Berklee and Spelman Colleges Establish an Inaugural Student Exchange Program

The initiative will elevate the contributions of African American women to jazz studies and the contemporary music canon.

September 7, 2023

Berklee and Spelman College, a global leader in the education of women of African descent, are pleased to announce an inaugural domestic student exchange between the two institutions beginning this fall.

The mission of the Berklee-Spelman exchange program is to promote educational opportunities in music and liberal arts to female-identifying students of African descent; to facilitate cultural and social integration through the study of music performance, theory, and history, with a specific focus on jazz and contemporary music; and to increase the participation of African American women in jazz while expanding the jazz canon.

The Berklee-Spelman exchange was conceived several years ago by its founding director, Tia Fuller, a Grammy-nominated recording artist, saxophonist, bandleader, and professor in Berklee’s Ensemble Department. Fuller, a magna cum laude graduate with a bachelor’s degree in music from Spelman College, collaborated with Paula Grissom-Broughton, Ph.D., an assistant professor at Spelman, to develop the program. Fuller’s inspiration stemmed from a life-changing musical experience at the historically Black all-women’s college in Atlanta, Georgia. Specifically, she was influenced by Joe Jennings, who founded the college’s jazz program in 1983 and directed the Spelman College Jazz Ensemble for 30 years.

“The reason that I chose Spelman was to experience the rich intersection of an HBCU [historically Black college or university], the empowerment of being amongst other Black women, studying with Mr. Jennings, and being a part of the Spelman Jazz Ensemble,” said Fuller. “Upon attending prospective student week, I first auditioned for Mr. J, where I remember him wearing his John Coltrane hat. After hearing me play, he said that I had potential and nodded his head. From that moment, I knew that my individualized studies with Mr. J were going to be transformational. It allowed me to cultivate the sustaining tools to navigate through life as a Black woman who aspired to be a performer, educator, composer, and businesswoman.”

“Ultimately, it is my goal to reinstate the jazz ensemble and instrumental program at Spelman College. The exchange program is allowing young women of color to have the balance of experiencing Black excellence at an HBCU and the diverse musical community of Berklee," Fuller said.

“I am so appreciative of Tia Fuller for her leadership in establishing the Berklee-Spelman domestic exchange program to broaden music education and cultural enrichment for students from both institutions,” said Helene Gayle, president of Spelman College. “She embodies the spirit of a Spelman woman—as a changemaker and influencer in the music world and by giving back to a place that had such an impact on her own life journey and career. We look forward to partnering with Berklee and our Atlanta University Center partners in preparing our music students for a successful and impactful future.”

During the fall semester, Berklee student Idriemeka Bailey will have the opportunity to develop a stronger connection rooted in the overall sisterhood of Spelman, as well as engage with the cultural experience of HBCUs. She will be able to take courses in music and the liberal arts program at Spelman and throughout the HBCU consortium Atlanta University Center (AUC), including studying privately with award-winning trumpeter Melvin Jones, who teaches at both Spelman and Morehouse College.

“I’m extremely grateful and excited to embark on this new journey,” said Bailey. “This is the first-ever domestic exchange program in Berklee history, and I’m honored to be a part of it. This is an incredible opportunity, and I intend to make the most of it.”

Spelman student Maydson McSwain, who will be attending Berklee, will be able to take advantage of the institution's offerings in musical performance, production, and composition in a wide array of African and Afro-diasporic styles and genres, as well as study with renowned Berklee faculty and visiting artists. 

“It is an honor and privilege to be chosen for the first domestic exchange between Spelman College and Berklee,” said McSwain. “I am so excited to study at two amazing institutions this year. Opportunities like this don’t come by often, and I am truly grateful.”

The program aims to provide Berklee students with a strong foundation in Black culture, its influence, and the power of the sisterhood network. It also offers Spelman students access to Berklee's exceptional and world-class education in contemporary music and performing arts.

“We are extremely grateful to Tia Fuller for establishing this partnership and proud to be collaborating with Spelman College,” said David Bogen, Berklee's interim president and provost. “This program provides a unique opportunity to create meaningful experiences that will be culturally and musically engaging for our students, while at the same time offering new opportunities for the mutual exchange of ideas, learning, and personal growth.” 

Learn more about the Berklee-Spelman exchange program