February 2021 DEAI Update

Since the last update in November 2020, BGC has continued its DEAI efforts throughout the institution.

Alumni Dialogues
Ama Codjoe, the independent social justice consultant working with Bard Graduate Center, facilitated a final discussion with BGC alums and current students on December 8. The purpose of this meeting was to get clarity on top of recommendations for improving diversity, equity, access, and inclusion at BGC going forward and to discuss how alumni and students would like to be involved in those efforts. Codjoe has met with Director Susan Weber, Dean Peter Miller, and Chief Operating Officer Tim Ettenheim twice since the Alumni Dialogues concluded to share her impressions and recommendations. Dean Miller is working on a response to alums regarding next steps that will be sent via email and posted on the BGC website by the end of February.

Staff members Nadia Rivers, coordinator of Public Programs, Education, and Education, and Maggie Walter, coordinator of Marketing, Communications, and Design, developed a BGC-community newsletter called 86th Street Stories to help unite students, faculty, and staff while working from home. Each issue includes an up-to-date list of social justice resources they have compiled for those looking to take action. The Black History Month issue of 86th Street Stories includes an annotated bibliography of new acquisitions in the BGC Library and presents events and exhibitions, all of which explore decorative arts, design history, and material culture through the lens of Blackness. Finally, Maggie has conducted research to spotlight Black artists, makers, curators, and scholars in fields related to BGC’s areas of focus on social media, and she continues to work with BGC students to conduct research and write social media posts all throughout the year that focus attention on BIPOC people, scholarship, objects, and materials in the decorative arts, design history, and material culture.

Faculty members Meredith Linn and Aaron Glass have launched a new course called “Unsettling Things: Expanding Conversations in Studies of the Material World” that aims to examine “three important, and often interrelated, modes of fostering diversity in our fields: expanding topical contents and subjects for research; foregrounding previously marginalized voices and scholars; and engaging with existing or developing new approaches, theories, and methods that are widely applicable in the humanities.”

Meredith reported, “The course is going well. We’ve created a Wordpress website in lieu of a course wiki, with the idea that parts of it could, at some point, be shared more easily with the BGC community and perhaps with the public. In addition to the syllabus section, we’re also building out a resource section as we go, to which students will contribute. Additionally, the students’ major project for the course will be to develop an online resource about a topic of their choosing that is related to the theme of the course. The idea is that this resource could be used by other students or instructors as a place to start their research or lesson planning. The online resource will contain
  • a short overview and literature review about the topic

  • an annotated bibliography

  • an essay focusing on an object that illustrates and illuminates the topic in ways that other sources alone might not

  • other components and media of the students’ choice, such as a lesson plan for a class, a course syllabus, a short research paper, an interview, and something else that they propose.

“We’ve just completed the first section of the course, which aimed to introduce the students to foundational scholars, works, and terms and vocabulary in critical studies, specifically in the areas of post-Marxism, post-structuralism, and postcolonialism. These three courses were led by Peter Miller, Aaron Glass, and me, respectively. As of the week of February 8, we’re moving into the second section of the course, in which we will discuss contemporary approaches to Indigenous, African American, intersectional feminist, disability, and queer studies. These classes will be led by experts in these fields, many from outside BGC. After spring break, we’ll move into the third section, and focus on additional important topics (again aided by our colleagues and guests), including decentering whiteness, post-orientalism, Oceania and alternative modernities, monuments and memory, and narratives, storytelling, and oral history.

“The class is full, between registered students and PhD auditors. We’ve also had a few visitors from time to time—outside lecturers who will be presenting later in the course and some of our BGC colleagues. I think I can speak for both Aaron and myself in saying that we’ve been learning a lot, and we wish each class meeting was longer! The topic of each meeting could be a whole course (or two). There’s always so much more to discuss, and the students have been asking terrific questions and offering very thoughtful comments. We really hope that the conversations we start in class will spill over into others outside our virtual classroom.”

DEAI Working Group
BGC’s DEAI Working Group (Samantha Baron, Amy Estes, Minna Lee, Meredith Linn, Earl Martin, Caspar Meyer, Laura Minsky, Emily Reilly, Carla Repice, Hellyn Teng, Heather Topcik) met with Ama Codjoe in January to share progress on fall semester projects and discuss ideas for the Working Group’s future. The group also welcomed new member Samantha Baron, who had already been working closely with the team focused on hiring recommendations.

