SPRING 2023: READ ME! Course Policies/FAQ for MUS 113

SUNY Broome Department of Music and Theater Arts MUS 113
From Spirituals to Hip Hop: American Music of the African Diaspora
T/Th 2:00-3:15 PM
Office hours/AKA “Talk-to-Me Tuesdays”: 3:30-4:30 PM

Ground Rules for My Classroom:

– Do NOT come to my class high.
– Ski masks/balaclavas are NOT permitted in my classroom.
– Stay off your phone unless I ask you to use it for classwork. If you choose to be on your phone during class, I will ask you to leave the room.

Course Policies/FAQ

  1. What is MUS 113, From Spirituals to Hip Hop: American Music of the African Diaspora?

    This course is an introduction to the history of the music of the African diaspora to North America.  It is designed to introduce students to tools for critical listening and concepts for study, applied to the rich and multifaceted musical cultures of Black Americans.  We will examine the contributions of musicians of African descent to western art music as interpreters and creators, as well as to the genres of ragtime, blues, jazz, gospel, soul, R&B, disco, hip-hop and rap.  We will focus on the musical forms, content, and styles of these repertoires, and locate them in their historical, political, and cultural contexts.

2. How does this class work?

This course is based on reading, listening, discussion, and applying your knowledge in written and creative work.

There are no quizzes or tests. Instead, you will be asked to demonstrate your mastery of the subject matter through a brief writing assignment in every class, your participation in class discussions, and your midterm and final project. (For a complete description of the final project, go to this page.)

Our coursework will also include:

  • Class lectures
  • Reading, note-taking, and listening done in class and on your own. All readings are linked on the syllabus, and all listenings are in the blog posts linked on the syllabus.

3. How do you grade this so-called “creative work”?

This is my grading rubric for your final project this semester.

4. What if I find the course content triggering, disturbing, or upsetting?

You are not alone. There is a lot of disturbing content in this course. Material covered engages with historical racism, the legacy of slavery and discrimination, violence, sexism, religious intolerance, economic privilege, homophobia, and other forms of social injustice. I will ask you to study music, texts, and images that are explicit and disturbing. By situating these painful issues in the musical-historical context, my intent is to highlight the harm they have caused in the past and continue to cause today, NOT to excuse or minimize them.

If your experience of these issues or the way they are treated in this course is problematic or triggering in any way, please speak to me (either in class or in private)—I take such concerns seriously, and, while it is crucially important that we reckon with our history, I always strive to find better ways of addressing challenging and complex topics in the classroom.

A note on language:

You will find terms in the primary-source materials you will reading and listening to that are old-fashioned, no longer in use, and/or downright offensive. Please note that, while I do not use these words myself, I will not prevent you from reading or hearing them in the primary sources. We are engaging in historical scholarship in this class, and scholars don’t need to be protected from the ideas they are excavating, offensive or not. We need to tell the truth about our history, the good, the bad, and the ugly. Do not let offensive words have power over you.

That said, please note that the term “Negro” was not considered a slur. As Stanley Crouch wrote in 2010:

As a writer, I find the term African American unwieldy. I use terms such as Negro, Black, and am sometimes tempted to use colored because that range of skin tones is so undeniably epic. All of them are no more than words, but there is something far from backward about the sound of Negro and the magnificent people who used that word to describe themselves. They gave it majesty; they made it luminous.

5. What are the Learning Outcomes for this class?

Upon successful completion of this course you, the student, will be able to:

  1. Demonstrate knowledge of the significant time periods in African-American music history, from its earliest days to present.
  2. Identify and describe the various genres, performers, and creators of African-American music.
  3. Define the musical structures and forms of popular musical styles pioneered by black musicians and composers.
  4. Distinguish the characteristics of Black music across genres.
  5. Communicate about, reflect upon, and reason about the contributions to national and international culture made by diverse Americans.

6. How do I earn a good grade in this course?

a) Come to class.

It’s impossible to overemphasize this. We will be covering a lot of material in every class. It is simply unrealistic to expect to be able to keep up with the material if you do not come to class.

Attendance is not only necessary for your success; it is also linked to your financial aid. If you do not attend class, you will be administratively withdrawn from the course (WA). You will then lose your financial aid, and be stuck with a VERY LARGE bill.

I have no control over the administrative processes of the Registrar and Financial Aid offices. If you do not attend classes, the Registrar will automatically withdraw you from the course.

