This group grew out of meeting in August 2017 — initiated by MDP faculty Elizabeth Chin — in reaction to the neo-Nazi, KKK and white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, VA on August 12. About 30 Art Center students, faculty, staff, and neighbors attended and shared reactions to the racist tenor of the Charlottesville rally, the broader racist/fascist/misogynistic/xenophobic values of the Trump administration, and the ways this manifests in our daily lives.
The conversation turned to how students of color experience racism at Art Center: interpersonal experiences, comments or actions from other students and faculty; feelings of alienation among students of color; curricula centered around white- and Western-led design and scholarship; an overwhelmingly white faculty body; the college’s weak or nonexistent responses to racialized public events; and the lack of an institutional framework to equip students with a way to safely report racist experiences, receive support, and hold those responsible accountable for their actions.
We started organizing the Antiracist Classroom after this meeting to create a space for students who want to find, create, and engage in opportunities for student activism around issues of racism and white supremacy in the classroom and in design practices.
We intentionally focused this group’s lens on antiracism and anti-white supremacy. We acknowledge, though, that the grievances students have raised with respect to race and ethnicity also often apply to and interact with other facets of students’ identities: sexuality, gender, citizenship, language, class and more. That said, our interpretation of race and racism intends to acknowledge that these classifications can hardly be isolated from one another, while directly addressing specific concerns around race for the sake of specificity and in light of the absence of other initiatives that address race directly (while we are aware of other initiatives that address sexuality, gender and the like).
Diversity and representation among students, faculty and the professional fields from which Art Center draws and to which students aspire to belong absolutely matter. But, a focus purely on diversity without considering equity doesn’t lead us to address the types of grievances we’ve raised. It also may allow us to (erroneously) conclude that the school has achieved some measure of success with respect to diversity: for instance, Art Center’s student body is relatively more diverse when compared to enrollment at other four-year colleges in the US. The faculty, though, both full- and part-time, are not racially diverse by any standard; but this isn’t surprising or unique to this institution. In a way, the relative diversity of our predominantly non-white student body compared to the overwhelmingly white pool of faculty is particularly symptomatic of the concerns we’re raising here. In the same vein, optional faculty “diversity training” gives the impression of protecting that diverse student body, even when it’s just a symbolic set of hoops they’re expected to jump through for appearances’ sake. Further, these trainings paint racism as an individual moral failing rather than a systemic and ingrained default with no tangible institutional remedy.
Art Center’s focus on “diversity and inclusion” obscures the path toward addressing the types of grievances students report with respect to race. It appears that much of the administration’s attention to issues related to race has been framed as a matter of diversity, as evinced by the Chief Diversity Officer job posting, the Diversity and Inclusion Committee, and so forth. Diversity and inclusion are pieces of, but fundamentally different from, racial and ethnic equity. We hear generic talk about “diversity” when, instead, the conversation needs to center on race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, citizenship or some other specific quality of one’s identity. Choosing not to name those identities or aggressions against them is more comfortable and less disruptive to the prevailing social norms among students and faculty and the institution as a whole. The danger in this is twofold: firstly, it protects the institution from discomfort while leaving students unprotected from continued compounding aggressions. Secondly—and somewhat counterintuitively—by not articulating what differences it’s accounting for, it muddies the realities of students’ intersectionalities and prevents us from acknowledging how those identities are mutually constitutive of one another.
What students of color are seeking is—in addition to diversity and inclusion—racial and ethnic equity. Students of color at Art Center desire and deserve a learning environment and academic community free of race-related aggressions, small or large, intentional or unintentional; procedures to air grievances and processes to hold aggressors (whether individuals or the institution) accountable when these aggressions do occur; safe spaces that remind them they belong here. Art Center owns a critical role in creating that environment.
Beyond diversity and inclusion, equity demands an intentional and acknowledged dismantling of white supremacist frameworks that undergird the institution: the curriculum, faculty, administration and policies.
Lauren Williams, MDP 2019
Bianca Nozaki-Nasser, MDP 2018Godiva Veliganilao Reisenbichler, MDP 2018
Other Stories / Our Stories Elsewhere
Poster Series Pays Tribute to African-American Artists, Educators and Authors
Art Center Dot Magazine
February 28, 2018
Designmatters x Antiracist Classroom
Bianca Nozaki-Nasser & Lauren WilliamsDesignmatters Blog
December 15, 2017
Antoinette Carroll Lecture and Workshop: Graduate Student Perspective
Bianca Nozaki-Nasser & Lauren Williams
November 13, 2017