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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’s demands. Additionally, 65 undergraduate students affiliated with RISD’s Painting Department wrote a letter to Angela Dufresne, their department’s head, requesting a similar faculty statement in support of student demands.

A RISD spokesperson did not respond to The Herald’s 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 post


“Students, faculty and staff request less deflection and ambiguity, and more clarity from the administration,” the Graphic Design department statement reads. “We implore you to take immediate action to meet their demands.”

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

RISD Sculpture department faculty urged RISD President Crystal Williams and Provost Touba Ghadessi to meet student demands of “full financial disclosure” and the establishment of a “student oversight committee.” They added that “we insist that there be no police involvement during student protests and that students are not penalized for their activism.”

“It is imperative to acknowledge the voices and perspectives of RISD students actively involved in this cause,” the statement read. “Students, faculty and staff alike seek less ambiguity and evasion, and meaningful transparency from the administration.”

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

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

“We 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’s financial investments,” the statement read.

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

Painting students’ email to Dufresne cited campus activism at Brown, Columbia, Yale and other institutions as a “coordinated, national student movement.” 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.


“We 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,” Dufresne wrote in an email to The Herald. “We can’t take these issues lightly. It’s not responsible to the department or our students.”

In an April 30 email reviewed by The Herald, RISD’s Painting department informed students that there would be “zero punitive response” 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 “faculty are contractually obligated to perform their duties.” The May 6 email, reviewed by The Herald, also states that “coursework is still expected on time based on each class’s syllabi,” but added that “most faculty are creating pathways for folks to participate in actions and orchestrate self care in this tumultuous time.”

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 statement from RISD faculty and staff on the “ongoing genocide against Palestinians,” last updated December 2023. The letter requests RISD administrators to publicly call for an “immediate and permanent ceasefire,” cut ties to Textron and other corporations that “profit from the military-industrial complex” 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’s demands “troubling in many ways.” Traci Williams continued, “I am concerned with the intense focus on how our students protest and the disregard for what they are peacefully protesting for.”

“The 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,” wrote Traci Williams. “Holding them to the institution-wide reply comes off as a delay tactic.” 

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

“Rather than offer disclosure and insight, this letter undercuts their position,” 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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