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Some RISD academic departments voice support for student demonstrators

Faculty in graphic design, sculpture, THAD departments express support

On Wednesday, faculty affiliated with two departments at the Rhode Island School of Design released statements in support of the ongoing student demonstrations at 20 Washington Place, better known as Prov-Wash.

The Sculpture department and Theory and History of Art and Design department joined the Graphic Design department, which released a statement Monday echoing the student鈥檚 demands. Additionally, 65 undergraduate students affiliated with RISD鈥檚 Painting Department wrote a letter to Angela Dufresne, their department鈥檚 head, requesting a similar faculty statement in support of student demands.

A RISD spokesperson did not respond to The Herald鈥檚 request for comment.

The new statements by RISD academic departments follow a Monday walkout staged by faculty affiliated with the Graphic Design department, according to a RISD Students for Justice in Palestine Instagram . 

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鈥淪tudents, faculty and staff request less deflection and ambiguity, and more clarity from the administration,鈥 the Graphic Design department statement reads. 鈥淲e implore you to take immediate action to meet their demands.鈥

A member of RISD鈥檚 Graphic Design department declined to comment, and three others did not respond to The Herald鈥檚 request for comment by press time.

RISD Sculpture department faculty urged RISD President Crystal Williams and Provost Touba Ghadessi to meet student demands of 鈥渇ull financial disclosure鈥 and the establishment of a 鈥渟tudent oversight committee.鈥 They added that 鈥渨e insist that there be no police involvement during student protests and that students are not penalized for their activism.鈥

鈥淚t is imperative to acknowledge the voices and perspectives of RISD students actively involved in this cause,鈥 the statement read. 鈥淪tudents, faculty and staff alike seek less ambiguity and evasion, and meaningful transparency from the administration.鈥

Representatives of the Sculpture department did not immediately respond to The Herald鈥檚 request for comment. 

RISD THAD department faculty wrote in a statement reviewed by The Herald that they 鈥渄emand accountability of RISD for profiting from governments, corporations and financial systems that have enabled state violence鈥 and endorse the students鈥 previously stated demands.

鈥淲e ask why the RISD administration, which has professed an unwavering commitment to social equity and inclusion, has not been more forthcoming with respect to the school鈥檚 financial investments,鈥 the statement read.

Representatives from the THAD department did not immediately respond to The Herald鈥檚 request for comment.

Painting students鈥 email to Dufresne cited campus activism at Brown, Columbia, Yale and other institutions as a 鈥渃oordinated, national student movement.鈥 21 sophomores, 29 juniors and 15 seniors signed onto the letter, urging painting faculty to issue a public statement in support of the demonstration at Prov-Wash. 

While Dufresne declined to provide an official statement on behalf of the Painting department, she told The Herald that Painting faculty plan to meet Thursday.

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鈥淲e have of course been in many conversations trying to offer all of our students the space they need to embody their positionality in this moment,鈥 Dufresne wrote in an email to The Herald. 鈥淲e can鈥檛 take these issues lightly. It鈥檚 not responsible to the department or our students.鈥

In an April 30 email reviewed by The Herald, RISD鈥檚 Painting department informed students that there would be 鈥渮ero punitive response鈥 for participating in an indefinite academic strike.

On May 6, the Painting department clarified that it will not cancel classes during the week of the sit-in as 鈥渇aculty are contractually obligated to perform their duties.鈥 The May 6 email, reviewed by The Herald, also states that 鈥渃oursework is still expected on time based on each class鈥檚 syllabi,鈥 but added that 鈥渕ost faculty are creating pathways for folks to participate in actions and orchestrate self care in this tumultuous time.鈥

In an email sent to Painting students on May 9, department leadership reiterated that classes will not be canceled.

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The new department-wide statements follow a from RISD faculty and staff on the 鈥渙ngoing genocide against Palestinians,鈥 last updated December 2023. The letter requests RISD administrators to publicly call for an 鈥渋mmediate and permanent ceasefire,鈥 cut ties to Textron and other corporations that 鈥減rofit from the military-industrial complex鈥 and rescind posting and protest policies. 

As of April 30, the letter has 166 signatories, including Dufresne. Signatories also include Graphic Design Department Head Paul Soulellis, Sculpture Department Head Heather Rowe and Glass Department Head Sean Salstrom. 

Traci Williams, an academic coordinator for the Industrial Design department, signed on to the statement. She wrote in an email to The Herald that she finds the recent community-wide email sent by Crystal Williams in response to protester鈥檚 demands 鈥渢roubling in many ways.鈥 Traci Williams continued, 鈥淚 am concerned with the intense focus on how our students protest and the disregard for what they are peacefully protesting for.鈥

鈥淭he students met with leadership for over 6 hours and responded to the content of that conversation in a timely manner, as no institutional response was forthcoming,鈥 wrote Traci Williams. 鈥淗olding them to the institution-wide reply comes off as a delay tactic.鈥 

Traci Williams expressed specific concerns about how President Williams鈥 email characterized protestors鈥 demand for student oversight of financial decisions as a 鈥渄emand for RISD to cede total fiscal control.鈥

鈥淩ather than offer disclosure and insight, this letter undercuts their position,鈥 wrote Traci Williams.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that there had been no Painting department-wide communications since the beginning of the sit-in. The Herald regrets the error.


Tom Li

Tom Li is a Metro Editor covering the Health & Environment and Development & Infrastructure beats. He is from Pleasanton, California, and is concentrating in Economics and International & Public Affairs. He is an avid RIPTA passenger and enjoys taking (and criticizing) personality tests in his free time.


Avani Ghosh

Avani Ghosh is a Metro Editor covering politics & justice and community & activism. She is a sophomore from Ohio studying Health & Human Biology and International & Public Affairs. She is an avid earl grey enthusiast and can be found making tea in her free time.


Ciara Meyer

Ciara Meyer is a Senior Staff Writer covering the Beyond Brown beat. She is from Saratoga Springs, New York and plans on concentrating in Statistics and English nonfiction. In her free time, she loves scrapbooking and building lego flowers.



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