Dear SAIC Community,
At last week’s All Faculty and Staff meeting, we presented on the work of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s (SAIC) Anti-Racism Committee (ARC) and its six subcommittees. ARC is a new, collaborative body formed this year to consider a range of proposals that work against structural racism and promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. Our aim is to arrive at recommendations which we can enact to make the School better. As our semester comes to a close, we want to update you on our work and talk about where we are headed next.
As co-chairs of ARC, we know we have a lot of work to do. There are aspects of our School that fall short of being an entirely inclusive and equitable environment, and many are working to improve that. We can feel a collective will—emanating from all corners of SAIC—to shift our thinking and institutional structures to better oppose racism, operate more informed by the wisdom of our community members, and be more compassionate to everyone. The School has received many appeals, letters, and petitions—from individuals and from groups like the Black Student Union, Black Futures, and SAIC Solidarity—with ideas on how to achieve those goals, and we are grateful to everyone who has instigated us to think deeply, push the envelope, and come up with creative solutions to hard, complicated problems.
President Tenny charged ARC and its subcommittees to evaluate these ideas and consider new ones, as they arose in the course of our work. That’s precisely what the faculty, staff, and student members of ARC and its subgroups have been up to this semester. In our work, we've pored over data, defined the actionable elements of intractable problems, and debated the merits of different approaches. While this work has been complex and enlightening, it has not happened as swiftly as we may have liked. Nevertheless, this approach brings our work to the center of administrative planning at the School, so that we can integrate it into our short- and long-term planning, institution-wide. Let us share our process.
Most of ARC’s deep, wide-ranging conversations have taken place in six subcommittees. Composed of ARC members as well as other members of the staff and faculty, these groups are still very much in the throes of their investigations, with many subcommittees meeting right up until the last day of the semester and into the winter interim. Here’s what they’ve been hashing out:
The Climate and Accountability subcommittee has been working on two major ideas. They are investigating how an ombudsperson, a confidential and impartial facilitator of conflict resolution, might help SAIC students, faculty, and staff use restorative practices to resolve disagreements among and across peer groups. They also envision a space of refuge for students of color, particularly those who are Black and Indigenous, to meet and create; subcommittee members will be conducting student focus groups to help shape their proposal further.
The Law and Hiring subcommittee has focused on building the most diverse applicant pools it can. They've considered how the language of job postings can more fully indicate a commitment to diverse talent and practices, and better signal the culture we build at SAIC. They’ve also talked about opportunities to formalize part-time hiring and shape full-time visiting artists positions to encourage diverse recruitment.
Through their research into enrollment and retention data, the Tuition, Equity, and Finances subcommittee can tell that earlier efforts have significantly increased awareness, interest, and acceptances among prospective Black and Brown students; however, the number of matriculants and level of persistence is not where we’d like it to be. To address this, this subcommittee is investigating how enhancements to aid and retention programs, at both the graduate and undergraduate level, can help these students matriculate and succeed.
In an effort to sow an anti-racist sentiment more fully in the curriculum, the members of the Curriculum and Resources Share subcommittee have been defining what anti-racism means for the curriculum; identifying tools to instigate a broad conversation, such as a campus reading; considering required diversity coursework; and locating opportunities for faculty mentorship.
The SAIC in North Lawndale subcommittee wants to reorient institutional thinking about the School’s classes in Homan Square and projects with area residents and community organizations. To catalyze this shift in thinking—from a mindset of exporting SAIC from downtown to North Lawndale, to an SAIC that is reshaped by North Lawndale—members are considering curricular proposals.
Setting a candid tone and identifying forums for feedback and idea sharing are important aspects to the communication plans being developed by the Communications and Outreach subcommittee. Next semester, this group also hopes to work with key stakeholders to develop an approach, within the limitations of facilities naming protocols, to formally recognize the Indigenous lands on which our School sits.
Soon, these subcommittees will be sharing their initial recommendations with ARC, who will review and prioritize them. We’ll then be working closely with President Tenny and the senior administration to dedicate funding and resources to these ideas, developing them throughout the School’s short- and long-term planning. Next semester, ARC and its subcommittees will be able to further already proposed initiatives and work toward additional recommendations. We’ve been building out ARC’s presence on the website. so that you can keep abreast of our progress. Subcommittee charges and some meeting notes are posted on the website now. We’ll continue to update these for the rest of the semester and into the winter and spring as our work continues.
Everyone’s Effort Matters
In conclusion, we think it’s important to say that our anti-racist work this semester has not happened solely among the nearly 80 faculty, staff, and student members of ARC and its subcommittees. This work has also happened in departments, both academic and administrative, who have taken it upon themselves to interrogate their curriculum, form reading groups, and have frank conversations with those we work most closely with. The board of governors has embarked on anti-racism training as well, and will continue that work into next year. This semester our colleagues have also further developed a Wellness Center support group for community members who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color; completed two promotions of diverse, part-time faculty members who were top candidates in last year’s full-time faculty searches, which stalled due to the pandemic; secured a major gift in support of the Disability and Learning Resources Center; and expanded mentorship for Chicago Scholars students, among other good works. Also to be celebrated, we know that many of you have also been on personal journeys regarding anti-racism. No doubt this is where some of the most powerful work begins.
Interim Dean of Graduate Studies
Anti-Racism Committee Co-Chair
Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Academic Affairs
Anti-Racism Committee Co-Chair