Center Stage: How IDEA is making a platform for diverse performers at Herberger

IDEA co-presidents talk about how they aim to share BIPOC and LGBTQ+ voices with the community in a new project

The co-presidents of IDEA, a student organization focused on inclusion and equity in the arts, discuss their upcoming project MOSAIC. This production is centered around telling BIPOC and LGBTQ+ stories. Jalen Montgomery and Ramon "Chino" Soberano share their personal experiences with diversity and discussions with the MDT Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee.


Peter Vezeau

American musician Louis Armstrong once said, “Music is life itself. What would this world be without good music, no matter what kind it is?"  

Joining me today are the co-presidents of IDEA, a student organization at ASU who value sharing every artist and their craft. Chino Soberano and Jalen Montgomery share their own struggles with diversity, their work on making the arts more inclusive and their upcoming project, MOSAIC. 

Jalen Montgomery

All right. Hey, my name is Jalen Montgomery, currently a senior music learning and teaching major. At this time, I am student teaching at Arcadia High School in Scottsdale, and I am one of the co-presidents of IDEA, the inclusion, diversity equity and accountability student committee. 

Ramon "Chino" Soberano

And I am Chino Soberano. I am a fourth-year grad student taking DMA or a doctoral degree in violin performance in ASU. Right now I'm finishing my project on Filipino composers and I am also the co-president of IDEA. 

Peter Vezeau

Thank you both so much for being here today. So what we're here to talk about is your upcoming project MOSAIC, but first let's learn a little bit more about IDEA. How did this group come into be? And what do you guys do as a committee? 

Jalen Montgomery

So IDEA, it originally started as DISC about three and a half years ago. It was called the Diversity Inclusion Student Committee when we were just a part of the school of music. However, since the schools have merged into the School of Music, Dance and Theatre over this past school year, we've decided to rebrand and change up our title. And we are now IDEA. 

We're really just focused on having the school just be an all-inclusive place of all people, really like all colors, races, backgrounds, genders, sexualities, anything really. We really just want to highlight that we are inclusive and trying to make the school more inclusive, highlighting like our diversity of the school as well.  And also working with to see and make changes that need to be changed from different perspectives of people in the school.

Chino Soberano

And also adding on to that, the aim to be a resource for the students of music, dance and theatre to come and be safe and talk about concerns in their classes or in school environment in general, that is related to their identity as a minority or their gender identity or sexual orientation, their race.

We want to foster that image that we are here for the students. We are here to listen. And also, we want to let them know that we are a resource to reach faculty and the administration, because IDEA is working hand in hand with the faculty DEI committee of the school of music, dance and theatre, as well as the director, Dr. Heather Landes. We have some regular communication from time to time checking in.

And also, we want to let you all know that IDEA is made up of subcommittees or branches. There's a subcommittee on race (and) ethnic diversity, queer inclusion and representation, body positivity, mental health and wellness, and disability, neurodivergence and accessibility.

So these five branches are made up of members of IDEA. They basically have their own autonomy within the IDEA to think of efforts and initiatives to carry out into schools that will cater to those boxes, but also, they are free to collaborate with other branches to think of other projects, because we want to foster this intersectionality.

So for example, race and ethnic diversity sub-committee branch will collaborate with queer inclusivity, and they will think of a project that merges those two together. We need members!

Peter Vezeau

When I first read of IDEA, obviously there has a lot to do with race and ethnicity and queer identity.

You're tackling stuff like disabilities and mental health and body positivity, stuff that in the fields of music, dance and theatre, are very prevalent in how we present ourselves and making sure that all these body types, all these people with different disabilities, different capabilities, they're accepted and appreciated, and I thought that was so interesting.

I got to ask, how do you guys run such a large over-branching thing? Has there ever been an instance where you needed to talk to somebody about administration over a concern about people being excluded or people not being appreciated for their race, for their disabilities, for their sexual identities, body positivity, all of that?

Has that ever happened before? 

Chino Soberano

It's a relatively new student organization because of the merger. So, nothing too serious happened yet. There were multiple instances during the year that we had faculty and administration coming into our meetings and having a civil discussion on what is going on in the school and what the students want. Members of IDEA put forward their concerns and issues directly to the leadership. So that was really good. 

Jalen Montgomery

Yeah. And I'd say really, just like how we run it is that each branch as their own branch leader or two, depending on the size of the branch and really they figure out, you know, what's the meeting time that best works for them and their members.

