F Logo search & site map      link resources
Features Regulars School News Reviews Calendar Comics


a literary

the next f




saic home



about fnews


School News

The Diversity Disparity:

Report Examines Racial Diversity at SAIC

"Diversity?" was the response of Nick Herrera, an undergrad with an emphasis in painting, when asked what he thought of diversity at SAIC. Such a sarcastic remark, while not hoped for, is in fact warranted as a school self-study report revealed.

The Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) recently released a Diversity Self-Study Report (DSSR) that reveals that when it comes to racial diversity, SAIC leaves much to be desired. Verlena Johnson, OMA program coordinator (also a recent SAIC grad) highlighted some of the glaring problems: " ... the report indicates ... the decline in [African] American and Latino students, and the fact that there aren't any institutional strategies implemented at the departmental level that deal with faculty recruitment that work towards diversity."

Not only is the lack of diversity present among students, faculty, and administrators, but studio class offerings are largely geared towards the Western aesthetic. According to the DSSR, among the fall 2000 course offerings, of the 262 studio classes only five directly address non-European art issues (such as Oriental Watercolor and Shibori Tie-Dye).

Illustration by Alefandro Ayala

However, it would be inaccurate to conclude that SAIC offered no significant non-Eurocentric classes. In the Art History department there are many classes, such as "Art and Architecture of India," "Zen and the Arts," and "Latin American Avant-Gardes," that break away from the European academic teachings of art. The Liberal Arts department can also serve as a model for studio arts departments. "Fiction by Hispanic Women," "History of Jazz," "The African Diaspora," and "Introduction to Asian Philosophies" are just a small sampling of the plentiful classes dealing with traditionally Eastern, African, and American minority themes.

But because not all degree programs require enrollment in at least one of these multicultural classes, it is difficult to gauge how many students are exposed to non-Eurocentric ideas towards art.

The lack of multiculturalism in the school's studio curriculum reflects that of the student body. The number of students in the undergrad and graduate programs in fall 2000 combined totaled 2,204. Of these, 67.1 percent are Caucasian. This number is slightly down from 1996, when 71.2 percent of degree-seeking students were Caucasian. While the percentage of non-resident aliens has is up from 9.6 percent in 1996 to 13.7 percent, the percentage of African-American and Hispanic students has dropped.

When asked what minority outreach programs have been implemented by the Admissions Office in the past, Kendra Dane, executive director of admissions and marketing, commented: "Our staff have hosted Portfolio Preparation workshops in high schools as well as in cooperation with programs such as Gallery 37 and the Marwen Foundation in Chicago. Members of our recruitment staff are often asked to participate in such workshops throughout the nation as well as participate as panelists in high school and community college arts festivals. We have also worked with the Institute of American Indian Arts for several years to provide scholarship assistance to deserving students who complete their first two years at IAIA and apply to SAIC."

Even less racially diverse than the student body is the 108 full-time faculty at SAIC. The DSSR found that there were 92 white full-time professors, associate professors, and assistant professors. In contrast, there was only one professor, and seven associate and assistant African American professors. Four full-time faculty members were Asian/Pacific Islanders and four were Latino. SAIC does not collect racial data for its part-time faculty. (*Numbers reflect 2000-2001 school year.)

According to the DSSR, the lack of a diverse faculty presents a problem for the curriculum.

"With such a low number of faculty members of color, many find that they are the only voice within a department to represent their interests. Some departments have no representative at all. Consequently, curriculum development occurs without full consideration of what new pedagogies, theories, approaches, and content can contribute to a course of study. Faculty of color must rely on the good intentions of faculty who do not always have expertise in non-Western or non-traditional subjects."

Just as prospective minority students might take issue with the lack of diverse studio classes, prospective minority faculty might conclude from what the DSSR describes as "[the] scant evidence of a critical mass a faculty of color actively engaged in the primary concerns of tenure track faculty (e.g., teaching, developing curriculum, serving on committees, researching their primary areas of interests), [that] they are not encouraged to seriously consider a position at SAIC."

The DSSR acknowledges that SAIC's affirmative action policy is limited to the statement: "As indication of our commitment to our affirmative action, [SAIC's] policy of non-discrimination is prevalent throughout every aspect of our relationship with faculty, including recruitment advertisement, recruitment, selection, compensation, promotion, tenure, [and] enrichment."

Since the Assistant Dean of Minority and Multicultural Affairs left in 1995, the school has lacked a full-time affirmative action faculty member to develop programs to attract more minority applicants and create guidelines for the interview process. The DSSR points out " ... faculty of color who are strong candidates may not receive consideration because they do not fit the stereotype the committee holds of African-American, Asian, Latino artists and academic[s]. In other words, they are not ethnic or political enough."

This homogenization of minorities in the interview process resembles the presupposition that students face in critiques: minority artists should create racially or politically charged work dealing with their history or geography.

Student Government Co-President Ethan Roeder stated that dialogues have been initiated regarding this problem.

"From my place in Student Government I see a really strong foundation of minority representation in student groups and a lot of heightening awareness at SAIC about issues of diversity. The OMA Crits ... bring issues of diversity to bear directly on artmaking practice here at the school," Roeder said.

Until a plan is developed that addresses the problem of diversity collectively - that is without parting the faculty from the curriculum from the student body - the two central points of the DSSR's conclusion will remain true: "Little commitment from the administration to actively cultivate an inclusive environment and few members of traditionally underrepresented groups are present."

But the DSSR is evidence to Kendra Coleman, Director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs, that SAIC is open to discussions about the problem of diversity. "There is no institutional strategy [regarding diversity], but there are definitely people concerned with talking about it," Coleman said.

Return to top

Features      Regulars      School News      Reviews      Calendar      Comics

Current Issue      Archives      Home