RISD Is Hiring New Faculty For Race and Decolonization Studies

The new hires span fine art, design, and architecture, and form a crucial part of the school’s long-term plan to strengthen diversity and equity.

The Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, RI

Thanks to a sizable anonymous gift, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) has commenced a search for at least 10 new faculty members specializing in race, decolonization, and cultural representation. The job listings, which are accepting applicants through November 20, span fine arts, architecture, and design, though any candidates who can offer courses “that both expand and seek to decolonize and challenge traditional art and design curriculum and pedagogies” are encouraged to apply. “We seek faculty whose scholarship, creative practice, and research addresses the lives, experiences, and cultural traditions of Black, Indigenous, and communities of color,” the listing reads. 

“In order to create a more racially just RISD, we must do more than simply combat racism where we find it,” RISD president Rosanne Somerson says of the new positions, which are scheduled to be filled by the fall 2021 semester. “We must be proactively anti-racist in principle and practice, and make consequential, scaled changes throughout the institution.” Somerson attended RISD as an undergraduate in the 1970s. An accomplished furniture designer whose work has been shown in the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Smithsonian American Art Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, she helped establish the school’s furniture design department in 1995, climbing the ranks to become provost in 2012 and eventually president in 2015.

RISD president Rosanne Somerson

News of the faculty hires follows RISD’s ambitious diversity plan, announced in July, that aims to address the racism that has “pervaded systems and structures at RISD for decades,” Somerson said after the student-led RISD Anti-Racism Coalition highlighted systemic issues prevalent within the institution following the murder of George Floyd over the summer. “BIPOC students, faculty, staff, and alumni have voiced outrage about RISD’s multiple racist issues centered around deeply embedded practices and structures as well as how white voices and Western perspectives dominate our curricula. As the leader of RISD, I take responsibility for having allowed a culture to continue to exist that doesn’t fully live up to our values.” 

As part of the diversity plan, Somerson pledges to increase the recruitment and enrollment of BIPOC students, create an office of discrimination reporting, and require students to complete social equity and inclusion coursework. The institution’s museum also plans to repatriate problematic objects from its collection, such as Native American burial artifacts, and will dedicate 75 percent of its acquisitions budget solely toward underrepresented artists. Somerson has also created a webpage that tracks the progress made on each point, making strides toward accountability.

RISD's Fleet Library designed by MPdL Studio
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