And they have their own agendas and try to focus on topics that their branch is specific to, so like QI [LGBTQIA+ Inclusivity] usually focuses just on like queer identities and like inclusivity and like how, like, I know one of their big projects they're working on is creating like a list of why not to use he or she pronouns exclusively in classes, you know, use things like folks or y’all just to be more inclusive of people who are nonbinary.

And I know they're working on that plenty of other things. So really it's just based on their availability and they have their own agendas and like can work on their own things. Another thing I believe it's RED [Race and Ethnic Diversity] is working on curating a podcast for IDEA that should be starting up sometime in the next month. I'm really excited to see what comes out of it. 

Peter Vezeau

That's incredible. Let's move on to talking about MOSAIC, this new project that you guys have coming out in mid-April. What can you tell me about the goal of that project?

Jalen Montgomery

So MOSAIC is really just to highlight, you know, the diversity of the school of music, dance and theatre. Really showcasing all forms of art in our school from all people, whether it's like students, staff or faculty, anybody can submit; we'd love to have, it's like a showcase for the whole school to be like, look here is what all these people are doing. People are really just like showcasing works by like BIPOC or queer artists exclusively. And you do not have to be BIPOC or queer in order to be a part of MOSAIC. I think that's about it. Chino, is there anything else? 

Chino Soberano

Going on top of that, we ultimately want this MOSAIC event to leave an impression to the student community — ultimately that the school of music, dance and theatre is made up of a lot of colors, a lot of genders, and we are proud to showcase that. And we hope that this event would let the student community know that we are a welcoming committee and we want to foster that welcoming aura to not exclude anyone and not to let them feel that they don't belong, because I've been there.

Peter Vezeau

Chino, you mentioned about being there. Are there any times when, due to your ethnicity, due to your sexual identity, anything like that? Has it ever come up to where it's been marginalized in a project that you've been part of? 

Chino Soberano

Well, I'm a classical musician, so I feel that sometimes I'm excluded when all I see on the stage is either white or East Asian — nothing against them, because they've been really wonderful in their craft and rightfully so — but I've been seeing people not look like me and don't come from where I am from, being on the posters, on the concert stage, everywhere that I see and I feel that, will I make it as a violinist? 

And slowly but surely I'm telling myself that, "Hey, you can, because there are people out there that are maybe not from the same place as you, but underwent through the same thoughts and difficulties, or similar difficulties, and look where they are now." And that's something I don't want the younger generation to feel.

Especially gay violinists. I rarely heard gay violinists or people, ultimately people on the LGBT spectrum having a really big symphony concert or a big solo that is broadcasted internationally. I've yet to hear that. 

Jalen Montgomery

Yeah, representation definitely matters, like I agree. I've felt the same way. I mean I've only seen, for bassoonists, it's like, oh there's like a white guy playing the bassoon.

Luckily, I've happened to see teachers which have been great, but like never any like of color at all. And I've only just found a couple of professional bassoonists of color over the past month. And I was like, wow, I wish I knew of these people like years ago; but even then, I don't even think they were big years ago. So I wouldn't even find them if I probably wanted to at that time.

But yeah, representation definitely matters. I would like to be the one who paves the way. Not necessarily in bassoon right now, but really just for music education and pushing boundaries in music education.

Peter Vezeau

That's amazing because I'm studying to be a theatre teacher as well, and at times it's very difficult when you see all these writers that you look up to and you see that they're all of one race or all one gender,  they're all one sexuality or body type, and it can be a little bit demoralizing. 

When you see a long list of people that define music, define theatre, define dance and they all kind of look the same until we get to recent years and we see these stories finally being told. We see people finally having their culture and their backgrounds appreciated. And I think that is incredible, what you guys are doing with MOSAIC. Because you are allowing all these people to tell these stories that don't really get the spotlight as much as they should.

Chino Soberano

I completely agree. And I said this point in one of the faculty-student meetings that we attended, but it's good right now that there's more diversity work on the forefront, but it's just sad that it took a pandemic and another murder of a black man to finally let these big institutions feel that, "Ok, we need to do something." Because these kinds of work are already in motion.

