Female faculty of the Fullerton College Music Department dove into their experiences teaching subjects that are male dominated, while also being some of the youngest in their department.

Cristina Lord is the only female music technology professor in her department and by far one of the youngest. She described her field of music technology to be overwhelmingly dominated by men.

When Lord studied for her bachelor’s degree in music composition at UC Santa Barbara and for her master’s at CSU Long Beach, she often found herself to be the only woman, or one of the very few women, in the classroom.

Cristina Lord is the only female professor of music technology at the Fullerton College Music Department.

Cristina Lord is the only female professor of music technology at the Fullerton College Music Department. Photo credit: Brandon Kaplin

She recalled the feeling when taking her first college music composition class, being the only woman in attendance and the course being taught by a male teacher.

“I felt really strangely alienated,” Lord said. “The energy was not welcoming and I remember being turned off by that.”

Lord strives to create a welcoming environment in her classroom and makes sure every student feels encouraged and supported, especially her few female students.

“I definitely try to uplift my students. Women that I see in my male-dominated classes I try to encourage as much as possible,” Lord said.

The stories of these featured female music professors illustrate their journey from uncertainty to self-confidence, using their own experience to inspire their music students.

The stories of these featured female music professors illustrate their journey from uncertainty to self-confidence, using their own experience to inspire their music students. Photo credit: Hannah Shields

Nicola Dedmon also has experienced what it means to feel out of place in the workspace. When she was first hired into the Fullerton College Music Department six years ago, she was the youngest faculty member at 23 years old.

Not only did Dedmon face the age-intimidation factor, but her first assignment was to conduct the Tenor-Bass Chorale, also referred to as “Men’s Chorale.”

She said it is uncommon to see a female conductor of a tenor ensemble, yet it is common to see many women’s ensembles conducted by a male. Similar to music technology, Dedmon commented that the field of conducting is male-dominated.

“I didn’t have a lot of visibility for somebody who looked like me who was doing what I was doing,” Dedmon said.

The range of her students’ age was close to her own and while many were respectful and attentive, there were still a few tenors Dedmon struggled to win over. Through her first year of teaching, Dedmon had learned not to second-guess herself, to stop leading with apologies and to be comfortable with who she was in what she did.

Monica Lee is a professor of piano studies at Fullerton College and has taught in the music department for over 20 years. She was mentored by Dorothy Griffith, who was also a teacher of piano studies and retired in 2004.

Griffith was one of the first two teachers hired by the music department back in 1962. Griffith recalled crossing the street to use the student bathroom at Fullerton High School because there was no female faculty bathroom when she and Professor Donna Webber first started working for the college.

Dorothy Griffith (left) and Donna Webber (right) were the first female professors to be hired by the Fullerton College Music Department.

Dorothy Griffith (left) and Donna Webber (right) were the first female professors to be hired by the Fullerton College Music Department. Photo credit: Monica Lee

Despite being one of the only two female music faculty, Griffith commented that she never felt intimidated by her fellow male professors. With Fullerton College being her first year of teaching music to adults, she was too busy to pay attention to what other people thought of her.

It was not until Griffith became pregnant that she ran into any objections.

“When I got pregnant, I don’t think anyone there had ever taken maternity leave,” Griffith said. “I was the pioneer with that college.”

John Griffith, Dorothy Griffith’s son, recalled how there had been an effort to remove Griffith from her teaching position in 1963 that led her case to the Fullerton Junior College Board. The then-president of Fullerton Junior College, Dr. H. Lynn Sheller, had stepped in and saved Griffith from losing her position.

“On her subsequent pregnancy, she taught right up until her water broke,” John Griffith said.

These women agreed that the Fullerton College Music Department is now a leading example of an equal and progressive workspace enjoyed by its faculty. Dedmon even referred to it as the “unicorn department.”

Dedmon said, “It’s so rare to find a department where there is a sense that the playing field is even for everyone who is there.”

Author profile

Hannah Shields (She/Her) is a journalism major originally from New Mexico and will be transferring to CSULB in the fall. In her free time, she enjoys reading and dancing.