As I near the end of my 5th semester at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago I find commonalities of the POC experience here. Being a student at this institution has afforded me many positives and negatives, thus here I am speaking on a resounding negative many of us face.
On Tuesday April 12th I took a vow, a vow of silence in my class to represent the ever-present silence during the critique of minority student’s identity based work within this institution. For those of us who present work based on our racial background, politically charged current events, and general work that relates to an identity not as often spoken about within a predominantly white institution (PWI) we often find that our critiques are lacking in conversation on the topics in which we speak on. Along with my vow of silence I wore a hand made mussel, had print outs of my written vow of silence, and was ready to hand them out whenever approached. An important factor in this was that student or faculty had to specifically be addressing me to receive a handout with the information.
On this day the critique process had been rather informal leaving me last as everyone else had verbally decided when to go. Once it was on me to show work I was asked if I was ready to which I handed one of our instructors the slip. Silence and confusion filled the room. I had been carrying a pile of these slips to pass out each time I was spoken to, yet this had been the first time. As the silence continued there were motions and eye contact was made as I am used to within these settings, but no one had addressed me yet. Once the first classmate, Sydney, had asked for a slip
*********Sydney asked for a print out
Chase asked if I have seen the silent room and said that these issues parallel other schools. If you make work about race, gender, or any of those type of things people only critic the formal aspects of the piece, but never address the actual topic at hand.
*silence* Fraser(instructor) asks if we can meet back at the classroom and discuss the show doe to the silence. I too though this was the end of the conversation.
Tiana saying we should have a discussion on our opinions even though I wasn’t going to talk. Asked everyone how they resonate with this even if they haven’t experienced it.
Caroline mentioned she was being silent in this performance to processing this statement.
Tiana There was an Asian woman who had been presenting at a seminar on injustice. She had a situation where a room of African Americans weren’t engaging in her conversation. She was indirectly speaking. She was saying ‘low income community’ and things instead of ‘black communities’. Just like in critiques we’re scared to say one wrong thing, we avoid it.
Eala It is a powerful statement and we are all definitely aware of this piece you’re wearing during the other crits. It was important that we have to ask for it.
Claire Are you going to do a performance at the show. Confused/ not sure I understand is this issue due to a lack of numbers/diversity/representation of students of color or is it due to the uncomfortableness.
Sydney Didn’t want to speak for me, but it’s a contributing factor that contributes to the discomfort and problem at hand.
Sarah was saying that it was well into being here for two and a half years before she figured out how to critique. She was saying that the school needs to take responsibility and teach it’s students how to critique outside of formality. Sophomore seminar is too late to start teaching students how to talk about work; you’ve already had so many courses by then.
Tiana says different groups on campus such as Black @ SAIC and Latinx Unidx have been trying to make more of a requirement on how to speak to one another and deal with awareness and microagressions. And she wonders what the school will do
Caroline I thought Microaggressions are a big part of it, I hadn’t realized I was hurting people by not being a part of the conversation
Chase A lack of awareness and wanting to not be aware of the issue is continuing it
Eala People don’t ask questions because they’re afraid of looking unaware, but the best thing you can do is ask questions.
Aay I’ve been hesitant to speak in the beginning because this should be between us, but as an instructor has a lot of responsibility and if they don’t fill that role students have the role to fill. I’ve heard from plenty of students that this is an issue. In other departments, other instructors, and even this department that is an issue, but I know in my classes I start with a conversation on my work that opens up the students to be interested and conversational about these topics. A lot of students are scared of failure and confrontations. The two things that he sees the most. It’s hard to fail a class here, so what they’re really scared of is confrontation and being embarrassed. *******
Attending a PWI where roughly 82% of the faculty is White/non-Hispanic and we don’t often discuss non-formalized critiques, I am left disheartened and unsurprised. This leaves 7% Asian or Pacific Islander, 6% Hispanic, and 5% African American. As students our demographic break down is 37.2% White, 10.9%Asian or Pacific Islander, 9.6% Hispanic, 3.8% African American, 0.1% American Indian, 2.5% Multiethnic, 4.8% Not Specified as listed on SAIC’s website. When the body at large isn’t having these conversations it is easy for students not to know how to have them on their own. As mentioned, when an instructor isn’t filling that role it is then upon the student. When you security guards and janitorial service, who receive poor treatment, it becomes harder to start these conversations on your own. It becomes harder to make informed work and feel that it matters outside of your institution when it isn’t reflected within.