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Next-Gen Multiliteracy Center

Next-Gen Multiliteracy Center

Moving beyond writing support, RISD’s Center for Arts & Language takes an inclusive approach to mentoring students.

In today’s rapidly evolving communications environment, the Center for Arts & Language (A&L) is introducing dynamic and broad-based strategies for fostering the growth of artists as communicators. “Our goal,” says A&L Director Jennifer Liese, “is that all RISD students will develop the skills and confidence to share their perspective, not just through their work but also through multiple forms of language.”

“Our goal is that all RISD students will develop the skill and confidence to share their perspective... through multiple forms of language.”
A&L director jennifer liese

Previously known as the RISD Writing Center, the office adopted a new name in 2017 to better reflect its wide-ranging areas of focus: tutoring in writing, public speaking and visual communication, along with varied support for multilingual learning and student publishing. This breadth developed “in response to curricula in which students not only write but speak and visually represent their work and ideas to our diverse, international community,” Liese explains. It is also a response to “increasing interest in publishing in many forms and to research and developments at the front edge of our field.” The name change publicly marks her team’s transition to a “next-generation” multiliteracy center.

About 20 student tutors work with fellow students in the center each semester.

New needs have emerged over the past decade not only at RISD but “across higher education and in the public sphere,” Liese says. “As the communications ecology has diversified to include more oral, electronic and visual forms, ‘writing’ is happening in increasingly varied and expressive ways.” At an art and design school, it’s especially apt to expand pedagogy beyond text, she contends. Even the ampersand that joins “art” and “language” in the center’s new name is a carefully considered reflection of both the “multiple literacies and multiplicities of identity” that shape how the team interacts with students and other members of the campus community.

Liese has collaborated and consulted with the center’s staff, student tutors, faculty, recent alumni and colleagues in the field like Russell Carpenter, who leads Eastern Kentucky University’s pioneering Noel Studio for Academic Creativity, to develop programs that complement RISD’s studio and liberal arts curriculum and empower students to play to their strengths. And in preparation for what she calls last summer’s “recast and reveal,” she and team members like Assistant Director for Writing and Related Literacies Meredith Barrett introduced a co-curriculum that reflects A&L’s ethos.

For Barrett, who leads the tutor education program, the renaming helps establish a culture of inclusivity—one that dovetails with RISD’s Social Equity and Inclusion plan. It’s critical, she says, to be aware of the “multifaceted cultural differences in a tutoring session, or between any two people sitting down together.” Being mindful of “how identity intersects with language and the choices we make in communicating,” she continues, “is a core part of how we think about tutoring.”

“How identity intersects with language and the choices we make in communicating is a core part of how we think about tutoring.”
assistant director meredith barrett

Barrett’s colleague Maya Krinsky MFA 14 PH, who joined A&L this academic year as assistant director for multilingual learning, notes the positive energy that has accompanied the center’s clearly expanded mission. “It’s exciting to work on language learning in a context so appropriate to a RISD education,” says the artist, who teaches the graduate-level course Studio / Languages. A longtime language instructor, Krinsky also consults with fellow faculty members looking for strategies to better support the cultural and linguistic diversity of their students and studio practices.

Among her efforts to encourage and prepare students to contribute to public discourse, Liese serves as an advisor to the annual graduate student publication v.1. On March 1 she also hosted a roundtable discussion on the relationship between creative practice and publishing among alumni Andre Bradley MFA 15 PH, Rachel Ossip BRDD 15 GD and Phoebe Stubbs MFA 11 GL as one way of demonstrating how RISD graduates carry these skills forward. Exemplifying the many synergies between text and art and design practices, the speakers encouraged students to explore how publishing can strengthen both their work and their outreach and influence.

“Artists’ and designers’ perspectives on the world are unique and essential,” Liese points out, whether they take form visually or verbally. In mentoring RISD students to gain fluency across multiple modes of communication, she hopes that they graduate with the skills and inspiration to not only make meaningful work but articulate “what they care about and why it matters.”

Robert Albanese / photos by Jo Sittenfeld MFA 08 PH

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