Yolanda Alovor keeps the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra in tune with equity, diversity and inclusion

Black woman stands in front of stairs in Powell Symphony Hall, smiling into camera

Yolanda Alovor leads the charge for diversity, equity and inclusion for St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. (Photo by August Jennewein)

Yolanda Alovor believes in St. Louis and its ability to transform into a more inclusive and progressive region. It’s that belief – along with her own interest in bridging communities – that led her back to her hometown to become the newly appointed vice president for external affairs and equity, diversity and inclusion for the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. She is only the third person to hold this role in American orchestras. 

“My interest in equity, diversity and inclusion lies in the importance of our society respecting cognitive diversity, distinctive perspectives and justice for all people,” Alovor says. “I want to help foster diverse and inclusive organizations that value the importance of aiding individuals to reach their full potential, which ultimately builds a strong workforce and culture.” 

Though Alovor knows that changing behavior is sometimes challenging, that does not impede her efforts to help make the Symphony a more diverse and welcoming organization. EDI work is laborious but is also highly fulfilling. For Alovor personally, the support she received from the University of Missouri–St. Louis while pursuing her PhD in educational research has served her well in her approach to this work. 

“Much of our research efforts were rooted in human connectivity,” Alovor says. “How do we find ways of connecting learners from a fundamental human standpoint? By that, I mean finding connection with that individual based on this essence of who we are as people. And that’s the way I see diversity. I see it as this large umbrella of identities and differences, but human connectivity is at its core.” 

Connecting people through art and music underpins the goal of the Symphony’s external affairs initiatives. Widening the doors of the organization to invite diverse musicians and conductors and explore different interpretations of classical works while making the genre more accessible to the public is an institution-wide priority Alovor is excited to lead. The orchestra also has a variety of community partnerships and educational programs to help broaden the cultural palate and talent of youth. 

Internally, Alovor is finalizing a 2022-23 EDI strategic action plan and developing training that includes shifting to shared language to accurately identify EDI issues. She will also conduct audits to pinpoint areas of strength and growth for the SLSO. 

Alovor is aware of the challenges in the region and the history of classical music being reserved for an elite group, but she’s a woman of faith, and she believes change is possible. 

“I think we as a society have started the ball rolling,” Alovor says. “We are having these conversations about how to articulate exactly what microaggressions, biases, predispositions and characterizations are. But now, there has to be action behind that. Creating a sense of belonging starts with embracing a growth mindset and valuing the diversity of thought. Our mission embraces this idea of belonging, and I am pleased to lead and work hand in hand with our leaders at the SLSO to further these efforts. 

This story was originally published in the fall 2022 issue of UMSL Magazine. If you have a story idea for UMSL Magazine, email magazine@umsl.edu.

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