Updates from SAIC’s Anti-Racism Committee

Anti-Racism Committee Update: Fall 2020

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. 
 
 
ARC Subcommittees
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.
 
Next Steps
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.

Delinda Collier
Interim Dean of Graduate Studies
Anti-Racism Committee Co-Chair

Jefferson Pinder
Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for Academic Affairs
Anti-Racism Committee Co-Chair

 

OCTOBER 2020

Image of ARC

 

In response to the calls for racial justice in the United States and throughout the world, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) announced the formation of a new Anti-Racism Committee (ARC). ARC will be the primary faculty, student, staff, and board body that will continue the School’s decade-long efforts to be a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive college. With the beginning of the new academic year, ARC co-chairs Delinda Collier, interim dean for graduate studies, and Jefferson Pinder, director of diversity, equity, and inclusion for academic affairs, answered our questions about ARC—its mission and ambitions—in its formative days.

What is ARC's charge?

Jefferson Pinder: The Anti-Racism Committee tasks this group of staff, faculty, students, and board members to take a hard look at how we run the School and see where it could be more diverse, more inclusive, and more anti-racist. We’re going to name those places where we fall short and propose ways to make the experiences of those how study and work here—especially Black people—better.
 
Delinda Collier: Under this charge, we aim to enact some short-term solutions—as early as this semester—and by next year have a long-term strategy to help SAIC continue to evolve toward anti-racism in how we teach, learn, organize ourselves, and pursue our practices and scholarships.

Will ARC engage the SAIC community?

DC: ARC’s charge compels us to help catalyze change throughout the institution, but helping our School work against the tide of structural violence that exists throughout the world’s social structures takes more than the work of a couple dozen committee members. 

JP: And more than just our committee, members are eager to get involved. We’ve been fielding requests from throughout the community. We have so many volunteers who want to be a part of institutional change. More, in fact, than our main committee has room for.

DC: Which is why we’re asking some of the people who have reached out to us to join ARC’s subcommittees, which each take a deep dive into specific facets of the School, like recruitment of students and staff, curriculum, and campus climate.

JP: And through the work of ARC and its subcommittees, we’ll also be creating more ways to get involved and establish transparent modes of communication so that everyone can keep informed.

Does this enthusiasm from the community give you hope for this work?

JP: Absolutely, but it’s more than just enthusiasm. It’s awareness, too. Everyone is talking about anti-racism. There is a greater thirst for education and action than I have ever seen. People want to mobilize. ARC is a primary vehicle for how we are going to channel this enthusiasm here at SAIC. 

What is the unique role of an art institution in the larger anti-racism movement?

JP: Something really vital to communities of artists, and you definitely feel it at SAIC, is the expectation of empathy. Artists, designers, educators: we build affective bonds. We feel each other, and that is something crucial to equity movements. We measure and seek to improve things like hiring demographics and graduation rates, but ideally, those things are byproducts of people flourishing. Anti-racism is about removing barriers so that everyone is at liberty to find their voice, make their work, and fully contribute to a diverse and inclusive society.
 
DC: The history of art is full of artists making exactly those kinds of permissive, caring spaces that seek unconventional ways of being, solve problems creatively, and expand our vision for who we can be. 

What can students, faculty, and staff do daily to contribute to making SAIC an anti-racist institution?

JP: First and foremost, don’t be a jackass. That sounds pretty straightforward, but it can be hard with so much going on—and going wrong—in the world. We can all experience a little compassion fatigue. But don’t lose your connection to your ability to care for one another. For your classmates and colleagues. For yourself. SAIC is a place we choose to be, and we can choose to make it better.
 
DC: Trust your agency to effect change. We are trying to change the system in a major way, and no one feels like they have all the answers. So, take the opportunity to ask questions and offer ideas. Especially if you are in a room where decisions are being made. Recognize constructive critique and applaud it. Especially when you are receiving the critique.
 
JP: Understand the momentum we can all feel, and support it. Ask yourself, “Did I do enough today?” If not, make a plan to do more tomorrow.

 

SEPTEMBER 3, 2020

Dear SAIC Community,

With the beginning of the fall semester, and the need to work against systemic racism in our world and on our campus at the forefront of the hearts and minds of many of us, I want to reach out again to update you further on the diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism actions we have undertaken this summer since my prior communications (read updates one, two, and three). In particular, I am pleased to tell you more about the new committee dedicated to anti-racism and a new approach to how we name our facilities.
 
