RISD Anti-Racism Coalition (risdARC) is dedicated to combating our institution’s prolonged history of anti-Blackness, marginalization, and discrimination along with the intersections of global systems of oppression affecting our community. We support and advocate for the needs of all students of color regardless of ethnicity, race, disability, gender, or sexuality.

Demands of Architecture Department

Date: June 19 2020

Written By: 
Abena Danquah, B.Arch ‘23
Ayotunde Sule, B.Arch ‘23
Charles Ba Oumar, B.Arch ‘23
Clarence Mensah, B.Arch ‘23
Fawz Hussein, B.Arch ‘23
Joshua Coverdale, B. Arch ‘23
Leah Lara, B.Arch ‘23
Mackenzie Luke, B.Arch ‘23
Quincy Casey, B.Arch ‘23
Danasha Kelly, M.Arch ‘22
Elizabeth Mbrokoh-Ewoal, B.Arch ‘22
Jackey Robinson, M.Arch ‘22
Michael Garel-Martorana, M.Arch ‘22
Racquel Clarke, M.Arch ‘22
Tajha Richardson, B.Arch ‘22
Zaiir Talmadge, B.Arch ‘22
Zoe Alli, B.Arch ‘22
Teisha Bradley, M.Arch ‘21
Alexa Thorne, B.Arch ‘20
Laurence von Lingau, B.Arch ‘20
Christina B. Schaller, M.Arch ‘18
Chloe Jensen, M.Arch ‘16
Malcolm Rio, M.Arch, ‘15, AICAD Teaching Fellow ‘15

Sent to:
Scheri Fultiner
Amy Kulper
Faculty of Architecture
To the Dean of Architecture and Design, Scheri Fultiner, Department Head, Amy Kulper, and the faculty of the Department of Architecture at the Rhode Island School of Design,

The Limits of Your Recognition: A Follow-Up Statement in Relation to the Listening Session of June 17th, 2020 with the Rhode Island School of Design’s Administration Regarding the Multitude of Issues brought up and represented by the RISD BIPOC & Student Body in attendance. Sent on Friday, Juneteenth, 2020.

Three weeks have passed since the horrific and extralegal killing of George Floyd that has ignited the nation in a movement against police brutality, economic injustice, and the devaluation of Black lives, experiences, and creative knowledge. While the current efforts to bring attention to these issues impregnate our collective consciousness, we can no longer remain ignorant to the fact that the roots of these efforts stem from decades of action against the institutional and systemic injustices endemic to the building of this nation as well as to the practices of architecture, design, and institutions of higher education such as RISD.

Consequently, we can no longer ignore the actions of this institution leading up to this moment. The historical lack of accountability for those who have murdered Black people is one that has direct and indisputable parallels to the lack of accountability for the well-being and support of Black and BIPOC students by RISD faculty and administrators. In 2016, Black, BIPOC, queer and other students took on the invisible labor of making explicit their personal traumas and struggles attending RISD in the Not Your Token protest and The Room of Silence film (Eloise Sherrid). In addition to the egregious lack of forethought your response to the current situation has shown the deafening silence of institutional change beyond further tokenization with which these previous protests were met, and demonstrates a pattern of obstruction and intransigence towards radical transformation against anti-Blackness at RISD. Not only was RISD’s pedagogic response insufficient—a couple of wintersession courses on intersectionality and pedagogy—but the underlying points made evident in the Not Your Token Protests and The Room of Silence film were co-opted by RISD marketing campaigns (Our RISD), effectively undermining and nullifying the opportunity for institutional reflection and transformation that these two acts against systemic injustice offered. RISD’s repeated inaction and inability to recognize its own position, involvement in, and responsibility to dismantle regimes of racial inequity only further demonstrates it’s simultaneous exploitation of Black students when deemed beneficial and self-promoting while erasing the experiences, creativity, and labor of its Black students. This is an unconscionable form of performative allyship.

As this historic moment should make abundantly clear, these protests are not about singular events, individual (bad) actors, or unique institutions, but rather are aimed at centuries of systemic oppression against black people designed to ensure their dismissal, dehumanization, and devaluation. RISD is not alone in these acts, but they are endemic to the practices of architecture and design as we know them. This demands that RISD’s Division of Architecture and Design and Department of Architecture acknowledge Architecture as a politically driven discipline in which professed “neutrality” is itself a stance enabling further violence that can no longer be tolerated as tenable and sustainable. As Black and BIPOC students and alumni from the Department of Architecture, we demand that RISD move beyond performative recognition and take immediate and actionable steps towards consciously dismantling institutionalized anti-Blackness. The following are our recommendations for beginning what will be a continuous and dynamic process:

