UW Music Students Rally For Ghana trip Leaders
University of Washington enthnomusicology students spoke out today in defense of Ter Ellingson and Linda Iltis, the professor and lecturer who managed a controversial study-abroad program in Ghana last summer. In a letter sent to the local news media, members of the UW’s Ethnomusicology Students Association said the couple has been treated unfairly: “We have been dismayed (and, frankly, shocked) at the sensationalist, one-sided representations of the events that led to the March 4 report on the Ghana trip,” the letter read. “We feel strongly that certain elements and events have been regularly misrepresented over the course of the media coverage of this story, which, at times, has verged on character assassination and vilification of Dr. Iltis and Dr. Ellingson.” The Ghana program was recently investigated by an independent party hired by the UW. The report, completed in March, found Iltis “did not appropriately handle” justifiable student complaints about insufficient food, debilitating illness, irrelevant lectures coordinated by a nongovernmental organization and bullying by Ellingson . Iltis and Ellingson (the latter of whom is a professor of enthnomusicology) are appealing the findings of the report to UW officials and declined to comment further last week. Read on to find the enthnomusicology students’ take on the situation. “To Whom It May Concern: “We, the Ethnomusicology Students Association of the University of Washington, are writing this letter in support of Ter Ellingson and Linda Iltis and in response to the media and administrative representation of the University of Washington study abroad trip to Ghana that Linda Iltis supervised in summer 2007. Some of us have participated in the Ghana study abroad program; most of us haven’t. All of us, however, have worked closely with Dr. Ellingson and Dr. Iltis and have seen our scholastic efforts profoundly impacted by their dedication to their students and to education, cross-cultural research, and scholarly integrity in general. “We have been dismayed (and, frankly, shocked) at the sensationalist, one-sided representations of the events that led to the March 4 report on the Ghana trip. We feel strongly that certain elements and events have been regularly misrepresented over the course of the media coverage of this story, which, at times, has verged on character assassination and vilification of Dr. Iltis and Dr. Ellingson. “Obviously, this trip required a very careful negotiation of multiple cultures, politics, the needs of the students involved, and the demands of both the NGO and University of Washington administration, perhaps even more so than other study abroad programs. Just as obviously, this trip and its delicate balance were disrupted by a series of unforeseen circumstances, and all the parties involved struggled to determine how they should best be handled. We do not deny the very real difficulties the students faced; as ethnomusicologists, we have conducted field research all over the world and can empathize fully with the hardships of living and studying abroad, particularly in developing nations. However, placing all culpability solely on Dr. Iltis and Dr. Ellingson belies the complexity of the situation. “While all the parties involved faced difficult circumstances, we would like to emphasize our certainty that Dr. Iltis and Dr. Ellingson never made the choices they did out of malice or with anything in mind other than the best interests of the students, the trip, and the communities in Ghana with which they worked. Dr. Ellingson and Dr. Iltis are committed and professional educators who have spent almost three decades dedicating their lives and careers to supporting students and facilitating learning. This dedication is apparent in their one-on-one work with students, their willingness to go to bat for both their students and the academic departments in which they work, and their enthusiasm for teaching and cross-cultural experience. Moreover, both Dr. Ellingson and Dr. Iltis are highly respected scholars whose extensive research has had a significant impact on their individual fields. “Perhaps even more importantly, however, Dr. Ellingson and Dr. Iltis have continuously built on their experiences living and researching abroad to provide students with unique educational opportunities in which to learn about the intersection of music, culture, and humanitarian work. The Ghana program, which they developed, is a prime example of the kinds of invaluable experiences they have worked very hard to offer University of Washington students: a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in which students are able not only to immerse themselves in another culture, but also to actually contribute to the betterment of people’s lives in that community. Please see the article entitled “The Rhythms of Ghana” in the Winter/Spring 2004 issue of the College of Arts and Sciences Perspectives Magazine for just one account of the very positive experience many students have enjoyed in this study abroad program. “As students of Dr. Ellingson and Dr. Iltis, we are constantly impressed with the lengths to which they are willing to go to provide support, encouragement, a comprehensive education, and priceless learning opportunities for their students. Both Dr. Iltis’s and Dr. Ellingson’s longstanding records of professionalism, dedication to education, scholarly excellence, and support for students speak strongly to their value as educators and members of the University of Washington community.
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