In an empty room, replete with chairs, is a music professor preparing to go on stage and perform. Except he isn’t performing music. He is passionately teaching students about the history of rock music but does it with such dedication and precision, it feels as if it is a lively music performance happening right before the students’ eyes.
Ray Briggs is among the vast amount of faculty working at PCC hoping to inspire students through his music classes.
“Anything outside of playing on stage or a gig to me was a nuisance,” said Briggs. “But [when] I saw the academic side of it, I knew I wanted to teach because people need to know about [different kinds of] music.”
In his classes, students are encouraged to critically view music as more than the standard curriculum offered. This is in part due to instilling a lens of racial awareness within his lectures, something that Briggs feels is integral for students.
“We have much to go in terms of real diversity,” said Briggs. “Diversity comes in different levels and degrees [and] I still feel like we have that [hill] to climb.”
This is a daunting task Briggs is willing to take on. As assistant director of Jazz Studies at Cal State Long Beach, he has taken it upon himself to make the department embody all sorts of music that can make students feel welcomed not just within his classroom walls, but in the world itself.
“If we include music that is a part of the lives of students, they’ll respond differently,” said Briggs.
Across the board, the word “diversity” often times appears like a bold stance that colleges like to boast on web pages and pamphlets about their particular campus, but to Briggs it is more than just stating the celebration of diversity, it is following through on that promise.
“It seems like diversity is a mission statement item,” said Briggs. “What I’m saying is, ‘How thoroughly do we take that? How seriously are we committed to that?’”
But a few miles away from Cal State Long Beach, lies PCC and throughout the 11 years Briggs has been teaching here, he has seen a different side of diversity, one that has helped shift his perspective.
“I’ve encountered more students that have been tossed into the school system [and weren’t prepared] to go to a university,” said Briggs.
For Briggs, it was important to differentiate the student body on campus to that of the students he teaches at Cal State Long Beach.
In fact, it took some time to rearrange the way he taught academics for students at PCC not because it was difficult but because he realized that in order to be the professor he wanted to be, impactful and real, he had to understand the impediments some students face on campus.
“After teaching for a while [at PCC], I realized you have to meet students where they are,” said Briggs. “You have to have some sensitivity and understand where they’re coming from.”
As a professor with multiple Masters degrees, it can be arduous for Briggs to connect with students, given that the high-level title surrounding his name may seem daunting.
However, for Briggs teaching isn’t to elevate his professional status, but to learn from students and to make sure that they can relate to him one on one.
“I tell students at the beginning of [any class] that I learn more every time I prepare for this class,” said Briggs. “Just because I have these letters behind my name [doesn’t] mean that I’m somehow the authority.”
As time has passed by in the years Briggs has been teaching, he has maintained that to champion diversity on campus he must be the kind of professor and faculty member that must take on the responsibility to effect change himself.
It sounds like a lonely quest but as renowned writer James Baldwin once wrote, “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” And that is the challenge Briggs is ready to overcome.
“It’s kind of like the Civil Rights struggle,” said Briggs. “If you say, ‘We’re diverse,’ then I’m going to take your word and apply it.”