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We commit to an anti-racist, equitable and inclusive RISD

In order to create a more racially just RISD, we must do more than simply combat racism where we find it. We must be proactively anti-racist in principle and practice, and make consequential, scaled changes throughout the institution.

What follows is a record of accountability to commitments announced by President Somerson on July 15, 2020, which build upon our 2017 Social Equity and Inclusion Plan. Here we will add information about new commitments, track our progress and acknowledge work still to come.

We will increase diversity and access

Conduct open and transparent job searches

Among several updates to our job search and hiring policies, RISD now requires an open search for all full- and part-time positions (one-year term or longer). A search committee or interview panel is also necessary for all exempt non-faculty positions.

Hire Race in Art & Design faculty cluster

Responding to student activism and calls from BIPOC faculty members to diversify the college’s faculty and curricula, the cluster search will bring to our faculty expertise in the areas of race, colonization, decolonization, post-coloniality and cultural representation, as well as in material practices of resistance.

Advance anti-racist and decolonization initiatives at the RISD Museum

Toward critically interrogating the fraught history and institutional structures of the contemporary museum, the RISD Museum has taken several steps, such as:

  • committing 75% of annual acquisition budget to prioritize acquisition of works that increase representation of BIPOC artists and cultures.
  • centering diverse and anti-racist creative practices in our fall 2020 exhibition schedule.
  • diversifying the museum’s curatorial staff.
  • deaccessioning problematic objects toward returning to their place of origin.

Read the museum’s overview of decolonial and anti-racist initiatives for more details.

Establish Social Equity and Inclusion Committee within Board of Trustees

The Board of Trustees has established a new Committee on Social Equity and Inclusion. It is finalizing the charge of the committee, whose membership consists of:

Ilene Chaiken 79 GD/P18, Co-Chair
Tavares Strachan 03 GL, Co-Chair
Margaret A. Williams, Co-Chair
Her Excellency Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani
Gabrielle Bullock BArch 84
Shepard Fairey 92 IL
Joe Gebbia 05 GD/ID

Prioritize student financial aid in fundraising

Of the $24.7 million donated in 2019–20 by alumni, parents, students and friends, $15.8 million—the most ever in RISD’s history—will go to student financial aid.

Ease economic stress for students via new scholarship and aid programs

RISD will continue to support the three financial aid and scholarship programs we established in 2019. These programs are critical in providing new pathways for attending RISD and helping students reduce financial stress related to their studies:

  • The RISD Promise ensures that undergraduate students receiving financial aid are awarded in full for the duration of their studies, regardless of changes in financial situation.
  • The Student Success Program provides $1,000 per year in materials awards, $3,000 for an internship experience and $5,000 for global travel opportunities to all high-need students.
  • The Society of Presidential Fellows program grants full tuition and professional development opportunities to selected graduate students for the duration of their studies.

Reduce benefits of social privilege through test-optional admission applications

As of 2019, most prospective students can apply to RISD without submitting SAT or ACT scores. By eliminating standardized test requirements, the college’s admissions process further emphasizes applicants’ portfolios and responses to specific application assignments, thus reducing the impact of criteria that benefit privileged demographic groups.

We will expand our curriculum and adapt our pedagogy

Consciously establish decolonized and anti-racist education model

By purposefully embedding our Teaching and Learning Lab within the Center for Social Equity and Inclusion, RISD supports faculty in cultivating inclusive and innovative curricula and pedagogies. Fall programming and resources have helped faculty build proficiency in adapting pedagogies to student needs and in introducing course offerings that directly address issues of systemic inequity.

Empower SEI Faculty Committee to advance hiring, course-tagging and concentration initiatives

The SEI Faculty Committee will work through the 2020/21 academic year to both propose new initiatives and ensure that those in progress adhere to the SEI mission and the standards of RISD’s academic departments and divisions. The committee’s three major tasks for AY2020/21 are:

  • overseeing the race in art and design cluster hire initiative.
  • establishing a rubric for tagging SEI-related courses.
  • beginning development of an academic concentration focused on race and decoloniality.

