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Johnson '20: Barriers to RISD courses restrict academic freedom

In the 2016-2017 school year, while 376 Rhode Island School of Design students were registered for at least one course at Brown in the fall or spring semester, only 155 Brown students were cross-registered at RISD. While there was an increase in RISD students taking Brown courses between 2015-2016 and 2016-2017, there was about a 22 percent decrease in Brown students in RISD classes in the same period. One possible reason is that the process of cross-registration can make it restrictive for Brown students to take courses at RISD. Even though Brown promotes academic freedom and exploration in its philosophy, there are many barriers that can prevent Brown students from taking classes at RISD and therefore restrict their ability to go outside their comfort zone in academics and meet people with different perspectives.

There is a plethora of art classes at Brown that can stimulate a student’s creativity; however, taking at least one course at an art school like RISD can also be a fulfilling part of a student’s academic journey. While Brown does offer its students various art classes and equipment, RISD has a specific set of studios, equipment and facilities for each art discipline that allows every student to experiment more freely and develop new techniques to approach art projects. In addition, the atmosphere at RISD is different from that at Brown. Brown students are unique since many of us have diverse interests and are passionate about the academics and extracurriculars we pursue. However, taking a course where nearly all students are passionate about their art discipline can make you feel more creative and productive. Thanks to RISD’s inclusive environment and discussions of how to push the boundaries on art projects, Brown students can gain more insight on how to represent their perspective in an unfamiliar way.

As many of us know, Brown’s academic philosophy challenges students to develop their own curriculum in order to be open to new people, ideas and experiences. This openness helps students make the most of the freedom that they have in their education and broaden their perspectives on the world. A student taking classes at RISD lives out Brown’s philosophy by pursuing a different experience. However, there are a few barriers that prevent some Brown students from pursuing this opportunity. For one, a prerequisite to taking a RISD course is taking VISA 0100: “Studio Foundation,” an introductory studio art course. However, this course usually has between five and 10 sections, most capped at 20 students, with a random lottery that students must enter in order to get into the class. Some students can waive this requirement by successfully completing one or two years of college-level art courses in high school. However, this restricts students who may not have attended a school with an intense art program or those who may not have had the resources to pursue college-level art courses and develop a portfolio during their time in high school. Furthermore, most RISD courses have fees that students must pay up front. For example, CER 4028: “Introduction to Ceramics for Design Majors” has a fee of $120. While there are some Brown students who can afford this fee, low-income students may be prevented from taking this class since the expense can be a financial burden.

Strict prerequisites and entry fees can prevent Brown students from pursuing the opportunity to take a RISD course and, as a result, restrict some of their academic freedom. There are a few things that the Brown administration can do in order to remove these barriers. For one, Brown can provide a dedicated financial grant to cover the fees for RISD courses in order to make them more accessible for low-income students. In addition, if it’s not possible to provide more sections of VISA 0100 in future semesters, Brown should consider providing free workshops in different art fields to help students develop their portfolios. The visual arts newsletter already provides opportunities for students to gain experience; however, workshops can make students get out of their comfort zones and develop more confidence in order to pursue these opportunities and be prepared for RISD courses.

Chanel Johnson ’20 can mbe reached at Please send responses to this opinion to and op-eds to


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