Introducing the IDEA Cooperative - Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access

This email from President Ravi Rajan introduced the IDEA Cooperative — Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, Access — to the CalArts community on Oct. 27, 2020.

Dear CalArtians,

We’ve begun the fall semester with the U.S. society facing a historic inflection point. In this moment, just before an important election, so much is coming to the fore, including this society’s longstanding problem of implicit cultural bias based upon race and gender.

As President, I implore each of us to ask two questions: How will we confront the structural, systemic, and societal bias threaded through our communities, and how will we honor our commitment to eradicate it?

At CalArts we haven’t yet fully lived up to our aspirational values of access, equity and inclusion. These values present for us, as for society, eternal goals -- things for which we have to continually strive. Moving forward we must do this work with intent, strength and conviction -- because we know that for many artists from underrepresented and minority backgrounds, joining the CalArts community remains opaque, or out of reach. 

To be fair, inclusion, diversity, equity, and access work has been part of the CalArts community for many years. Individual Schools and programs have had various initiatives over many years. The Institute hired its first Campus Diversity Officer in 2009. Together as an Institute, in the past three years we’ve conducted the first Campus-wide Climate Survey; aligned support for the Black Arts Collective and other student identity groups with ongoing institute diversity work; conducted a Gender Pronoun Initiative; created direct access to the diversity officer with a private email account at; supported the entire student body’s  participation in national and local justice movements (ex. Black Lives Matter protests and voter registration); and hosted listening sessions [virtual] for students from underrepresented, underserved, and minoritized populations.  

But as an Institute, we need to do more. We will do more. We will strive to include and create more access in ways that increases both representational and experiential diversity at CalArts, and thus in the world’s art-making communities.

Launching ‘IDEA’

This year I’m announcing a major initiative to help jump start our pursuit of inclusion, diversity, equity, and access: an IDEA Cooperative led by the Office of the President. This vital effort will begin in the fall semester, and continue on after, working to bring together and expand the things we have been doing, while fostering additional new initiatives.

Crucially, the structure of this collaborative is geared so that we can work together -- to allow us to better identify, foster, and spotlight the steps we must take to keep building an inclusive, anti-racist community, together. Our undertaking must make these conversations and measures more transparent, a criticism we have heard from students and alum. It should ultimately facilitate more access to sustainable financial support for IDEA work through grants, philanthropy, and open budgeting via the Institute’s established processes. 

It is my understanding that some inclusivity efforts in the past were not Institute-wide and may not have had broad leadership support. Thus, the IDEA Cooperative begins with the full support of the Institute’s entire leadership -- the CalArts Trustees have authorized up to $300,000 to be used from the Crisis Mitigation Reserve for the cooperative’s initial start-up costs, and will look for a clear delineation of the ongoing financial commitment for this work in any future annual budget proposed to them.

To ensure ongoing sustainability, the Institute must first perform a rigorous self-evaluation to identify any practices, structures, or individual behaviors that enable racism, sexism, or cultural, civil or social inequity. This first comprehensive “IDEA Assessment” will commence and complete this academic year, paving the way for an action plan to be formed that works to root out these practices, a set of actions to be followed by subsequent assessments so we can gauge our progress.

The action plan that results from this first IDEA Assessment must include some things we already know and have heard from the community. Importantly, it should lay-out the development and oversight of a specific process to address issues of discrimination under Title VI of the federal Civil Rights Act. The quality and quantity of these issues of discrimination in the past few years compel us to do so. Likewise, the plan must continue to support our earnest efforts to build relationships with communities where we have had no, or only limited, ties, including underrepresented racial and ethnic groups.

This year’s IDEA Initiatives

At this time of extraordinary financial pressure, this budgetary direction by the Trustees is no small commitment. As we put these resources in motion, Dr. Eva Graham, Title VI & Diversity Officer, will begin to use the title of Director of IDEA Programs. This year, our IDEA work will include the following key initiatives:

