Visitors explore the Commons at Otis College of Art and Design

By Halley Sutton

Otis College of Art and Design was ranked in the top 1 percent of all colleges and universities in the nation for diversity by the Chronicle of Higher Education. In addition, the Chronicle placed Otis in the top 10 four-year private nonprofit colleges for student body diversity. But it’s not enough to simply be a campus with a diverse student body. Studies show that institutions with a greater satisfaction rating among diverse populations are more likely to retain those students through graduation.

That doesn’t happen by accident. It takes conscious planning, a commitment to equity, and support for all students.

In 2016, Otis College of Art and Design President Bruce W. Ferguson designated a Diversity and Inclusion Task Force dedicated to pursuing proactive initiatives that establish diversity and equity efforts in the classroom, in faculty hiring practices, and in supporting students of color on campus.

The Task Force is co-chaired by Jeffrey Stewart from the Department of Black Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and includes the following members: Dr. Carol D. Branch, Janet E. Dandridge, Cole M. James, Soo Kim, N. Silas Munro, Mahtem Shiferraw, Matthew Shenoda, Elias Wondimu. Former members include Jane Miyashiro and David Roy.

“Otis College has one of the most diverse student bodies in the nation. We want to continue to strengthen how diversity is acknowledged, celebrated, and reflected in and outside the classroom,” Ferguson said.

In 2016, Otis College hosted an all-faculty convocation that featured a keynote by Dr. Tia Brown McNair, Vice President of the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Student Support for the Association of American Colleges & Universities. Dr. McNair shared strategies for practices that can change the climate at an institution to ensure equity for all students.

In addition, Otis College sent a cohort to the 2018 Western Association of Schools and Colleges conference, The Diverse Campus: Intersecting Access and Equity across the Student Experience. That cohort returned to campus with best practices and ideas for innovation around the issue of diversity and equity to be shared among all faculty, administration, and staff.

A number of related initiatives have been rolled out through the Provost’s office, including a Faculty Learning Community that supports faculty development around the research and implementation of diversity-driven initiatives in the classroom. Faculty members can also apply for Curricular Diversification Grants, awarded to support faculty research about how to better infuse diversity into the curriculum. Otis College also maintains and updates professional development resources for faculty via its Library collections and YouTube channel, which include literature and video tutorials on best practices in leading productive discussions in the classroom, developing and implementing learning outcomes, and more to support equity of access in the classroom.

These curricular initiatives related to diversity have resulted in such recent course offerings as art history courses exploring the role of nonprofits in expanding women’s rights, how Oaxacan folk artists negotiate identity through Alebrijes sculptures, contemporary Hong Kong cinema, African-American musical impact, working with Junior Blind students, and more, as well as a variety of travel and study abroad opportunities for students.

In 2019, Otis College will host a symposium of the Association of Independent Colleges of Art and Design (AICAD). During the symposium, AICAD will share its own results in efforts to promote student, faculty, and staff diversity on its campuses. The symposium will provide an opportunity for attending college representatives to share best practices, challenges, and exciting innovations to ensure equity on their own campus.