Beyond these policies, however, it is so important for you to come to class so that you can work with your classmates to form a community of scholars. What youdo in this class has an impact on you, your life, your relationships, and the world around you. Your work in this class has the potential to be transformative. Don’t minimize your own ability to change yourself and the world by missing class, where you gain the knowledge that gives you the tools you need!

My policy is that you may miss three classes without consequence. If you miss four or more classes, we need to talk. For real. We need to talk in person. I will not necessarily reduce your letter grade for absences, but chronic absence will obviously lead to a reduced grade in your participation in discussion (heavily weighted!) and the final project (heavily weighted!) Think carefully about your choices. If you are absent for 25% of classes (which this semester equals roughly 7 classes), you can reasonably expect to fail the course, since it’s highly unlikely that you will be able to keep up with the work and make up missing assignments. Keep in mind that it won’t be me who fails you; you will be failing yourself.

b) Come to class on time.

If you are late, you miss vital material, and you disrupt your classmates’ and instructor’s attention. If you have more than four late arrivals to class (that is, arriving later than five minutes after the start of class), they will count as one absence. If you arrive in class more than 20 minutes late, it will be counted as an unexcused absence.

c) Comport yourself in a scholarly manner.

In addition to coming to every class, and coming on time, conducting yourself as a scholar includes coming prepared to participate in class discussions.

  • Do the assignments on time and with your best efforts.
  • Pay attention in class.
  • Stay off your phone unless I ask you to use it to access the syllabus/readings, do research in class, or collaborate on a Google doc or similar.
  • Treat your classmates and your instructor with respect. If you disagree with me or with other students, disagree respectfully; it will make others more likely to listen to you and take you seriously.
  • Take notes (the Cornell note-taking system is a good one).

Please note that a failure to conduct yourself in a scholarly manner in this class (and this includes appropriate phone usage in class) in the ways described above will have a negative impact on your final grade.

d) Do the assigned reading and listening for every class date on the syllabus BEFORE that class date.

This will prepare you to participate in class discussions, which make up 20% of your grade.

A brief overview of how to do the reading:

  1. Read all assigned materials for that date – not just once. Skim for major points, read again closely, look up unfamiliar words, read as much of the linked material as possible, take notes, and reflect on the reading.
  2. Refer to notes you’ve taken in class over the course of the semester to make sure you’re correctly understanding as many concepts as possible. Read additional sources as necessary to ensure that you know what you’re talking about with this topic.
  3. Prepare thoughts, questions, and ideas that you have about the reading and listening assignments. Draw upon your other educational experiences, life experiences, or other expertise. Make use of any brainstorming methods you’ve come across in other classes.

In class discussions, strive to add your own ideas, respond to other students, ask provocative questions.

For more detailed recommendations on how to do the reading, listening, and writing assignments, be sure to read this post.

e) Outside of class, do the assignments.

Do the scheduled reading, listening, and creative work assignments. Review your notes from class. Think about what you’re reading and hearing. Use the written assignments and tests to demonstrate your proficiency in the subject. Confer with the classmates in your final project team to work as a group on the final project.

7. What should I do if I miss a class?

As I noted above: You may miss up to three (3) classes without questions asked. If you miss more than three classes, your grade will be lowered by five points for each subsequent class missed. If you miss four or more classes, the college may administratively withdraw you from the course (WA), in which case you will lose your financial aid.

If you miss a class, YOU are responsible for learning any material that you miss. This means that, if you miss a class for any reason, you need to get the missed notes and assignments from a classmate, NOT from me. I do not have time to re-teach you the material that you missed, so, if you miss class for any reason, please, DO NOT ask me what you missed.

Don’t be like Thomas Jefferson. In short, take responsibility for your own choices and actions.

That said: if you know you are going to miss a class, get in touch with me right away via email or Discord to let me know.

If you don’t know in advance that you are going to miss a class, but you do, get in touch with me as soon as possible. Doing these things will help your grade.

If there are ongoing reasons why you may be having trouble attending class, please come talk to me during office hours AKA Talk-To-Me Tuesdays.

8. Lady, why are you so uptight about attendance?

In addition to all the above? Okay, here goes:

When you enroll in a course, you become a MEMBER of the class. In other words, you become a vital part of a group that has, by its own choice, dedicated itself to scholarly inquiry.