At least in the classical music area, where I am included in, it usually falls on deaf ears, because we think as classical musicians, that classical music is high and mighty, it's divine, and people will come to us. But the pandemic happened. Look what happened. Concerts are gone. Symphony halls are empty. No one wants to go to a live concert anymore, for now.

So now they're forced to rethink and reevaluate their, I would say, tradition. Sorry. I went off tangent because that is something I'm passionate about — how the classical music industry is so late in catching up with the times. 

Jalen Montgomery

Oh yeah. I mean, music education is the same way. Like we've been doing it this way for hundreds of years. Yeah, like that's kind of the issue here, kind of needs to change and like develop as time goes. But I think it is getting better and I think it will get better as time goes on. 

But I do remember, Chino and I did some research about like looking up other diversity, equity, inclusion committees at different universities; and we've done it like pretty off and on like each semester, just like to see what's going on in different schools. And I remember like, at least I think it was like a year and a half ago or something, we researched and were like, we can't really find anything from different schools. 

But I remember this past semester doing some research and there was tons. You know, I mean, you're absolutely right, it's sad that it had to take a murder who really just create this work, or different schools to really be like, “Wow. Like I think we should maybe step up a little bit." People have been saying that for plenty of years, but it's just crazy. 

Peter Vezeau

It really is a shame like you guys said we've seen, especially in the past, even just the calendar year, but it feels like even past decade, this almost neglect towards discrimination against race, discrimination against queer identity, discrimination against mental illness, just because that's all in the past, is what they say. They all say, "it's way back when." Way back when these stories weren't being told, these voices weren't being heard.

And I think what IDEA does is very, very necessary and very, very admirable because you guys make sure that these voices are indeed heard and part of performance art. It's so much about reflecting the society that we live in. Either challenging it to evolve or almost mocking it for being the same as it is.

And, I don't know, what is it like to go through all these stories and then next month you'll be showing all these performances? What has it been like getting all these stories in from people of these backgrounds and just hearing what they have to say?

Jalen Montgomery

I think it's great getting the submissions in and getting to see the performances and their takes on various works and things like that and their own creations, which is amazing to see.

I know one of those submissions I've seen, I think it was recorded this past semester a few months ago and there's like 12 dancers on it. And like, I haven't even watched it yet, but I remember because he's a buddy of mine, we're in a couple other communities together. And I was like, wow, this is like so cool. Like, I'm so glad this was like submitted and things like that.

And I think it's great that we get to really highlight the diversity here in the school of music, dance and theatre, really just because we are more than what people think we are, and like, we have more identities than people think we have.

I know, like I was here like for my audition, and I was like, I don't really see much diversity here. I mean, it was like March or something, a couple years back. I was just like, I don't really know who was all here, but I mean, it was also like an audition day, so not really going to see that many people anyways. Now, like I've just seen the change that's happened here and like how much diversity that we truly have, and it's really been great to really be able to showcase. 

Chino Soberano

Yeah, I agree, I agree. It's refreshing to see all sorts of people, all sorts of identities performing and giving their best. We are grateful for the submissions. It's just also amazing how we feel that it's getting more of that feeling of a community.

Seeing the people in the community that are so down and contributing and giving and lending their support. That's really awesome. We are thankful for this committee, and we are thankful for the community that we represent. 

Peter Vezeau

Awesome guys. Just to close up, if anybody is interested in joining IDEA, where can they find more information about the committee and where can they look into becoming a member?

Jalen Montgomery

We currently have a Facebook page and Instagram page, and we also have an email. Our email is idea.mdt@asu.edu. Our Instagram and Facebook pages:

Chino Soberano

@asusomdtidea. 

Jalen Montgomery

So, absolutely feel free to go there. I know we currently have a link tree on our Instagram page that has a link to our interests form if you're interested in joining. Also, if you're interested, you can email me or Chino, we will absolutely get you plugged in.

Chino Soberano

Everyone is welcome. You don't have to identify as BIPOC or queer; as long as you're passionate about diversity and equity, come join us. 

Peter Vezeau

Well, thank you guys so much again for being here. 

Chino Soberano

Thank you for inviting us. Thank you for giving us a platform. 

Jalen Montgomery

Yeah. Thank you.

Peter Vezeau

My thanks again to Mr. Soberano And Mr. Montgomery. These two have made it their mission to make the arts more accessible to everyone and are welcoming new members at this time. Be sure to catch MOSAIC on April 17. For The State Press, I'm Peter Vezeau.


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