Photo courtesy Lisa Beckley-Roberts
The Mississippi Board of Trustees presented Lisa Beckley-Roberts, associate professor of ethnomusicology from Jackson State University's Department of Music, with its Distinguished IHL Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Award during a ceremony at JSU on Feb. 20.
Beckley-Roberts has been a member of the JSU faculty for since 2015 and is the interim chairwoman of the Department of Music. She received the award for her work both on-campus at JSU and in the Jackson community to improve diversity and representation for underdeveloped populations.
"For me, my work toward promoting diversity and inclusion involves both my classroom and my music," Beckley-Roberts says. "As a musicologist, I've involved myself in the power of music for social change and telling the stories of underrepresented populations."
Born in Holly Springs, Miss., Beckley-Roberts graduated from Holly Spring High School and enrolled at Dillard University in New Orleans, where she received a bachelor's degree in harp performance in 1999. She received a master's degree in harp performance from Florida State University in 2003 and a master's degree in ethnomusicology from Florida State in 2007.
After graduating from Florida State, Beckley-Roberts began working as a professor of music and the humanities at Tallahassee Community College in Tallahassee, Tenn. She also opened her own harp school called Beckley School of Harp in Tallahassee, but closed it in 2012 when she decided to pursue a doctorate in ethnomusicology from Florida State, which she received in 2016.
"My interest in ethnomusicology grew out of studying African music and dance in college," Beckley-Roberts says. "The more I learned about music performance there and around the world, I realized that the subject was a perfect combination of my love of culture and anthropology. When you study music from a cultural perspective, you can see how people have used it in every aspect of their lives."
In 2018, Beckley-Roberts conducted JSU's inaugural Africana Music and Dance Symposium, a series of workshops and lectures centering on African diasporic music and dance. The symposium also taught students about scholarships that support those subjects and the connection between African musical traditions and current popular music in Mississippi.
Beckley-Roberts developed a lecture series on implicit bias in the arts in 2018, which included a roundtable discussion for women involved in classical music performance and research, and a gallery talk on the work of artist Phoenix Savage focused on representation and forms of bias that women artists of color face.
She also works with JSU's Spectrum LGBTQIA organization regarding Title IX issues and matters of inclusion on campus, as well as conducting cultural sensitivity training for faculty and staff in the music department.
In addition to her work with JSU, Beckley-Roberts is a member of the Society of Ethnomusicology and the Caribbean Studies Association, serves as co-chair of the African Diasporic Religious Studies Association and volunteers with a mentoring program at Hardy Middle School.
"I had activist parents who were both children of the 60s and worked toward fighting for justice and equity for people of color, women and children throughout their careers," Beckley-Roberts says. "They raised me to understand that it was a responsibility of mine to help people and make the world better than I found it. I've always wanted to create an equal playing ground and give all populations the opportunity to express their culture."
Beckley-Roberts lives in north Jackson with her 12-year-old son, Amari.