In this learning community, students build their critical thinking skills through many means, including class discussion. If you are absent, this will be much more difficult not only for you, but also for your fellow students. If you are absent, you are missing out on the crucial building blocks of our discussions for subsequent classes. Therefore, every absence will put you further behind.

In this class, students work together to create an intellectual community in the classroom. If you are absent, the learning environment is degraded for everyone. You learn as much from your peers as you do from the instructor, and frequent absences diminish everyone’s experience.

When you miss class, whether the reason for your absence is excusable or not, you are missing out on the opportunity to gain knowledge above and beyond reading, listening, and writing assignments.  Of course it is possible to gain that knowledge in alternative ways or with additional effort, but if you are skipping class, you are clearly demonstrating that you are unwilling or unable to put in that additional effort.

Missing class also sends a clear message to your instructor, as well as to your classmates, that the class is not important enough for you to arrange your life to make it possible for you show up. Chronic lateness sends a similar message – that it’s not important enough for you to show up on time, and that you place a low value on the material and discussions you are missing.

Do not expect to pass this course if you are chronically absent, chronically late, or fail to turn in work.

9. How do you grade?

Your final grade will assess your mastery of the class material and subject, based upon:

You will notice that your final project is heavily weighted. You will also notice the absence of tests, exams, and papers.

DO NOT take this as license to slack. When you click on the Final Project link, you will see that the work begins NOW, and remains consistent for the entire semester. In short, you will need to manage your time and pace yourself, because you will be working on this project every week throughout the semester.

* If it is difficult for you to participate in class discussions for any reason, please let me know. I have an alternate method of assessing this component which requires you to submit a question to me based on the class readings.
**If it is difficult for you to write, you may record your thoughts and send to me as sound files; see above.

10. What is your late work policy?

  • Late work will be graded for up to 80% of full credit.
  • If you miss class, you will need to turn in your Question of the Day answer via email at oconnelljr@sunybroome.edu.
  • All late work is due on May 16.
  • I cannot accept any work handed in after May 16 at 11:59 PM.

Class and College Policies and Other General Issues

Academic Honesty: A Note on Plagiarism

All students are expected to uphold the principles of academic honesty. Academic dishonesty (e.g., cheating, copying, and plagiarism) will not be tolerated. Plagiarism is presenting the ideas and writings of another person as your own. Plagiarism is stealing. The penalty for plagiarism or any other type of cheating will be failure of either the assignment or the class. THIS INCLUDES USE OF ChatGPT.

If this happens to you, you will be placed on academic probation and will lose your financial aid. Repeat offenders may be dismissed from SUNY-Broome with a permanent mark on their academic records, which will make it impossible to transfer to any other college.

Do not underestimate the seriousness of plagiarism.  It is one of the worst possible things you can do as a student, and is a total violation of your relationship to your classmates, your professor, and your college.

In short:  your assignments MUST be the product of your own thoughts and efforts.  If you ever are in doubt about what might constitute plagiarism, please ask me before taking a risk that could ruin your academic career. For more on SUNY-Broome’s policies on academic honesty, see http://www.sunybroome.edu/c/document_library/get_file?p_l_id=142779&folderId=142906&name=DLFE-762.pdf.

Students With Disabilities

Any student who has a need for accommodations because of the impact of a disability should talk to me privately, and also visit the Disability Services Office in room L-209A on the second floor of the library or call them at 607-778-5150. SUNY-Broome is committed to the success of all students, and I will make every effort to meet your needs.

Other Student Support Services

If you are struggling in this class or any other classes for ANY reason, contact Student Support Services in room L-017 in the library, or call them at 607-778-5150. Student Support Services offers many supports for students struggling for ANY reason. Some students may be eligible for TRiO Student Support Services, a federally funded program designed to support students who are first-generation, low-income, and/or disabled.

If You Have Any Questions or Problems, or If You Are Struggling

Talk to me. I want you to succeed, and I will do what I can to help. If you have any questions, comments, problems, issues, doubts, or suggestions at all, please come see me during office hours, or, if my office hours conflict with your schedule, make an appointment to see me at another time. Your professors make themselves available to assist you in the ways that they can; it is your responsibility to take them up on it by reaching out.


This page constitutes a contract between you and me.

If you have read it and have decided to remain in my class, I will understand your continued presence to mean that you agree to its terms, and that you will abide by them.

Please read this page often, because it contains answers to many commonly-asked questions that will come up during this course.

If you have any questions that are NOT answered here, please don’t hesitate to ask me.

Have a great semester! You are going to crush it!

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