This was also an opportunity for us to think critically about own place within the institution as well as what we value for ourselves and others. While it is clear certain aspects of racial and gender biases, favoritism, and professionalism are all issues that are ingrained into SoD’s culture and often must be addressed at an individual level, it is undeniable that all these issues are interwoven with the lack of transparency. White supremacy is ingrained into our system and keeping students in the dark about how decisions are made in the school, how processes are run, and how opportunities are given, further perpetuates and fuels white power. There are direct steps that this school can take to address these issues, which over time can lead to an overall shift in the culture.
The following is a synthesis of problem spaces that we noticed through our research:
- There is a lack of transparency about how and if there is a fair distribution of opportunities, academic extracurriculars, and awards within the school, and how merit and financial needs are considered during those process.
- There is a lack of transparency surrounding the active effort the institution is taking to educate themselves on biases in the classroom and adequately support students. This includes not only discussions about our social capital and privileges, but also acknowledging the long history of this issue in our school and how complaints have been swept under the rug and forgotten about. It is as important for students who are affected to feel seen and acknowledged, as it is for students who benefit from the system to understand their privilege.
- There is a lack of transparency surrounding how the School of Design is creating a culture of diversity within the faculty and classroom. This includes how and why we hire faculty members that more accurately represent the student body and value diversity, belonging, and inclusion in their practice of teaching.
- There is a huge gap in the way discussions on inclusion and diversity happen in class about both the design we learn and produce, and the general student experience. [We acknowledge that when we say “women of color” in this project we are largely coming from an East Asian perspective. This is because the majority of the student body is Asian women, which is not true diversity.]
- There is a lack of transparency about the impact of student reports and feedback to the school. With its own culture and unique issues as a small cohort, SOD does not have a safe and effective system to report such issues or guidelines as to how they will be professionally dealt with.
- Finally, there is a clear lack of action and accountability from the School of Design in addressing such issues. The school has made statements about DEI, as we’ve referenced in this project, but has yet to be transparent about any tangible plans they have to put these words into action. This demonstrates to us a blatant lack of ownership over the power and responsibility they hold to create a safe environment for students.
Affected students have been forthcoming about their experiences, despite the fear associated with speaking out, because of a collective belief in highlighting issues to create positive change. However, leading efforts towards social equity and inclusion is not their responsibility alone, but should be ingrained in the core of our institution. This requires people in positions of power at our school to acknowledge and work to combat racial-bias and the systemic injustices.
In the interest of accountability, we see hope and opportunity, and that there is potential in this institution to point light in its darkness. As a part of this system, we wish to support, not attack, a learning space that considers the wellbeing of all.
Inspirations & Credits:
This is a Critique by anonymous women of color in RISD Graphic Design Program.
Radical Accountability, Radical Transparency, Radical Action by Gender Fail.
Urgent Publishing After the Artist’s Book: Making Public In Movements Towards Liberation by Paul Soulellis.
Who Can Afford to be Critical? By Afonso Matos.
Cyber Feminism Index by Mindy Seu.
Written in KTC Compact, VTC Tank Man, Asap, Graphik, Yakema.
Printed by Kredier Printing.
Advised by studio professor Kelsey Elder and teaching assistant Ann Li.
Special thanks to the CFA Associate Dean for DEI—Angelica Perez-Johnston and Program Coordinator for DEBrittney Yauger-Limtham.
Funded by the Frank-Ratchye Further Fund Micro Grant.