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Editorial: Brown should improve partnership with RISD, arts offerings

Recently, The Herald reported on the overlap between the start of the University’s spring term and the end of Wintersession courses at the Rhode Island School of Design. Brown students enrolled in RISD Wintersession courses described problems juggling the scheduling overlap. This concern is not isolated to Wintersession, as the standard structure of University classes is inherently incompatible with course scheduling at RISD.

Because many studio art classes at RISD span upward of four hours and occur during the middle of the day, they rarely fit into a Brown student’s typical course schedule — ultimately detracting from the Brown-RISD partnership celebrated by the two institutions. Further, Brown-RISD dual degree students must cope with these scheduling conflicts on a regular basis. Given that the University promotes courses at RISD as an integral part of its art curriculum, Brown must either do more to facilitate student access to RISD or must enhance its own art offerings.

Art exploration is a central tenet of Brown’s academic mission. Generations of students on College Hill have benefited from the University’s unique emphasis on liberal learning exploration through the open curriculum. One of the 11 liberal learning goals, the personal development of “aesthetic sensibility,” encourages students to take courses that will allow them to develop “creative abilities in one or more art forms,” such as 3D design, dance, music or poetry. Thanks to Brown’s unique partnership with a world-renowned art and design college, students should be especially well-positioned to explore the creative study our learning goals emphasize.

There is opportunity for an especially in-depth exploration of the creative arts during Wintersession, when students with busy academic schedules may find themselves more able to accommodate a RISD course. Unfortunately, there is a 15-day period in January when students enrolled must precariously balance shopping period with the end of their RISD Wintersession courses. This scheduling incompatibility may deter students from enrolling in Wintersession RISD courses or prevent them from fully thriving in the courses if they do.

Though the University has not intentionally placed hurdles in the path of its students, it needs to do more to ensure that RISD’s Wintersession and Brown’s spring semester can coexist in a manner that better serves its students. It would be advantageous for the University to engage in dialogue with RISD regarding Wintersession and inform the Brown community of progress on the issue.

While the overlap of Brown’s spring shopping period and RISD’s Wintersession courses is troubling, the real problem extends much further than those 15 days. With the semester-long conflicts between course schedules at RISD and Brown, some areas of study are largely inaccessible to University students. For example, ceramics classes are not offered at Brown, and the basic pottery class offered at RISD is five hours, occurring twice a week in the middle of the day. In order to accommodate the two five-hour slots for the RISD course, students may be forced to sacrifice a number of their other academic interests. It should be acknowledged that there is always a cost to enrolling in one class and not another, but the extreme limitations of two five-hour blocks put students who are interested in exploring ceramics in a particularly unfortunate bind. For the University to allow its students to have ample opportunity to fulfill the liberal learning goals, it must critically assess the barriers that Brown students face in taking creative arts classes.

As the stucture of classes at RISD and Brown is admittedly challenging to reconcile — for administrators and students alike — a potential solution may have to come from within University course offerings. Beyond working with RISD to find scheduling solutions that work well for both RISD and Brown students, the University could also explore adding studio art courses to its Visual Arts department. While the option to take RISD classes should certainly remain open, exploring alternatives could be a great way to ameliorate the inaccessibility of certain subject areas. This way, students unable or unwilling to adjust their course schedule to fit the demands of a RISD class would be able to explore their interests at Brown.

As an institution that certainly acknowledges the acute pedagogical values of the arts, we need to work harder to eliminate hurdles that restrict Brown student access to art and design courses. The open curriculum plays a critical role in facilitating academic exploration in many subject areas. It should just as adeptly facilitate exploration in the arts.

Editorials are written by The Herald’s editorial page board: its editors, Grace Layer ’20 and Krista Stapleford ’21, and its members, Elisheva Goldberg ’22, Eduard Muñoz-Suñé ’20 and Riley Pestorius ’21. Send comments to


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