The Curriculum team (Meredith Linn, Caspar Meyer, Carla Repice) has scheduled a training workshop for faculty and PhD students with the aim of promoting equity and inclusion in our pedagogical practice. The first workshop, led by Patricia Felisa Barbeito, Dean of Faculty, Professor of American Literatures, and Director of the Teaching and Learning Lab at the Rhode Island School of Design, will be held on February 18. It will focus on “Creating an Inclusive Syllabus: Laying the Groundwork for Student-Centered Teaching.” The curriculum team also convened a faculty conversation to reflect on the Alumni Dialogues in fall, which was followed by a conversation on teaching at the beginning of the spring semester.

The Hiring team (Samantha Baron, Minna Lee, Emily Reilly, Hellyn Teng, Heather Topcik) continues to work on rewording job descriptions to include appropriate DEAI language to encourage a diverse pool of applicants and creating a toolkit for hiring new staff. Its recommendations will be presented to the Managing Committee in April. The toolkit includes rubrics for candidate assessments; interview questions that support the goal of increasing diversity, equity, access, and inclusion; guidelines for organizing panels for interviews; standard procedures for the hiring process to ensure that all BGC searches adhere to the same values and goals regarding diversity, equity, access, and inclusion.

The Student Recruitment team (Amy Estes, Earl Martin, and Laura Minsky) shared their research and work-in-progress. They plan to deliver their recommendations to Keith Condon, director of admissions, and the Management Committee before the end of February.

In the discussion about the Working Group’s future, some ideas that were raised for consideration included
  • term limits for the group’s members

  • the pros and cons of some “senior” members staying on for an extra year to help newcomers acclimate versus starting with an all-new slate of members

  • concerns that BGC isn’t making bigger changes, more quickly

  • the benefits of small groups tackling projects they identify to improve diversity, equity, access, and inclusion at BGC

  • the value of asking department heads what would help them incorporate the values of DEAI into their existing work

  • the desire for Management Committee to provide clarity about the institution’s overall priorities and commitments around DEAI work, so the Working Group can select projects that fit into a larger framework

  • the desire for DEAI efforts at BGC to belong to the entire community, not only to a small Working Group.

Emily Reilly, Director of Public Engagement at BGC, is working with BGC designer Jocelyn Lau, website manager Hellyn Teng, and associate curator Emma Cormack, as well as LaGuardia Community College faculty members Filip Stabrowski (anthropology) and Liena Vayzman (art history), to create a second installation of Connecting Threads, an online exhibition curated by LaGuardia Community College students that reveals the unique histories and meanings of clothing and other objects of adornment. LaGuardia Community College is recognized for its diverse student body and the largest English as a Second Language program in New York City, and the diversity of the students is reflected in the objects they select for the exhibition.

In March, BGC will begin offering virtual tours of its popular French Fashion, Women, and the First World War exhibition, which was on view in the BGC Gallery in fall 2019. For one tour each week, American Sign Language interpretation will be provided.

Carla Repice, Senior Director of Education, Engagement, and Interpretation is working with assistant professor Meredith Linn, independent social justice consultant Ama Codjoe, coordinator of public engagement Nadia Rivers, and several Teen Thinkers to plan a professional development workshop for New York City school teachers about Seneca Village (the predominantly African American community that the city displaced in 1857 during the construction of Central Park) centering the voices of Black scholars and stakeholders with contributions from the young people of the Lab for Teen Thinkers. The workshop will be held on June 3, Chancellor’s Day.


Early in 2021 Bard Graduate Center announced the appointment of Arjun Appadurai—an internationally recognized scholar in contemporary social-cultural anthropology and the cultural dynamics of globalization—as Max Weber Global Professor, effective July 1, 2021. Dean Peter Miller contextualized the development saying, “This is an exciting moment in the history of the institution and opens a glimpse towards a future where our collaborative intellectual venture extends further and the strands of the inquiry launched here 27 years ago grow ever denser and more fruitful.” Dr. Appadurai’s research and teaching at BGC will focus on the intersection of material culture studies, anthropology, social history, and economics.