Committee members are:

Matthew Shenoda, Associate Provost for SEI (Chair)
Emanuel Admassu, Associate Professor, Architecture (on leave fall 2020)
Alero Akporiaye, Assistant Professor, History, Philosophy and the Social Sciences
Hansy Better, Professor, Architecture
Jessica Brown, Assistant Professor, Industrial Design
Namita Vijay Dharia, Assistant Professor, Liberal Arts division
Paula Gaetano-Adi, Associate Professor, Experimental and Foundation Studies division
Avishek Ganguly, Associate Professor, Literary Arts and Studies
Adela Goldbard, Assistant Professor, Experimental and Foundation Studies division
Suzanne Mathew, Associate Professor, Landscape Architecture
Sean Nesselrode Moncada, Associate Professor, Theory and History of Art and Design / Graduate Program Director, Global Arts and Cultures (on leave fall 2020)
Lisa Z. Morgan, Department Head, Apparel Design
Ijlal Muzaffar, Associate Professor, Theory and History of Art and Design / Graduate Program Director, Global Arts and Cultures
Christopher Roberts, SEI Research Fellow / Lecturer, Theory and History of Art and Design
Ramon Tejada, Assistant Professor, Graphic Design
Stanley Wolukau-Wanambwa, Graduate Program Director, Photography

We will initiate and support research on social equity issues

Bring SEI-focused scholars to RISD through SEI Research and Teaching Fellows program

The SEI Research and Teaching Fellows program invites scholars, artists and designers to teach courses across RISD’s curriculum and conduct research in their field that advances issues of social equity and inclusion. Current fellows are:

  • Ernest A. Bryant III, who is working on a small edition book of drawings, prints and essays about visual literacy, the history and cultural production of images and the way they operate upon humans.
  • Jane’a Johnson, whose project examines the underrepresentation of Black people in Dutch golden age painting, as well as reactions to museum decolonization within Dutch arts institutions.
  • Christopher Roberts, who in his second fellowship year continues to research the history of RISD's Market House building and surrounding area, within the historical context of the slave trade.

Support faculty research on social equity and inclusion via SEI research fund

Faculty who receive support from the SEI Research Fund (either in the form of a course release or stipend to cover research-related costs) pursue innovative research that addresses social equity and inclusion.

We will embed anti-racist practices into our institutional infrastructures

Focus on creating just societies through strategic planning

NEXT: 2020–2027, RISD’s seven-year strategic plan, includes among its three pillars a commitment to shaping just societies. In charting a path for RISD that upholds SEI-based principles, this pillar of the strategic plan provides an institutional foundation for advancing new and ongoing initiatives focused on racial justice.

Expand scope and reach of Center for Social Equity and Inclusion

Founded in 2019, the Center for Social Equity and Inclusion supports faculty search committees; onboarding, mentoring and retention of faculty; the SEI action plans of RISD’s academic departments; an ongoing series of workshops and public lectures; and several other forms of co-curricular engagement.

The center has since expanded its research program with two new SEI Research and Teaching Fellows; integrated student leadership programming with the Office of Intercultural Student Engagement; launched the Office of Institutional Discrimination and TItle IX; and hired eight student workers as SEI advocates in a variety of roles that span research, community outreach, marketing and media and special projects.

Increase diversity of and access to Health and Wellness

In 2019 RISD integrated the programming, service models and facilities of Health Services and Counseling and Psychological Services to establish a more holistic approach to care and wellness on campus. In that time Health Services has expanded its team to 75% BIPOC staff and Counseling and Psychological Services to 80% BIPOC staff and continues to work on caseload allocation and management to ensure students have access to counselors and clinicians of color.

