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RISD Welcomes Director of Research

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

RISD Welcomes Director of Research

Brown also serves on the Equity and Diversity Committee of Boston Latin School, where she was in the first class of girls to attend the school and the first African American female student. photo by Craig Walker

Although her introduction to the community has been unconventional in light of the pandemic, new Director of Research Soul Brown is already discovering why RISD is a leader in design-based research and how she can help to further institutional efforts to expand interdisciplinary research in alignment with a global network of experts.

“Faculty members at RISD are thinking well beyond the parameters normally associated with art and design,” she says, “working with unexpected partners like NASA and the US Department of Defense. Industry leaders recognize our ability to approach problems in creative and untraditional ways and are looking to us to shift the paradigm.”

“Industry leaders recognize our ability to approach problems in creative and untraditional ways and are looking to us to shift the paradigm.”director of research soul brown

A longtime advocate for arts education and social justice reform, Brown headed up fundraising efforts at Massachusetts Bay Community College for six years before joining the Research and Strategic Partnerships team at RISD, which is focused on sustaining the college’s culture of inquiry by offering a platform for research initiatives and providing opportunities for programming, training and publication. Her goal for the next year is to build a research ecosystem at RISD that allows for integrated cross-departmental efforts and provides additional funding for faculty-led projects and more opportunities for current students to get involved.

Brown (third from left) meeting with Cuban labor organizers and educators in 2005.

“Soul’s presence ensures that RISD faculty have the deep expertise, dedicated support and direct contact needed to advance their scholarly and creative work and to maximize its impact on the wider world,” says Provost Kent Kleinman.

Brown is a published poet who has held positions as a development consultant, nonprofit leader and grants manager, working with such organizations as the Social Innovation Forum, Women’s Education Center, Books of Hope and Bikes Not Bombs. She has served on the Federal Funding Task Force at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education (CASE), the World of Wellesley Board of Directors and the Equity and Diversity Committee of Boston Latin School (her alma mater).

outside the Mystic River public housing project in Somerville, MA, where Brown taught creative writing to youth

She sees RISD’s new strategic plan, NEXT: RISD 2020–2027, as well as ongoing efforts to promote diversity and inclusion on campus through the Center for Social Equity and Inclusion, as indicators of a maturing organization ready to focus on policy thinking and next-level achievements. “It’s an exciting time to join this community,” she says, “and I believe I’m the right person to help the institution marry creative thinking with the clear guidelines and systematic documentation that will allow future research initiatives to flourish.”

“Soul’s presence ensures that RISD faculty have the deep expertise, dedicated support and direct contact needed to advance their scholarly and creative work.”provost kent kleinman

Brown is currently meeting with deans and department heads across campus in order to assess what is most needed. “Once we uncover potential research areas that could use additional resources and support, we’ll begin our policy development work and strategic planning,” she says, “and then continue to build on that foundation.”

Brown will also tap into her research as a doctoral candidate at Pacific University, where she is exploring critical race theory, voice scholarship through the counternarratives of African American educational experiences, and the use of community cultural wealth by academically talented Black students. She views research initiatives through a social equity lens, questioning traditional, Eurocentric methods.

“I’m always paying attention to how we can decolonize research approaches, agendas and subject matter,” she explains. “As a new member of the community, I think I can bring more diverse voices into this work and help shape how we move forward as an institution.”

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