Update on Advancing Social Equity at RISD

Dear RISD Community,

On July 15, in response to calls from faculty and students, I pledged to commit new resources and focus toward much-needed change at RISD, and to keep our community informed about these advances. Today, I write with a mid-semester update on our progress, which we will also publicly track on the RISD website. I hope you take the time to read the full report, but in brief, thanks to the tireless efforts of RISD faculty, staff and students we have also accomplished the following to date:

  • The addition of a range of global and underrepresented voices through numerous new and revised courses in addition to more than two dozen events and programs added to the fall schedule
  • The creation of new institutional dashboards that include the race and ethnicity of our international populations to analyze the diversity of our faculty, staff and students from both a domestic and a holistic perspective. These new dashboards show encouraging progress over the past five years as we have increased the diversity of the student body by 13 percent and almost doubled the diversity of our faculty and staff.
  • The successful acquisition of a generous gift to support a cluster hire of 10 new faculty whose practice centers on issues of race and decoloniality in art and design
  • The creation of a faculty SEI Steering Committee that has initiated work on the recruitment of the cluster hire, the course tagging process and the development of a new concentration
  • Updates to our institutional search and hiring policies that delineate practices with greater clarity and openness
  • More money raised for student financial aid than ever before in RISD's history and the increase of financial aid by 23 percent from last year, as well as the distribution of COVID-related funds, computers and other technology for students with financial need
  • Robust decolonial and anti-racist initiatives by the RISD Museum, including the allocation of 75 percent of its annual acquisitions budget toward works by BIPOC artists and a targeted deaccessioning plan
  • The launch of the new Office of Institutional Discrimination and Title IX
  • The hiring of eight student workers by the Center for SEI to interface with committees advancing work across the institution
  • The establishment of a Committee on Social Equity and Inclusion within the Board of Trustees
  • The planning for a staff diversity and inclusion training program to launch in December
  • The addition of two new fellows to the SEI Research and Teaching Fellows Program
  • The transition of the Office of Intercultural Student Engagement to the Center for SEI to co-locate the work of the office with student concerns and opportunities
  • The redirection of funds in Public Safety to support increased training and community engagement
  • The creation of a position in EFS to support first-generation incoming students
  • The renaming of the RISD Plantations Buildings to SOMAIN 1, 2, 3, and 4

I invite you to hold us accountable, and I encourage every member of our community to join in this critical work. As I said this summer, we are committed to consequential, scaled change and this is just the beginning. I will continue to update the community on a regular basis as we work to undergo a fundamental transformation toward diversifying and expanding our curricula, and to achieve our anti-racism commitment across the institution.

Rosanne Somerson