Fields of the Future Institute
The Fields of the Future Institute (FFI) is a new initiative at BGC that aims to expand the sources, questions, practices, perspectives, practitioners, and audiences of interdisciplinary humanities scholarship. It operates through a series of programming initiatives that explore how our intellectual landscape should change by posing new questions and suggesting new ways to answer old questions, and by bringing new voices into the scholarly conversation. FFI’s initiatives intersect with BGC’s DEAI efforts in that many of them explicitly aim to bring more Black, Indigenous, and people of color to the fields of decorative arts, design history, and material culture and elevate their voices.

Programs included under the umbrella of FFI include

  • the Lab for Teen Thinkers, a public humanities program geared toward New York City public school students that prepares rising juniors and seniors for future academic and professional success through paid civic development, mentoring, and internship opportunities

  • BGC’s collaboration with CUNY-LaGuardia Community College, in which LaGuardia faculty in the social sciences, staff in the LaGuardia archives, and BGC faculty, staff, and doctoral students engage LaGuardia students in a two-course sequence that leads to an exhibition in the BGC Gallery or online

  • BGC’s Undergraduate Summer School in Decorative Arts, Design History, and Material Culture, an intensive, two-week program on material culture studies that is open to rising juniors and seniors and to recent college graduates. The summer 2021 course “Re-Dress and Re-Form: Intersectionality in the History of Fashion and Design, 1850 to Today,” will introduce students to the history of design and fashion in the United States and Europe from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day with a focus on how conceptions of race, gender, and class have shaped the world of goods as we know it.

  • the Fields of the Future fellowship program, which aims to help promote diversity and inclusion in the advanced study of the material world that specifically prioritizes applicants from historically underrepresented groups in the field, and/or projects of related thematic focus. This year’s fellows include Beeta Baghoolizadeh, Elizabeth Guffey, Yannis Hamilakis, and Charmaine A. Nelson.

  • the Fields of the Future podcast, which amplifies the voices and highlights the work of scholars, artists, and writers who are injecting new narratives into object-centered thinking

  • and the Fields of the Future fund, created to provide current BGC students and alums with financial support to pursue projects that bring new voices or narratives into the study of decorative arts, design history, and material culture.

BGC’s Board of Directors approved a $12,000 annual Quarter Century Scholarship to support students who reflect identities or research pursuits traditionally underrepresented in the decorative arts, design history, and material culture. The Quarter Century Scholarship will be awarded for the first time in fall 2021.

Last month, BGC librarians Sebastian Moya and Chantal Sulkow created an annotated bibliography of the library’s recent acquisitions that explore decorative arts, design history, and material culture through the lens of Blackness.

Racial Justice Training
In December, all BGC faculty, staff, and board members completed racial justice training facilitated by Equity Allies. (Ama Codjoe conducted racial justice training for students in September.) In addition, Ama attended BGC’s December board meeting to reflect on her perceptions of BGC’s evolution in the areas of diversity, equity, access, and inclusion and to share recommendations for the future.

Seminar Series
BGC celebrates the twentieth anniversary of the Seminar Series this year. Dean Peter Miller commented that the series was created to ensure a “constant parade of new voices and new questions … designed to make sure that our in-house conversation neither stagnated nor grew self-satisfied.” The programming for this semester launched on January 21 with a presentation by BGC library artist-in-residence Jenny Tobias and closes on May 19 with the final installment of the Leon Levy Foundation Lectures in Jewish Material Culture given by Seth Schwartz. In between, a diverse group of more than 50 speakers—including scholars from many institutions, some of whom are BGC Fields of the Future Fellows, alumni, and faculty members—present on a diverse range of topics. A small sampling of subjects represented in the series includes alternative curatorial approaches to presenting Indigenous arts; a close examination of unique objects through the lens of disability that engages definitions of “modernity” and directs our attention to hidden “ableist” conventions and assumptions that can be embedded in object-oriented study; fashion exhibitions in a changing landscape; the history of the casting couch; the lasting impact of Mary Jones, a nineteenth-century Black transgender sex worker, in art, performance, and scholarship; the role that digital technologies can play in exploring lost and marginalized voices and cultures; the impact of the carceral state on contemporary art and culture; and the Memorial for Enslaved Laborers at the University of Virginia; among many others. View and register for events here.

BGC designer Jocelyn Lau spearheaded an effort in the Marketing, Communications, and Design department to identify BIPOC-owned businesses and BIPOC freelancers to add to the department’s list of go-to printers, makers of custom promotional projects, designers, photographers, videographers, writers, editors, and others. The Public Programs, Education, and Engagement department has joined in this effort.