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Design of School

Design for Social Innovation / Publication / Installation Design
Project Overview
A multimedia critique of Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Design program that addresses issues surrounding race, gender, and identity to spark conversations about the inequalities of power we experience and inspire action towards a transparent system that ensures an equitable education for all students.
Timeline - Fall 2023, 6 Weeks
Tools - Adobe Suite, Figma, Spark AR
Team - Riya Bobde, Heysu Oh, Christy Zo
All quotes shared in this project come from current students and alumni who identify as women of color and have shared their experiences within the school. These women come from a wide array of classes, tracks, and ethnic backgrounds. Quotes have been anonymized to protect the identity of these women, but are otherwise unedited as to not diminish the rawness and vulnerability of the experiences shared.
This exhibit attempts to “deface” parts of Margaret Morrison Hall, which has historically been the women’s college of Carnegie Mellon. Beyond the various posters and zines that are distributed in display cases, walls, and studios, we also anchored the experience within an existing installation.

Along the stairwell walls of Margaret Morrison is a curated collection of quotes gathered by Rebecca Deutsch in 2004. These are voices that provide insight into women’s educational experiences within the CMU over the past century, and are meant to illustrate the evolution and progress of women’s representation in higher academia. To highlight the irony present in many of the historical quotes and emphasizes the importance of recognizing the evolving and diverse experiences of women in our educational environment, we anchored new statement texts from women of color expressing their criticism towards the system through an AR filter.
All faces are artificially generated with the demographic data from CMU data base.
Statements in orange are directly quoted from CMU School of Design’s website.
The concluding artifact that ties our claim, exhibit, reflections, and conclusions as one. We spread them in studios, offices, and mailboxes in hopes to reach a wider audience. Unique to the zine, we compiled a list of reflection questions for faculty and students to use as a guide for future conversations. There is also an index of anonymous quotes from all of the current and alumni WOC we’ve interviewed which connect back to specific arguments in our writing.
Social Media
Hosted on the Instagram at cmudesign of school, we have an AR filter that can be activated through the booklets that we have passed around. We intend to use it as a platform to document people’s reactions to  this installation.
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.
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