 
Anti-Racism Committee

As announced earlier this summer, a new Anti-Racism Committee (ARC) has been formed to support and extend existing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts and catalyze DEI and anti-racist work throughout all areas of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). ARC’s charge includes both identifying and implementing initiatives that will meaningfully improve the School’s operations and the lived experiences of its community members. Co-chaired by Jefferson Pinder, director of diversity, equity, and inclusion for academic affairs, and Delinda Collier, interim dean of graduate studies, ARC will report directly to me, and its members come from throughout the School:
 
Co-Chairs
Delinda Collier, Interim Dean of Graduate Studies
Jefferson Pinder, Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Academic Affairs

Faculty
Sampada Aranke, Assistant Professor, Art History, Theory, and Criticism
James Connolly, Assistant Professor, Adjunct, Film, Video, New Media, and Animation
Olivia Gude, Professor, Art Education
Jenny Lee, Assistant Professor, Art History, Theory, and Criticism
Dan Price, Associate Professor, Sculpture
Maria Gaspar, Associate Professor, Contemporary Practices
Daniel Quiles, Associate Professor, Art History, Theory, and Criticism
Roberto Sifuentes, Professor, Performance
Kirin Wachter-Grene, Assistant Professor, Liberal Arts
Martine Whitehead, Assistant Professor, Adjunct, Contemporary Practices
Adrian Wong, Assistant Professor, Sculpture

Staff
Dio Aldridge, Special Assistant to the Dean and Provost on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
Robyn Besana, Disability Specialist
Michael Blackman, Assistant Dean of Student Affairs for Student Support and Conflict Resolution
Craig Downs, Executive Director of Media and Instructional Resources
Dawn Gavin, Dean of Undergraduate Studies
Jaclyn Jacunski, Director of Civic Engagement
Molly Scranton, Associate Director of Faculty Affairs
Jimmie Swaggerty, Senior Administrative Director, Department of Fashion Design
Katrina Valera, Director of Student Affairs for Diversity and Inclusion
Timeka Young, Employee Relations and Training Manager

Students
Zemaye Okediji, graduate
Carly Trujilo, undergraduate, Resident Assistant, and member of the Native American Student Association (NASA)

In addition to these members, we are also in dialogue with an additional student, faculty member, and a member of the board of governors who may also join the committee. While ARC will be an indispensable agent for progress at SAIC, changing our institutional culture will rely on all of us participating in ways large and small. ARC will also establish a series of subcommittees that will include additional members of the community, establish opportunities for feedback, and regularly share updates, working hard to provide many avenues for participation so those who want to be involved will be able to contribute.
 
Naming Facilities 
An important element of the contemporary movement toward racial justice involves examining the world's historical record and recognizing how dominant narratives typically advantage people of privilege, who are usually White, and obscure the perspectives of those from historically marginalized groups, often people who are Black, Indigenous, or of color. Many colleges and universities now confront the legacy of campus buildings and spaces named after renowned historical figures and lesser-known donors who participated in racist or colonialist practices. At SAIC, the way we refer to the School building located at 280 South Columbus Drive has been called into question by many individuals, and I agree that our naming practice should be reconsidered.

The School facility we commonly refer to as “Columbus” is not its official name. Rather, it is a default practice at SAIC to refer to buildings by their street name and number when they do not have an existing name or prior to a naming opportunity being realized. A naming opportunity occurs when an element of our operations, such as a scholarship, endowed professorship, or building, is named to acknowledge a donor’s significant support of the School. For example, before the MacLean Center was named along with a gift from Barry and Mary Ann MacLean, and before classes were held at the Lakeview Building (116 South Michigan Avenue), the facility at 112 South Michigan Avenue was called the “Michigan” building.

Changing the name of the Columbus building, therefore, will require changes to our internal habits and policies. First, we should change our habit, School-wide, for how we refer to buildings without existing nomenclature. Second, we should look to establish processes and articulate values for renaming facilities that align with our anti-racist initiatives while also permitting us to retain important fundraising opportunities that advance our mission. Today, I announce steps we are taking to address both these practice and policy goals.

Beginning immediately, our official policy will be to refer to unnamed buildings by their street number alone. That means the “Columbus” building will become the “280” building. Similarly, the residence hall at 162 North State Street will be the “162” building. Because this is a change of habit for our community, it will take time for us to internalize this new practice and reflect it throughout our speech, publications, and the website. Your attention, effort, and patience as we make this transition together is appreciated. Already-named buildings, such as Sharp or Jones Hall, will retain their names for the foreseeable future. In preparation for unforeseen futures, the offices of the dean and advancement are working toward a process by which the School community can advise on the naming of a building, space, professorship, or department.
 
Throughout the coming academic year, we will keep you abreast of the anti-racism work being undertaken at SAIC through campus-wide emails, including communications from ARC, as well as new and updated resources being developed for the website, including this page, which lists many of the DEI initiatives we have undertaken over the last ten years. If you have any questions or are wondering how to get involved, please email the members of ARC at saicdiversity@saic.edu.

