The Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Council formed in early 2020 with representatives from throughout the Otis community including students, faculty, and staff. The members of the Council share a passionate commitment and a breadth and depth of knowledge related to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Combined the Council shares an amazing knowledge base and serves as a resource for the College. This website will grow and develop with the DEI Council over time.
The DEI Statement guides the work of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion work at Otis College of Art and Design. We received and incorporated feedback from the following groups prior to sending the statement out to the wider community for feedback:
- Students’ Union
- O-Committed Student Group
- DEI Council Members
- Faculty Leaders (Academic Assembly Executive Leaders)
- Staff Council Executive Members
- Senior Team
Introduction to the DEI Statement: This statement is a living document. We acknowledge there is always more work to do to embody and animate our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. We know we need to make the art, design, and scholarship that will bring vibrancy and illumination to this statement. The declarations and commitments put forward here serve to shape our practices and methods moving forward and to set community expectations. Everyone at Otis, regardless of position, is expected to be accountable to this DEI statement as a compass in our work and to rely on the DEI Council as one of many resources for addressing harms and constructing genuine inclusion.
DEI Council Members
Aalaa Yassin I believe a safe and inclusive learning environment starts with empathy. People listening to one another beyond the limits of positions of power and creating safe spaces is what will truly elevate our institution. As a person of colour, I'm committed to making Otis a more equitable institution for people who do and don't look like me, and in challenging existing structures to better us all.
Dr. Carol Branch I am dedicated to working with Otis' diverse communities. Both my professional and personal practices are deeply rooted in the work of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Under my purview are Disability Services, Title IX education, veteran outreach, and family outreach. I work with a variety of student groups and have implemented programs geared toward international student education, as well as faculty and staff development. Outside of Otis College, I have worked with the Compton Conservatory of Music and the History Council of the California African American Museum.
Cole James I walk around viewing myself as a collection of atoms and energy. I am also aware that this ball of atoms and energy is impacted by the atoms and energy surrounding me. As a member of the African Diaspora the systemic nature of inequity impacts my life, the lives of people I hold dear, and the experiences of my students. For these and other reasons, I am an abolitionist. I have been doing anti-recidivism work for 10 years concurrent with my time at Otis. All of that time I have centered my engagement on anti-racist pedagogy and institutional accountability. My work on the council has and always will be to disrupt structures of inequity and specifically to address actions, words, and ideologies that are systemically anti-Black. I will do so unapologetically and without restraint because this community is important to me, my students and colleagues are important to me. My experience at Otis had been riddled with systemic racism and when I realized my students were also having similar experiences, I decided it was not enough to only comfort them, it was not enough to only provide resources. I needed to challenge the system that has and will continue to fail them. I want new systems. I want to create and occupy new spaces where equity is the norm, not the tolerated exception. Photo credit Brenna Youngblood
Daniel Flores Estrella The significance of the DEI Council, at an institutional level, signifies a collective effort of accountability (historical or current), opacity, antiracism, and other pertinent matters. This work means a communal endeavor of innovation, discernment, and to expand Otis' previous efforts, such as the intention to increase the diversity of the student population in the mid-2000s. This endeavor provided me with the financial means to attend Otis, becoming the first in my family to attend college. The work of the DEI Council is a creative reflection of Los Angeles' ongoing struggles and aspirations, a city where the vast majority of its inhabitants are migrants, refugees, and transplants.
Heather Joseph-Witham The women in my life always told me the best stories. My two grandmas and my mom, all gone now, had tales of joys and sorrows. Memories of a family lost in the Holocaust, stories of poverty in India, lack of access to education, and a family that didn't accept a young bride in (then) Burma. Migrations, illnesses, and ghosts, but also feasting, dancing, and love. Through it all there is a longing for equality, a need for a safe haven, a dream of community, and an equitable playing field. Most of my work now celebrates diverse cultural behaviors and customs. People need the spaces, forums, and abilities to be able to enact these customs, to engage in their symbolic activities, and to tell their tales. I hope my work with this council will allow me to work with my community to have the most ‘fair’ Otis possible.
Jeffrey Perkins I am committed to DEI efforts at Otis because I believe we are stronger when everyone in our community is respected and supported. Growing up as a gay youth in rural New Hampshire, I experienced regular harassment. It propelled me to study Peace and Global Studies as an undergraduate and led me to work in higher education because I personally experienced how a diverse and caring college can nurture students’ unique contributions to the world. I feel it’s our responsibility and a privilege to nurture our students and their creativity with the most supportive environment we can create in the classroom and in the community. I believe dismantling systems of oppression requires thoughtful and joyful collaboration, which this DEI Council can, in part, provide.