  1. Representation: make legitimate strides to increase the Black Faculty & Student Body from the current 4%. We recommend open design programs and competitions by the institution to appeal to the multitude of prospective artists and students that already exist within Providence and beyond. Your treatment of Black students in the BEB directly affects the perspectives and opinions current and prospective students hear and a true commitment to diversity and inclusion will reflect positively on the department and institution at large.
  2. Accessibility: RISD must ensure a support system for disadvantaged students. Break down the barriers to education by providing more scholarship opportunities and TA positions so that student’s work experiences directly benefit them professionally and their studio work does not suffer from their financial need. Black students should have more opportunities to teach and any rejected proposals should have a very clear constructive language that is helpful for the student to edify their future work. Faculty should not be permitted to offer students unpaid internship opportunities, and should also be open to hiring and working with new TAs over the course of the academic year.
  3. Acknowledgment: Directly acknowledge the history of Market Square as a slave market and the direct and indirect funding of institutions like Brown and RISD from ventures that capitalised off of Black bodies. Rather than approaching this history with the ambivalence and timidness that the institution currently poses; leverage it as a site for a constant reflection of how society literally capitalizes on Black bodies. We suggest seasonal exhibitions and installations by Black artists campus and city-wide with ample financial and creative support, and in the context of the BEB some seasonal or annual design challenge that allows Black voices to be dominant in a place that was historically dehumanizing.
  4. Decentralize: The push to ‘decentralize’ Europe in our education is a promise that the majority of us have heard at some point in our time at RISD. In the context of the architecture department, we believe that promise is more of a claim as we are still not presented with enough content by Black architects. In every course syllabi, precedents and projects by Black architects are still secondary or non-existent and we are no longer content with alternative voices to architectural practice and history being relegated to seminars and sporadic winter session courses. We demand that the architecture department bolsters its commitment to placing alternative voices within our education. Furthermore, these examples should not come from the already archaic and ‘canonized’ meta of the Maghreb, there are multitudes of forgotten, unique, fascinating, and innovative architectural practices outside of the Middle East and Northern Africa and we challenge the respective faculty to take strides in doing research outside their comfort zones. 

The inclusion of Black voices in course syllabi should be a course requirement and when the lack of alternative voices is raised, there should be no repercussions to students for doing so.

  1. Accountability: The Accountability and assessment of non-Black faculty should be a definite devotion to reviewing and expanding diversity in the educational content not just in the BEB but campus-wide. The labor of this review and assessment should not simply be given to a body of Black staff and faculty but should be pursued and demanded of all faculty in the BEB.
  2. Training: Require Art School Specific Diversity Training for Instructors: under the context of art and design learning and practice, we believe that faculty should undergo specific training under these contexts to understand the existence and propagation of microaggressions and racism, consciously or unconsciously in their teaching and critique practices.
  3. Design/Build Equity: Create a Policy on Design/Build Projects in which all students have the opportunity to design and all students share the labor of building. There are too many examples of BIPOC being given only labour tasks in group projects and assignments.
  4. Sponsorship: Access to tools and resources that support academic and professional growth through sponsorship of Black students to attend one conference per annum (such as AfroTech, NOMA, and other Black-led conferences). The financial support of these initiatives should not be relegated to the CSI, the elevation of minority voices in architecture should be a collaborative effort.
  5. Health: Over the past couple of weeks, discussions with Black students and the larger architecture student body have pointed to our workloads and the minimal promotion of communities and initiatives like NOMAs for their underutilization. The effects of the architecture curriculum and workload on our personal and social lives is not a new subject, and as we mentioned earlier in the letter RISD’s NOMAs chapter gets all their funds from CSI and is not supported directly by the architecture department, and this must change immediately. NOMAs is the primary community in the Architecture Department for BIPOC and our inability to fully utilise this community by virtue of the design of our curriculum and its anaemic support reflects larger issues of mental and social health within the Department of Architecture.
  6. Labor: Moving forward, we want the department to understand several things: institutional responses that are no longer acceptable: being “ready to listen,” being “ready to learn,” “opening up the space to…”, these institutional ‘blanket’ responses are not only paternalistic but also avoids accountability by passing the work that needs to be done onto the shoulders of BIPOC. Should the end result of the discourse of this letter be the shifting of responsibility on yet another task force formed purely of Black people and people of color, then the Department of Architecture and RISD would have failed once again.

Finally, change the attitude towards discussions of racism, diversity, and inclusion as ‘tasks’ that ‘must be completed’ - the discourse (and changes) that we hope these demands generate should center around the fact that discussions on race, diversity, and inclusion are constant and dynamic. The relegation of these discussions to diversity training days, diversity talks, and sporadic events during Black history month only hinders your capacity to change. Be it at the student-teacher level, to larger conferences with the institution, all interactions concerning race, diversity, and inclusion should be approached head-on with a genuine willingness to have the conversation, the respect to listen to the conversation, and the heart to evaluate what was said against our personal biases and misconceptions no matter how uncomfortable, or from an institutional standpoint, ‘unprofessional’ the conversation may seem. Once again, what we want is action that leads to tangible change.

We are open to having more direct conversations with the department, and we emphasize conversations, to expand or clarify the demands we are presenting. We will not, however, be called to defend, curtail, or even apologize for these demands. We are adding our voices to those of our respective colleagues and peers who embraced their trauma and similarly presented their thoughts, feelings and experiences with the institution and we hope that with this letter we can provide the BEB and the RISD some help in tackling the issue at hand.

View Signatures & Support Here.