Citizenship and Inquiry at SAIC

Elissa Tenny | August 31, 2016

Dear SAIC Community,

As we begin the 2016–17 academic year, I am inspired to reflect on the idea of citizenship and what it means for our community of artists, designers, and scholars. Given the fast-approaching U.S. presidential election and conflicts around the world, this year will present each of us with the opportunity to make our voices heard as citizen-artists—to express our views, to discuss the issues, and, perhaps most of all, to ask questions.

This spirit of engagement and inquiry is what drives Claudia Rankine’s award-winning new book Citizen: An American Lyric, which combines poetry, essay, cultural criticism, and visual images, and which I encourage you all to read. (Stay tuned for an e-mail next week with details on how you can acquire a copy of Citizen.) In it, Rankine reminds us of what the brilliant critic, essayist, and novelist James Baldwin once wrote—that the “purpose of art is to lay bare the questions hidden by the answers.” Focusing on some of the most pressing issues of our day, the questions Rankine poses throughout Citizen are at once contemporary and historical, sociopolitical and cultural, personal and communal. They are difficult and in many ways painful, and yet in asking them Rankine affirms her unerring belief that it is the role of citizen-artists, such as yourselves, to communicate what it is to be a part of a community and society and to explore how it is we can move forward.

Beginning this semester, we will have numerous occasions in which to engage with the work of citizen-artists such as Rankine and other creative practitioners—to ask questions and to achieve a deeper and more meaningful understanding of ourselves and each other in the process. To this end, I am delighted to share that we are welcoming Claudia Rankine to campus in September as the President’s Inaugural Distinguished Lecturer in partnership with the Visiting Artists Program. I hope you will all join us for what promises to be a powerful evening in the company of Rankine’s voice, vision, and practice:

“Claudia Rankine: President’s Inaugural Distinguished Lecturer”
Tuesday, September 27, 6:00 p.m.
The Art Institute of Chicago, Rubloff Auditorium
230 S. Columbus Dr.

I also hope you will attend a workshop that our Diversity and Inclusion team has organized surrounding Rankine’s visit, “Citizenship and Microaggressions.” This event will feature a discussion on the concept of the microaggression as it appears in Citizen and in everyday life. It will instill in each of us a better appreciation of how we can be agents of change in our diverse community. Please mark your calendars:

“Citizenship and Microaggressions”
Wednesday, September 14, 2016, 4:15 p.m. – 5:45 p.m.
MacLean Ballroom
112 S. Michigan Ave.

Along with these events and with the ongoing work of our Diversity Advisory Group, we have undertaken a number of other initiatives this year to foster mutual understanding and dialogue and to create a more diverse and inclusive campus respectful of all identities, backgrounds, and ideas. This includes a campus-wide online diversity training program, DiversityEdu, which has been rolled out to all new students. We expect the program will be available to faculty and staff in early September, and all continuing students will receive the program in mid-September. DiversityEdu will build skills in engaging with difference, managing assumptions, and recognizing microaggressions and will help each of us understand our role as members of a diverse community. I look forward to everyone’s participation in this training and the many important discussions it will inspire throughout the semester.

Additionally, our Diversity and Inclusion team has developed Global Encounters, a lunch-lecture series that will engage with ideas that transcend geography while broadening and deepening our understanding of the world. Each Global Encounters lunch lecture will explore a specific topic from a global perspective, such as the role of women in politics and positions of leadership around the world, the impact of the Olympics on local economies, and gender diversity. Come share a meal, engage in conversation, and expand your world.

As we embark on these and many other programs and initiatives, it is also important to celebrate the magnificent work we already have underway, which is why I am thrilled to announce that SAIC is one of only six colleges to receive the 2016 Active Minds Healthy Campus Award. This prestigious award celebrates U.S. colleges and universities that demonstrate excellence in prioritizing and promoting the health and wellbeing of their students. Congratulations to the many individuals whose hard work made this award possible, in particular our Student Affairs team and our Wellness Center staff.

In the months ahead, I look forward to celebrating many more such accomplishments and the continued strength and development of our community as we come together in a spirit of support and citizenship. At the start of another semester and school year, let us all remember how much we have to contribute as citizen-artists.

All best,
Elissa Tenny
School of the Art Institute of Chicago