Rewriting SVA’s Statement on Racial Justice

A Proposed Rewrite as A Call to Action

Among the many conversations black and brown design educators are having right now, is the question of what we wish our institutions would say in their public statements. While we recognize the good intentions in each of the statements released by our institutions, we also see opportunities to be more direct about what change can and should look like. One colleague challenged us to propose a re-write to our institution’s statement. The following is my attempt.

Original Statement delivered on June 2, 2020

To the SVA Community,

Within the last decade, we have seen civilian cellphone video document the killing by police of two middle-aged African American men arrested on petty charges and amongst whose last words were “I can’t breathe.” The images and this phrase have led to a week of overwhelmingly non-violent protest which aims to ensure that the perpetrators receive justice and to correct a system that permits these kinds of abuses to continue unabated.

We all sympathize with the family of George Floyd, and also with those families of others who have died unnecessarily, but it is not enough to offer sympathy. As Terrence Floyd has said so eloquently, it is not enough to protest. When the protests are done, it is time to continue by organizing in sufficient numbers to nominate, elect, and then hold accountable public officials who are committed to changing the criminal justice system as a whole from the way police police, to how prosecutors charge, to the way judges and legislators sentence. In Mr. Floyd’s words, we need to “vote and know who” we “are voting for”.

Because of the pandemic that process of organization will have to begin virtually, but when we return to SVA in the fall it should strengthen as we engage with each other. I look forward to seeing you all this September so that the work can continue.

Stay safe and well.

This is what I wish SVA’s Statement had said:

Dear SVA Community,

As one of the leading art and design institutions in New York City, the School of Visual Arts acknowledges its responsibility in allowing racial inequity and violence to thrive in our communities by design. We are now forced to reckon with the role we have played in perpetuating, at worst, and ignoring, at minimum, the role design has played in undermining a fair and just society.

We are accountable.

Therefore we are now setting as our mandate the work to dismantle our own institutionalized racism in these four core areas:

1. Anti-Racist Curriculum: We demand of ourselves that all faculty embed anti-racist practices in their curriculum and teaching. We will undertake an exhaustive review of all curriculum to ensure that it meets the high standards established by anti-racist educational advocates.

2. Equitable Hiring and Workplace Practices: We demand of ourselves that we establish equitable hiring practices across the University, in particular ensuring that faculty are fully vetted and appropriately trained, and that mentoring practices are put into place to ensure that all faculty and staff are given opportunities to learn and grow. As part of this work, we will undertake an honest evaluation of representation and inclusion among faculty as well as in all places where decisions are made.

3. Mediation and Accountability: We demand of ourselves that we provide spaces for students, faculty and staff to speak up when they see injustice or inequity. We require accountability for everyone, including the leadership. To that end, we will hire a University Ombudsman who will serve as a mediator, actively addressing concerns brought by the community. We will also undertake more equitable forms of student/faculty evaluation to address issues that arise in the classroom.

4. Coalition-Building: With humility for our past failures, we recognize that we cannot do this work alone. We demand of ourselves that we seek out meaningful partnerships with organizations and individuals who have been doing this work in our absence. We ask that they hold us accountable and guide us, and importantly, we commit to giving them the full credit for the work they do, including making sure they are fairly compensated.

Furthermore, we acknowledge that we are an institution of this city. We have failed our city by allowing virulent forms of racism to thrive in the design of environments, systems, services, products, images and identities produced by our faculty and alumni; and by allowing those failures to be presented as successes in our pedagogies and promotions.

As a University that cares about art and design, we now go forward with humility and resolve to build an educational institution that serve the needs of a society that is broken but can be made better by design.

Signed,

A Inclusive Coalition Representing the SVA Community

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