An update to our community from President Somerson during these challenging times

RISD seal in blue

Answers to many questions from our community were addressed at a remote Town Hall meeting on Friday, March 20.

Our focus for the past few days has been to orchestrate the departure of most of our students, to help them to get home safely, and to secure the work and the materials they left behind. Simultaneously, we are intensely planning and preparing for our move to remote learning on March 30.

As a result, I have been unable to respond individually to understandable concerns many of you have raised about how this pandemic will impact you, your education and your engagement with RISD.

Those concerns are real, and I hear and feel them. While I don’t yet have all the answers—none of us does—I am working intensely with the provost, deans, faculty and senior staff to implement the best possible plans to support the academic experience for our students while keeping their health, wellbeing and safety top of mind. I am also working to ensure the same for our faculty and staff—those here or working remotely as well.

I apologize for the confusion and frustration many of you have felt in the past couple of weeks while we were making very difficult decisions based on daily and almost hourly changes in the status of COVID-19, here in Rhode Island and nationally and globally. I want to express how sorry I am about some of the many difficult choices we had to make—decisions that have upended so many of you. None of us would have wished for this, nor could we have predicted that the semester would turn out this way. However, I also want to express my profound appreciation for how so many of you have pitched in to make sure that we come through this in the best possible manner, together and in a way that will make us all proud when we look back on this time. I have great faith in our students, faculty and staff, and am confident that in the spirit of RISD our actions will ultimately resonate with evidence of our creative and resilient core.

Students, I want to assure you that we are here to support you. We are in the process of providing assistance to every student with need. If you are a student in need of any kind of assistance, please do not hesitate to contact We have a host of resources and services available to you. I am grateful to everyone who has contributed to this massive effort in so many ways, offering your ideas and extra time and effort, as well as donating through RISD’s Student Emergency Fund or the student/alumni independent GoFundMe site. This generous spirit prevails at RISD, and will be a key factor in helping us to come through this time as an even more nimble and dynamic community.

I know many of you still have a lot of questions. Students are asking how a RISD education can be delivered remotely. How will they complete their work without access to our studios, tools and materials? Why isn’t RISD refunding tuition? Will the Grad Show or Commencement happen? And for employees—what will my job look like during remote teaching? Will I still be paid if I can’t do my job remotely?

We will address these questions and many more at our virtual Town Hall meeting on Friday, March 20 at 1 pm. I hope you will attend, and please submit questions if you haven’t already. In the meantime, we have tried to answer as many questions as we can in our FAQ.

This isn’t the semester any of us envisioned and we will continue to have many decisions to make as we move forward. I ask that you bear with us as we do, knowing that we are working from a place of care and deep consideration. People across our community are working around the clock to prepare for remote teaching, to support our student needs in every possible way, and to support each other, while we keep RISD running as smoothly as possible.

I am always grateful to be part of this amazing community, and especially so in times like these, when I feel great pride in recognizing the dedication we all share for our students, and the pride we demonstrate for our institution.

With appreciation,
Rosanne Somerson