A wide shot of a ceramics studio, featuring students working with pottery wheels and other tools.

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., with Dedication and Hope

Dear SAIC Community,

In the late 1950s and into the ‘60s, the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.—whose commitment to racial equality and enduring moral guidance we honor with today’s holiday—delivered many versions of his speech “The Future of Integration.” Given at colleges and universities—from New York University to Southern Methodist University, and from Yale University to Oberlin College and Conservatory—Dr. King tailored certain details of the speech to each audience, addressing then-current events of the civil rights movement; however, the wisdom and rhetorical flourish for which Dr. King remains beloved appear in every iteration. Both rational and soul-stirring, many turns of phrase found in the speech are now familiar quotations. As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I have taken to heart one such often-quoted saying, which you can hear, as delivered in 1963, at the online archive of the Harvard Law Forum. In it, Dr. King observes that:
Human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability…Human progress comes as the result of the tireless efforts and persistent work of dedicated individuals.

Dr. King’s words ring true, particularly at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where we continually strive to build an educational home where all those who work, learn, and grow on campus feel a sense of belonging. We owe our progress in making our School an ever more diverse, equitable, and inclusive institution to many dedicated individuals at SAIC, and the future progress we must make together will require our tireless effort and persistent work.

Over the past decade, for example, we established faculty and staff positions dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion within Academic Affairs and retooled existing positions in Student Affairs. We introduced mandatory diversity, equity, and inclusion training for everyone, and we took steps to ensure more diverse full-time faculty candidate pools, which have led to a more diverse faculty. We have also increased our outreach in the city through programs like the College Arts Access Program, which gives Chicago Public School students tuition-free access to our Early College Program courses and support in applying to college. Many members of our community—students, faculty, and staff alike—brought about these, and many other, improvements, and today SAIC has a more globally minded curriculum, more affinity groups, and more student services focused on belonging. Our work, however, isn’t over.

These efforts will continue and expand. Last semester, we offered anti-racism training workshops to faculty and staff, and we will be scheduling more in the coming semester. Also next semester, we will conclude a comprehensive analysis of all full-time faculty salaries at each rank to determine—and adjust, if needed—any inequities based on gender or race. We’ve inaugurated first-generation student support, and as part of our strategic planning activities, we will expand our Compassion and Belonging Grant program and establish new committees dedicated to diversity, equity, and inclusion; belonging; and continuity toward life after art school.

As we consider our past efforts and embark on our next steps toward the goal of a School more aware of systemic racism and less swayed by racial bias, we ought to also reflect on our shortcomings. As Dr. King said at his “The Future of Integration” address at Penn State in 1965, which regrettably still applies today, “we have come a long, long way in the struggle for racial justice, but we have a long, long way to go before the problem is solved.” Our campus is neither frictionless nor perfect; there is disagreement and disappointment. Nevertheless, the distance we have to travel should not deter our efforts. Instead, we keep striving, because we possess the persistence and dedication to make our community better.

As artists, designers, and scholars, the individuals who make up the School of the Art Institute of Chicago are citizens—not of any one nation, but of a global community—who recognize the interdependence of all people and acknowledge the role their work has in the world, and at a School like ours, primarily comprising emerging citizen artists, designers, and scholars who will shape our shared society in the future, we have many reasons for hope. As Dr. King opined, in yet another iteration of his forward-looking speech, at Kansas State University in 1968:
…whenever I go out and around the colleges and universities of our country, and talk with many young people, I must honestly say to you that my hope is always renewed in those settings. I think that you who sit today under the sound of my voice may well have the answer.

Dedicated and hopeful,

Elissa Tenny