(Op-Ed) The Educational Inequity of UNLV’s School of Music

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As the news of UNLV’s several developments spread, such as the newly completed Advanced Engineering Building or the purchase of 2,000 acres of land in North Las Vegas for an additional campus, students who do not benefit directly from these changes at UNLV begin to think, “What about me?” That is the case for many of UNLV’s School of Music students. 

The quality of the School of Music’s practice rooms falls behind those of peer institutions, and their condition has been declining for years. When universities with lower tuition and fees, like California State University, Long Beach, have fully soundproof and clean rooms, it raises the question music students are asking: “Where does our money go?”

The School of Music fails to maintain clean and functional practice spaces for its students. The rooms have no trash bins, lack functional practice features like mirrors, whiteboards and hand sanitizer, and have minimal sound treatment.

These photos prove that Facilities Management not only fails to vacuum the space but also elects not to address obvious problems, such as replacing mirrors or providing trash bins. Nathan Bugash, a piano performance graduate of Spring 2022, said, “As a piano major, the state of these practice rooms did not allow me an opportunity for success. Most of the time, I would rather go home and play on my digital keyboard than what the UNLV School of Music has for their pianos. In addition to being filthy, they are not prioritized for piano majors, who should have access to the best the school has to offer.”

For a campus in the heart of the entertainment capital of the United States, it doesn’t make sense why UNLV’s music spaces aren’t exceptional. Some of UNLV’s most famous and celebrated alumni are from the School of Music; some examples include Carnell Johnson, better known as Golden Pipes for the Las Vegas Golden Knights, Cecilia Violetta Lopez, 2023 College of Fine Arts Alumni of the Year, and Grammy award-winning conductor and composer Eric Whitacre.

If UNLV is so quick to celebrate the accomplishments of its music alumni, why isn’t it funding the students who are currently here, paying tuition and actively pursuing a music career?

“The practice rooms are usually not clean when I use them … That is not okay, especially for how much these rooms are used. Something needs to change,” said Julia Lynn Fleischer, a UNLV music major.

These concerns were brought to the School of Music Director with an attached Practice Room Proposal & Budget. These documents include a detailed, itemized budget, a written proposal addressing observations of the issue, goals, an 8-step action plan and ultimately achievable results of this project. Students even got support from a School of Music faculty member who was willing to talk to the director personally, asking to put this action into motion.

Three days after not receiving a response, the director was contacted once again to follow up on the initiative. The email received back was simply, “Thanks for your email..I appreciate your feedback.”

The fact that this detailed proposal, with a clear goal to improve these educational spaces, was met with such apathy truly shows the School of Music’s unwillingness to prioritize student voices. Thus, a petition was created for students to make their voices even louder. 

2023 UNLV President’s Innovation Challenge winner Angelica Shenouda said, “UNLV students deserve improved practice rooms!”

Award-winning guitarist and UNLV alumni Kyle Khembunjong said, “There was NO WAY I could ever concentrate, let alone hear my own playing amidst the paper-thin walls, if I was in one of those second-floor rooms. These are some of the most dedicated and underappreciated students on campus, yet they are working in some of the most poorly maintained practice rooms with no sound insulation, no sanitation, broken mirrors, untuned pianos, missing equipment, etc. It is absolutely unacceptable for the School of Music to ignore this issue when countless Fine Arts students spend hours on campus outside of their classes working on their craft.”

UNLV music major Raquelle Smyth said, “Creating a clean and well-maintained environment for practice rooms is very important for us music students.”

Student Saul Moreno Magaña said, “Arts matters as much as sports does.”

From an anonymous submission, “As musicians, we are constantly using hands-on practicing as well as breathing in lots of air (especially as singers or wind instrumentalists). Being exposed to trash, dirty floors, unsanitized pianos, etc. is a health hazard and needs to be constantly maintained to provide a proper environment for those using the practice rooms.”

Lastly, on a more security-relevant note, UNLV student Levi Dalnodar said, “Most schools allow access to practice rooms via a code put on your student ID. That way music students can easily access the practice rooms”

Music students can greatly benefit from clean and functional facilities with adequate soundproof technology, as they provide an environment conducive to focused concentration, allowing for enhanced rehearsal efficiency and improved skill development. As Tyler Urbano, a vocal performance graduate of Spring 2023, said, “It is important that the next generation of students have access to better facilities.” Not only will funding proactive changes in this space elevate the voice of current students but also of those to come.
The best way people can get the School of Music to listen and address students’ concerns is to continue putting pressure on faculty and staff to approve this initiative. Students deserve proper learning spaces at UNLV, and readers can help by signing the petition at https://tinyurl.com/unlvmusicpetition. Let’s raise our voices and prove that, because “Rebels make it happen!”

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