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Otis College Announces New Initiatives to Support Black Students

Dear Otis Community,

Confronting overt and subtle racism against Black people is a critically important issue facing the country, the art and design world, and Otis. As a community committed to lifelong learning we must reflect on and address the impact of systemic racism throughout our society.  Otis is committed to better understanding how systemic racism can impact our community and to ensuring that we do everything we can to eliminate its impact on our community, for the future of all of our students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

We want to thank all our students, alumni, faculty, and staff who came forward to share their personal experiences at Otis during the recent open forums. We acknowledge the courage it took for each of you to share your stories. They were difficult, though essential, for us to hear. We also acknowledge that it should not be the responsibility of Black students, staff, faculty, and alumni to educate non-Black members of our community about racism, discrimination, bias, and other experiences that result in marginalization. White members of our community need to take the time to fully reflect on and educate themselves about their own white privilege in order to engage in meaningful conversations around racism and systemic racism.

This is the beginning of a new moment of opportunity in Otis's history, one that will be judged by the actions the College takes to build a new culture. We know these issues will not be solved overnight. They are deeply rooted, entangled, and constantly evolving. We have received hundreds of comments and suggestions for how we can move forward, and each area of the College—including Academic Affairs, Alumni Relations, Campus Life, Communications and Marketing, and Human Resources and Development—is working on specific ways to address the issues that were raised.

As promised, today's statement is a first step in laying out a framework for how Otis will support Black members of our community, from outreach and recruitment of pre-college Black students from our local communities, to supporting Black students, faculty, staff, and alumni.

New Initiatives

We are taking these first five steps and will continue to update you in the coming weeks as we have more specifics about how they will be implemented:

1. Otis College commits to being an antiracist institution. We need to work together to change the culture of the College to one that actively works against racism in all its subtle and overt forms. Toward this goal we will hire an outside diversity and inclusion consulting and training organization to audit the college on diversity, equity, and inclusion objectively so that we have a clear and unbiased benchmark from which to continue this work.

2. We will create and empower a diversity, equity, and inclusion executive role that will be part of the Senior Team and report directly to the President. This person will help hold Otis accountable for the work across all areas of the College, from recruitment of Black faculty and the classroom experience, to reexamining the grievance and adjudication process, including the investigation procedure college-wide.

3. We will institute mandatory antiracism training for all students, faculty, staff, and trustees. We need to ensure that everyone in our community understands antiracism, and that we build a shared vocabulary across the College.

4. We commit $1.5 million in aid for culturally diverse and underserved students for the 2020-21 school year.

5. We will offer 8 additional scholarships to students for the 2020 Summer of Art program through partnering with local high schools in the communities surrounding Otis. We also will work with these schools to offer additional support for their arts programs throughout the year.

Strengthening Our Current Work

In addition, we will continue efforts in the following areas:

1. Faculty Learning Community: This faculty-led committee has been meeting since 2017. They are committed to empowering faculty, especially BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) members, to examine and design further curricular initiatives and pursue sustained implementation of antiracist, diverse, equitable, and inclusive curriculum for our students.

2. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council: This council was formed earlier this year to help the College build an inclusive culture. Led by Karen Hill, Vice President of Human Resources and Development, the Council is made up of faculty, staff, students, and members of the Senior Team. This group is responsible for making policy recommendations related to diversity, equity, and inclusion, developing a strategic diversity plan, providing a campus voice for diversity issues, and providing a forum for long-term planning, among other goals.

3. Campus Life Retention and Engagement Committee: This Campus Life group has been meeting since February 2020. Some of the Committee’s recommendations include a Students of Color Retreat and a Black Artist and Designer Scholars Program.

4. Working Strategic Plan: Our current strategic plan includes many items connected with and related to issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion. You can read the Working Strategic Plan here.

This is just the beginning. We will continue to listen as we move forward. A series of Town Meetings will be scheduled for 2020-2021 to share progress on these plans, to hear additional feedback from the community, and to discuss new steps forward. These Town Meetings will take place in September, January, March, and June, and will be followed up with communications to keep progress transparent.

Many in the alumni forum have expressed a desire to continue their involvement in this movement for change. Thank you for your pledges of support. If you want to get involved, we encourage you to contact Director of Alumni Relations, Hazel Mandujano, at hmandujano@otis.edu.

Thank you to all who have spent time sharing your perspectives over the last two weeks, and for showing your commitment to the College and for building a bright future for our students.

Sincerely,

Charles Hirschhorn                      Mei-Lee Ney
President                                       Chair, Board of Trustees