Why Just Me (or Few Others): An Autoethnographic Point of Departure


Darrin H. Thornton, The Pennsylvania State University



Rationale and Purpose:


Over the past decade I have actively attended both mainstream and specialized research interest group music education conferences. In each of these experiences I have been struck by the lack of diversity in general and specifically the alarming absence of black men present as leaders, presenters, and even conference attendees (Blackwell, 1996; Hagedorn & Laden, 2000).

Although underrepresented groups have seen growth in the field over this period of time, the case for black men has remained seemingly unchanged. Seeing no real improvement in this problem, I feel a need to take action and systematically explore this personally perceived issue as I work toward building avenues of access for other black men in our field.


This investigation addresses the larger issue of inclusion, which speaks directly to the 2015 Symposium theme "Toward a Stronger, Richer Community." Since black men are noticeably underrepresented within the music education academy, our voices are also missing. Thus, we have not yet achieved the “diversity of voices and perspectives," as invited in the call for proposals.


This project focuses on the social, cultural, and political context in which access to the music education academy is granted. Although it does not address remedies directly, it takes a wider view of who has access to the intellectual table, which will readily “contribute to conversations and strategic actions.”


The purpose of this exploration is to pull together a personal framework as a point of departure for addressing this important issue of underrepresentation. After identifying this framework, I will propose a pipeline mentoring/development program that will hopefully begin to bridge the important gaps for black men (and other underrepresented groups) interested in pursuing music education careers in the academy.


Autoethnographic Approach:


My perspective as a black man within the political social culture of music education provides a unique retrospective lens. Although I do not consider my experiences to be exclusive, I find it truly alarming that so few black men choose, or have the opportunity, to work in the field of music education at this level.


The ideas of access to education, training, and professional opportunities frame the focus of my autoethnographic look back on my lived experiences journeying along the social political pathway of music education culture (Creswell, 2007; Ellis, 2004). I will explore the epiphanies in my personal journey that led me to music education. These epiphanies will be situated within the political social contexts in which we all must pass in order to first be officially credentialed and later unofficially accepted into the academy: as well as, placed along side the barriers and unwritten processes I have experienced as an educated black man in general, and specifically within our field.




Blackwell, J.E. (2002). Faculty of color reconsidered: Reassessing contribution to scholarship. Journal of Higher Education, 73, 582-603.

Creswell, J. (2007). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches, 2nd ed., Thousand Oakes, CA: Sage.

Ellis, C (2004). The ethnographic I: A methodological novel about autoethnography. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira.

Williams, B.N. and Williams, S.M. (2006). Perceptions of African American male junior faculty on promotion and tenure: Implications for community building and social capital. Teachers College Record, 108(2), 287-315.