Support community through new Office of Institutional Discrimination and Title IX

Launched in fall 2020, the centralized Office of Institutional Discrimination and Title IX provides community members with resources and support around all issues of bias and discrimination through a consistent and specialized civil rights process, with oversight from the Center for SEI and in partnership with Human Resources and Student Affairs.

Redirect Public Safety funds to support increased training

The Department of Public Safety has suspended its Peace Officer initiative and redirected funds toward training in SEI-related competencies. As of September 2020, officers have completed 12 hours of training in the following areas:

  • Bias-based policing
  • Prejudice, bias and hate crime
  • LGBTQ+ cultural competency

In addition, all Public Safety staff will complete Mental Health First Aid certification and recertification this fall.

Prioritize partnerships with minority- and woman-owned businesses

RISD is working to obtain classifications of existing suppliers in our database and requesting data from new suppliers to classify and track our engagement with minority- and woman-owned businesses. We are also establishing a procurement policy that includes diversity and inclusion requirements, to be finalized by December 31, 2020.

Acknowledge histories of on-campus racism, activism and protest

A collaboration between RISD and Brown called the PVD Art and Activism Project is working to create a series of art pieces that are situated in the context of racial justice activism, designed or curated by members of respective communities and reflect on and acknowledge histories of racism, activism and protest on both campuses. In conjunction, RISD Archives and RISD Anti-Racism Coalition (risdARC) students are working to document relevant anti-racist activism on campus. The goal is to better capture the institutional history of BIPOC student activism, going back as far as the 1960s protest movements on campus, and to eventually highlight this narrative on

Encourage internal dialogue on race and privilege through staff training program

RISD has established a “train the trainer” program that will prepare participating staff members to serve as facilitators of internal conversations about race and privilege within our academic and administrative departments. Training will focus on creating safe and inclusive communities, developing leaders on SEI topics and promoting an equitable campus culture. Training leader Chimi Boyd-Keyes is a seasoned higher education professional who has worked extensively on women's and gender issues and topics relating to other marginalized populations.

Our commitment in action


RISD Hire Promoting SEI

RISD launches a job search for no fewer than 10 new faculty members specializing in race, decolonization and cultural representation.


RISD Launches Cluster Hire

Rhode Island School of Design is hiring 10 faculty members focused on race and decoloniality in the arts as part of a wider plan to tackle systemic racism.


RISD Museum Effecting Change

Director John W. Smith announces deaccession of Head of a King (Oba) and plans to bring needed focus to Native American art and design via New Americas Research Initiative.


A Record Year of Engagement

The RISD community offers record-setting support for the college and its mission.


Legacies of the Slave Trade

SEI Research Fellow Christopher Roberts examines Providence’s historical connections to slavery and colonialism and their impact on the present day.


Renewable Energy and Systemic Racism

Environmental anthropologist Myles Lennon shares a framework for transitioning equitably from an extractive energy economy to a regenerative one.


Promoting Wellness at RISD

New Executive Director of Integrated Health and Wellness Bob Samuels is building a culture that values physical and mental well-being.


RISD Launches “Race in Art & Design” Cluster Hire Search

As part of its commitment to address institutional racism and advance social equity, RISD is hiring 10 new faculty as part of a cluster hire initiative focused on race and decolonization in art and design.


RISD Welcomes Director of Research

Soul Brown is focused on building a comprehensive and equitable ecosystem to support faculty research.


RISD Promises Social Equity Action

The Architect’s Newspaper reports on the steps RISD will take to support BIPOC students and faculty.


RISD Promotes Social Equity

The Boston Globe reports on RISD’s efforts to respond to activism, hire new faculty, boost diversity and return looted artifacts.


Strategic Plan Grounded in Global Reality

NEXT: RISD 2020–2027 presents a vision for addressing issues of social and environmental justice through innovation.

Increasing diversity on campus

student financial aid (2020/21)
incoming student diversity (undergraduate and graduate, 2020/21)
diverse faculty/staff candidate hires (2020)