groups with as many faculty, staff, and students as possible during the summer and into the fall. I am particularly keen to hear from those of you who are students about your experiences at Mason Gross and about your hopes for the school moving forward. This summer I will host virtual meetings with small gatherings of students as well as larger town halls—interactions that will continue indefinitely whether online or in person.
In addition to hearing from you, I intend to share aspects of my own vision for Mason Gross, which is built around three core pillars: facilitating collaboration among programs within the school and with disciplines across campus; using the arts to engage with the campus, the surrounding community, and the broader world around us; and fostering a more inclusive environment within Mason Gross while striving for ever higher levels of visibility, impact, and excellence. How such ideas are fleshed out will be determined by the robust conversations I intend to have with all of you and with various stakeholders on and off campus, but right now I want to say more about the goal of greater inclusivity.
The commitment that I would have brought—under the best of circumstances—to making Mason Gross more inclusive, diverse, equitable, and accessible has only been deepened by recent events. Still reeling from the pain of an ongoing pandemic, our nation now finds itself roiled by a string of killings of Black Americans at the hands of police and others that have laid bare the ugly consequences of systemic racism and led to widespread calls for meaningful change. I believe that certain immediate actions are necessary to demonstrate the seriousness of our commitment to fostering change and to map out the path by which we will work to achieve an anti-racist culture at Mason Gross. I have spoken with department chairs and program directors and am grateful that they have both suggested and voiced support for the following steps to be taken in the coming weeks and months: 1) programming or otherwise highlighting works in the upcoming academic year (and beyond) that are by Black creative artists and/or that place a focus on issues of racial justice; 2) creating a space on our website that articulates our commitment to inclusivity and that provides an inventory of departmental, programmatic, and school-wide efforts being undertaken to further that commitment and to implement anti-racist measures; and 3) using our recently established faculty and student Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committees to take a hard look at the curriculum with an eye toward greater inclusivity and the consideration of a school-wide “race and ethnicity” requirement of some kind. Concerning the first of these in particular, I would ask that faculty who might be interested in helping to curate or coordinate these efforts be in touch with me as soon as possible. Please note that these steps are by no means exhaustive but rather are short-term actions we can take that will plant the seeds for long-term, institutional change. Also know that such steps to address racism will help establish a firm foundation upon which to create a climate at Mason Gross that is welcoming and inclusive of all members of our community and that does not tolerate racial or gender bias, sexual harassment, bullying, marginalization, or discrimination of any kind.
Allow me to close by saying once again how thrilled I am to be joining this vibrant community of artists and scholars and how much I look forward to collaborating with all of you to build upon the achievements and standing of the Mason Gross School of the Arts. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the many individuals who have helped with my transition during this difficult time, and I especially want to thank Interim Dean Gerry Beegan for his support and assistance and for his dedicated service to the school during this truly unprecedented year. Finally, although invitations to meet will be forthcoming, I invite anyone who wishes to speak sooner rather than later about any issue at all to share your thoughts directly with me or to contact Lisa Passalacqua to schedule an appointment. In the meantime, be well and best wishes for the remainder of the summer!
Jason Geary, PhD
Dean, Mason Gross School of the Arts