displaying our agency at risd
We believed our skills as communicators and as visual thinkers would allow us to address issues in a serious way, though we knew it would also require a serious commitment to engage. A sticker created in response to the closing of The Office of Public Engagement.
Individually, we saw The Office of Public Engagement (ope) as a way to align our skills with our values and to ground our thesis work in response to the world around us. Jane’s work with New Urban Arts and Emily’s with Respond Design were both supported through assistantships with ope. The projects that resulted were developed in conversation with community, alongside our classes and studios, and in addition to the teaching assistantships required by our department. It was work that lives in the world—the work we’d come to graduate school to do. But it was also mediated by an institution, which in the Spring of 2010 announced its intention to close Office of Public Engagement—the only formally-recognized space within risd to support graduate students’ work in community-based practice. This unilateral decision was made despite the fact that ope was written into the majority of committees formed around risd’s strategic plan. “Many professors now point to that scenario as the administration’s pattern—make a quick decision, appear to listen to objections, then plow ahead anyway.” — The Chronicle of Higher Education, May 2011.1 We responded by staging a series of actions that made visible the dissenting voices of students, staff, and faculty. The Keep it Open campaign included three protests—the first for a meeting called by the President. We arrived early to ensure the space would allow others to enact their agency. Meetings with the President, to that point, had been notoriously one-sided. Billed as a way for the president to hear from us—he had once spoken for the first 53 minutes of an hour-long meeting, before taking a question.