  • IDEA Assessment of CalArts: This evaluation, led by Dr. Benjamin D. Reese Jr., will identify seen and unseen structures, systems, practices, and traditions of bias, racism, and inequity within our community. It will include how we assess and advance our curriculum and pedagogy, the nomenclature we use, and our systems of governance and organization - including all Institute policies and practices. It will make note of cultural racism in the artistic practices represented and taught at CalArts, and the way we structure that work. Dr. Reese is one of the foremost experts in institutional issues of diversity, equity, inclusion, and racist structures and cultures in higher education. For 23 years he was the leader of diversity for Duke University. He has over 50 years’ experience in the fields of implicit bias, systemic and structural racism, and diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy, and has worked with over 50 colleges and universities in North America, most recently for Yale University and the University of Wisconsin System, to conduct broad assessments of their DEI work.
  • Leadership and Trustee Training: Dr. Reese will also work with CalArts leadership and Trustees to ensure they understand diversity, equity, inclusion, bias, and structural racism, and their responsibilies as leaders to dismantle any and all white supremacist structures that may exist here.
  • Title VI Discrimination Complaint Process: Dr. Reese also will assess our current processes and recommend a more transparent, central system to resolve discrimination complaints related to Title VI issues of race, color, or national origin. 
  • Ongoing Faculty and Staff Training: Starting this year, a systematic training approach will center on unconscious and implicit bias; structural racism; and inclusion, diversity, equity, and access. Dr. Bryant Marks and Dr. Tricia Rose will help us with this training, with Dr. Marks to conduct educational and training sessions on implicit bias directly with students and employees. He is a former senior advisor to the White House under President Barack Obama and founder of the National Training Institute on Race and Equity. Dr. Marks also will partner with Provost Tracie Costantino, faculty, and staff to create media that engage with understanding implicit bias – similar in nature to projects with the U.N.’s HeForShe initiative and the World Resources Institute.

    Dr. Rose will work on implicit bias and racist structures with faculty, create a repository of resources, and help us foment shifts in hiring practices that promote meaningful representation and cultural change. She is Chancellor’s Professor of Africana Studies and Director of the Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, both at Brown University. 
  • A Strengthened Focus on Indigenous Communities: In the spring we will seek to retain an expert who has experience in academia, is from an Indigenous heritage, and has experience directly working on programming and relationship building with Native nations. This person will embolden our work with and for Native American Indian communities and artists; help introduce new expertise in Indigenous studies; strengthen relationships with native communities; and build financial support to help Indigenous artists become a more active, present part of CalArts. This emphasis will include expanded educational opportunities for Native American students and their communities. 
  • Future Arts Leader Development: Through a partnership with the Posse Foundation and its founder, MacArthur Fellow Deborah Bial, we’ll seek to create the nation’s first Arts Posse. This leadership program for undergraduates will prepare a representationally diverse set of leaders and decision-makers in the arts sector, and support this CalArts Posse through significant financial aid and leadership programming for their entire undergraduate experience that follows the Posse model. Thanks to a grant made possible by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and Posse board Chair Brad Singer, we will begin work this year toward being able to recruit the first Arts Posse for fall 2022.

Ensuring Accountability and Commitment

Ensuring we’re accountable to ourselves through this work will be critical. To that end, we’ll create an IDEA Task Force that I will assemble and that includes both internal stakeholders from our faculty, staff, students, and trustees, and external ones with expertise at the intersection of race and other critical issues for our community, such as immigration, or indigenous studies. This task force, previously announced this summer, will meet quarterly on an ongoing basis to review the IDEA work of the Institute that took place in the previous quarter, and ensure that the Institute is making progress towards better living our values. The Task Force will do this through frank recommendations that will be published publicly to all. Transparency and accountability are paramount in this work.

Inclusion and social justice aren’t just goals – they’re our identity as CalArtians. We must strive to do as much as we can to live up to the reimagined mission, values, and strategic framework we adopted in March. Being accountable to our core principles won’t always be comfortable, but we must recognize our mistakes when we make them and explore ugly truths -- past, present, and future -- if we hope to move forward. We must be able to show progress in this both representationally and culturally. 

Ultimately, we seek to become a global model for inclusive artistic development, artistic study, and anti-racist cultural production. Through our work, we have the potential to raise unheard voices, broaden dialogue, introduce revelatory narratives, and do no less than transform society. Together, we can stand to intensify CalArts’ outsized impact on art-making all over the world. 

I believe that, in this moment, history calls us to this urgently, as does our collective conscience. It’s my honor and privilege to undertake this essential work together with each of you. Expect updates and opportunities for participation in the days to come.

With gratitude,