Jen Hofer As a queer white Latinx/Argentinean Jewish BDS supporter who grew up mostly monolingual in a bilingual/bicultural family, I experience a constant interplay of privilege and invisibility, of histories of erasure and extermination intertwined with the realities of being the beneficiary of white supremacist structures. I have spent much of my life thinking about concrete ways to use the privileges I experience to prioritize and center the perspectives of those denied privilege—while working actively to dismantle the structures that afford me those very privileges, yet also without erasing my own identity and history. I’m still in the middle of that thinking, and probably always will be. My work in the field of cross-language practice, and specifically language justice—the right everyone has to communicate in our language(s) and a commitment to equitable communication—is rooted in this complex and intersectional thinking. Language justice work, like poetry and literary translation, has given me the space to contemplate very deeply when to speak up and when to remain silent and when to use my voice and my resources to support the speech and expression of others. I am grateful to learn from what can be heard when non-dominant voices are privileged. Photo by Patri Hadad.
Joanne Mitchell My commitment to DEI is shaped by my experience as a queer person. To queer something, whether it’s gender, or in the context of the institution: the curriculum, the attendance policy, hiring practices, or hierarchical structures, is to take a look at the foundations and question them. It’s exploring limits, biases, and boundaries. Then, look for places where there’s elasticity or discover ways to transform a practice into something new. To queer is to examine our assumptions and decide which of them we want to keep, change, discard, or play with. This becomes a practice in transcending the habit of settling for pre-defined categories and creating new ones. And even when we leave something unchanged, we have changed our relationship to it.
JoAnn Staten For me, diversity, equity, and inclusion are about movement through time, space, and perception. I cannot envision a solution to our DEI issues without feeling the urgings of my ancestors or my heirs' anticipated whispers. I hear their call for the freedom to be Americans without qualification. Many of our students have the same desire. Today young people are determined to acknowledge our collective humanity, and Otis students connect to those efforts whether they focus on the country, our school, or our classrooms. Their vision is a noble one. Our challenge as educators is to be flexible by relinquishing past perceptions to support a truth our students are fighting to reveal.
My right is a future of equality with other Americans. —Elizabeth Catlett
Karen Hill Strategic diversity, inclusion, and equity work is rooted in possibilities that bring about positive change. Here at Otis, we are committed to the cultural transformation that is an integral part of future-oriented organizations. DEI is my passion and its legacy leaving aspects humbles me. I love being a part of the change that will enhance our future.
Laura Salazar Representation is one of the most important things that we need in our society, especially in the field of art and design. Lack of representation leads us to think about certain people as the norm, while misrepresentation has led to stereotypes that are still present to this day. Art and design, both of which are inherently political, have the power to define and destroy stereotypes. They were, they are, and will always be political as long as we have creatives who are not afraid to speak their truth. As artists, we have the power to make a change and help society move forward. I am committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion not only through my work but also through my actions, and I want to show other students that we have a voice, and our words can incite change.
Michaela Matsumoto I have been member of the Otis College community since 2014 and have worked as an advocate for low-income students, providing financial counseling and streamlining student services. My personal history has led me to view higher education as the center point for societal change. As a bi-racial woman, who grew up below the poverty line in a wealthy neighborhood, I have always had a unique hybrid of perspectives. Successfully navigating the system of higher education is difficult for those of us who did not have stable families or incomes. It has become my personal life’s work to dedicate my time, knowledge, and experience towards providing an equitable experience for all students. I believe in our college mission which is committed to providing art education to our diverse community. As we continue our daily work of seeking to understand each other, dismantling systems of oppression, and creating a more equitable and inclusive campus, we work together towards creating a brighter future for our community. I’m honored to serve the community on the DEI Council and I’m thankful to be a part of this special place.
Michele Jaquis My worldview is predicated on the belief that most conflicts arise out of fear generated by a lack of knowing, understanding, and communicating with “the other.” As an artist, my goals are to make sense of my own complex identities and experiences and to combat the increased xenophobia since the global refugee crisis and Trump’s election. I do this by facilitating collaborations across difference—in my projects, my classroom, and among my colleagues. I am committed to understanding and improving how socio-economic status affects access to higher education, student debt, workload, motivation, and grit; how to best teach in a classroom of students with a range of cultural, language, and learning differences; and how to partner with my BIPOC colleagues and students (not as an ally, but as an accomplice) to help ensure they feel fully supported and included at Otis, despite those who may make them feel otherwise.
Nick Negrete Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion is grounded in my commitment to access, equity, and social justice. Student success and inclusive excellence can only be achieved when an organization demonstrates an active commitment to diversity, both structural as well as through institutional policies. I have a personal background in racial and ethnic identity development, and have my own personal experiences growing into my own identity(ies) as a Queer ChicanX/LatinX man, having to navigate intersections of my own identities. My commitment to DEI continues to evolve as the world evolves, and I am committed to developing an environment of curiosity, openness, and advocacy for our community. I often function under the premise “just because you are, does not mean you understand.” In other words, regardless of how I identify, I must value and honor the unique experiences of others and not assume one’s experience based on our perceived similarities (or differences). In the words of Gloria Anzaldua, “I change myself, I change the world.”.