Five Questions With Matthew Shenoda

5Q: Matthew Shenoda | Social equity and inclusion vice president, Rhode Island School of Design


1. You’ve held the inaugural position of social equity and inclusion vice president at RISD for eight months. What impact have you had on campus? My greatest impact thus far has been the presence of an individual on campus who is deeply focused on and charged with engaging issues of social equity and inclusion in an academic space. In an environment as dynamic as Rhode Island School of Design, carving out space for intentionality is crucial.

2. You’ve held similar positions at different schools, how does your work at RISD stand out?  The issues RISD faces are the issues many institutions face, but the context of RISD, like all institutions, has its own unique histories, points of strength, structures and challenges.

RISD has been able to hone, with great success, truly spectacular experiences and engagements.

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At the same time, its unwavering focus on building the kind of art and design institution we are has also meant living outside certain social trends or more-diverse experiences. The challenge is balancing these things.

3. Before your arrival, RISD published its Social Equity and Inclusion Action Plan to address “the systemic forces of bias and inequality.” How has this document evolved since its publication in September 2017 and what role have you had in its dissemination? The plan had been thoroughly disseminated before my arrival, so that has not been a central focus of mine. Instead, my focus has been on how we work from and beyond the plan towards action and next steps.

4. What challenges do local schools face in terms of social equity and inclusion and what advice would you give to overcome them? The challenges are largely ones faced by all [schools] – access, diversity of faculty and bodies of knowledge – but on a local level, there is a good deal of work to be done to properly integrate the larger Providence community into these institutions.

5. As higher education evolves, do you feel positions like yours will grow in number? This seems to be the trend, though it does not mean it is always the best method. In some cases, these positions are necessary launching pads to begin a certain set of conversations and practices. But, where [these positions] sit within institutional cultures, and how they evolve, is an essential part of the ­conversation.