A recent exposé of Utah State University’s piano program reads like a horrible tale of discrimination, sexism, retaliation and even abuse. And it’s becoming an all-too-familiar tale.
Twenty current and former Utah State University and attached Youth Conservatory students have spoken with The Salt Lake Tribune about their experiences in the program.
There’s no question that university-level music programs are arduous. But usually there is a formula students can follow — spend time practicing, improve and see results.
That apparently wasn’t the case at USU under head piano teacher Gary Amano.
Students in USU’s piano program over the past decade allegedly faced faculty who were mean-spirited, sexist bullies. Professors said women weren’t strong enough to produce quality sound, weren’t as good musicians as their male counterparts and couldn’t keep focused after getting married or pregnant.
One former student described the piano department as a “toxic environment characterized by thinly veiled misogyny and emotional manipulation.”
As a result of this deleterious environment, students suffered physical injuries from practicing too much and saw their health decline as a result of stress, anxiety and depression. One student admitted she considered harming herself.
Many of the students “couldn’t touch the piano for years.”
Students completed requirements for undergraduate degrees only to have the piano faculty deny them a senior recital at the last minute, which the school required for graduation.
At least eight students complained to school administrators about the mistreatment as far back as 2004, only to hear nothing further about their abuse.
The tipping point came this February when a former student alleged on Facebook that a piano professor had raped her in 2009. The school responded swiftly to the public accusation by contracting with an outside attorney to investigate the claim.
The student said that when she reported the incident in 2009, the instructor was reprimanded, but not fired. Other former students have reported that when they complained to administrators, professors in the piano department retaliated against them by refusing to teach them, ignoring them in class and denying them senior recitals.
Amano wasn’t the only professor in the school’s piano program; he didn’t act alone.
USU should commit itself to making sure its current investigation will be complete and transparent, with real, public consequences for faculty members who knew better. Current and former students need more than just empty assurances that it won’t happen again.
While Amano is still listed as department head, he is on sabbatical. He shouldn’t return. And the school should remember that in cases like these, sunlight is the best disinfectant.