Elissa Tenny
President

 

JULY 31, 2020

Dear SAIC Community,

As we work toward the successful start of the 2020–21 academic year, we must remain focused on the calls for racial justice being raised in all corners of our shared society and reaffirm our commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion, and anti-racism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). That commitment compels us to remember George Floyd and the too many other Black people whose wrongful deaths at the hands of the police are just one symptom of the systemic racism, brutality, and inequity that plagues our shared society. As part of our work toward an anti-racist campus, SAIC will hold a day of mourning on Friday, August 7, 2020.

On this day, all meetings and classes will be suspended, and everyone is encouraged to take time for grieving, reflection, and self-care rather than their usual activities. You may also elect to engage in self-directed education about racism; social justice; Black Lives Matter; the Black experience; and promoting diversity, equity, and inclusion. Additionally, John M. Flaxman Library staff have compiled a list of resources on these and other related topics. Please note that faculty may make alternate arrangements with their students to cover course content, and supervisors should support staff in organizing workflow so that they may participate in the day of mourning. For staff, this will be a paid day off but will not affect your PTO allotment.

The intention to host a day of mourning was originally announced earlier this summer alongside a number of other concrete actions SAIC is taking to be a more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and anti-racist organization. I wanted to take this opportunity to give you a further update on two other initiatives announced at that time.

First, I want to confirm that we made the promised institutional gift of $25,000 to our partner organizations in North Lawndale—Free Spirit Media, Lawndale Business Renaissance Association, Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago, North Lawndale Employment Network, Options for Youth, Turning the Page, and the Foundation for Homan Square—as well as the Chicago Food Depository, which is active in the neighborhood and throughout the city. We have also begun matching all faculty, staff, student, board member, and alum contributions to these organizations up to $10,000 in total. Today, I wanted to announce that this matching period will be extended to the end of the calendar year, December 31, 2020. To request a match, please send your donation receipt to the Office of Advancement at givetosaic@saic.edu.

Also, I want to let you know that we are currently in the process of inviting students, faculty, and staff from throughout the School to join a new Anti-Racism Committee, reporting directly to me, to help us better realize our mission and aspirations by catalyzing DEI and anti-racist initiatives throughout all areas of the School. We are eager to begin this meaningful work and will announce the membership and charge of the committee in August.

The work of making our campus more diverse, equitable, inclusive, and anti-racist will require many kinds of work sustained over a long period of time. I hope the day of mourning is one way in which we prepare to continue our earnest work of making our School more anti-racist.

Elissa Tenny
President

 

JULY 14, 2020

Dear SAIC Community,

Since the previous communication outlining concrete actions that the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) has taken in our ongoing effort to become more anti-racist, we have heard from many of you about additional steps you would like to see our institution take in our drive to become more diverse, equitable, and inclusive, as well as anti-racist. Your messages—which have come from many individuals and groups, including cohorts of Black faculty, instructional shop staff, and academic departments as well as student government and the Black Student Union, among others—contain many good ideas. While we have not yet been able to respond to them all, please know you have been heard. Today we would like to announce several additional actions SAIC is taking to further its anti-racism goals:

Tuition Increase Offset for Students With Greatest Financial Need: While SAIC is not in a financial position to completely offset the planned tuition increase for the 2020–21 academic year, the School will award a grant—i.e., an automatic, no-strings-attached adjustment to each student’s bill that does not need to be repaid—for all students eligible for Pell Grant, the federal program for students who display exceptional financial need. This will eliminate the tuition increase for 22 percent of the student body.

$1 Million Investment in Chicago Scholars Programs: A recent gift from Carol and David Ostrow will create an endowed, named, need-based scholarship opportunity for graduates from the Chicago area high schools’ student population matriculating to SAIC, a district which is approximately 89 percent students of color. The first cohort of scholarship recipients will be awarded by the 2021–22 academic year.

Undergraduate Scholarship Named for Lynika Strozier: Named in honor of beloved colleague Lynika Strozier, who passed away from complications due to COVID-19, this full-tuition, need-based scholarship will go to support an undergraduate student matriculating from Chicago area high schools beginning in the 2020–21 academic year.

While sharing news of these latest initiatives with you, we also want to thank you for your continued attention on these pressing issues. Our work will continue, and as it progresses, everyone in the SAIC community will be kept abreast of our progress and hear about the further steps our School takes. Working together, we will become the more just and compassionate School we aim to be.

Elissa Tenny
President

Martin Berger
Provost and Senior Vice President of Academic Affairs