Art students advocate for more BIPOC-inclusive department

Students at the College of Fine Arts, pictured above, are pushing for racial representation within LMU's art curriculums. 

This August, current and graduated LMU Studio Arts Department students started an initiative toward change, stirred up by the issues of racial injustice that have been brought to the forefront of news cycles this past summer.

Recent alumni Simrah Farrukh (’20) and Fati Beck (’20) along with junior studio arts major José Camacho penned a letter to the Dean of the College of Communication and Fine Arts, the Assistant Dean, the Chair of Studio Arts and the Chair of Art History. The letter, signed by over thirty Art Department students and staff, calls for the College of Communication and Fine Arts (CFA) to provide its students with a more inclusive curriculum. This primarily means centering art by Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) in a largely white-representing program.

The demands listed by Farrukh, Beck and Camacho include active recruitment of BIPOC professors, updating of the curriculum to include notable BIPOC artists, providing proper credit for a Latinx/Hispanic Arts course, creating a Black Art History course distinct from African Art, expansion of Asian Art History courses to be more reflective of different cultures and more.

In a conversation with Camacho, he noted how confusing it can be to figure out who to talk to about demands, let alone how to enact real, substantial change in a university. Camacho also stated they felt compelled to explicitly address this letter to the Studio Arts and Art History departments because while they “recognize the university is working to be anti-racist, the real everyday change students will experience comes at the department level.”

Since the letter was received by the CFA dean, concrete steps have been taken to address the issues presented. An online hub for BIPOC students in CFA was created along with the hiring of a student worker to manage it. The CFA Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Steering Committee was created “to research and identify issues in all aspects of the college,” according to CFA Dean Bryant Alexander’s written response to these demands.

Letter co-author, José Camacho, was named a committee-member alongside other art students and faculty. Then on Monday, October 5th, Farrukh and Camacho facilitated a forum for students and faculty of CFA to share ideas and experiences relating to BIPOC inclusion.

For this forum, Farrukh and Camacho made a point of creating the Art and Art History Student Town Hall as a listening event to delve into how BIPOC art students can be better supported by the University. Faculty were present to actively listen only. The CFA dean granted permission to students with interfering class times to be excused of their absence in order to attend the event. Over 45 students and staff participated in this first town hall.

The goal of the town hall, according to Camacho, was to provide a space for students to express their ideas and surface other issues that need to be addressed within the department. Next step action items include facilitating regular town halls and continuing to put pressure on the university to create department level changes.

This issue of inclusion and representation is personal for many art students who feel the burden of having to do their own research outside of their course loads in order to learn about artists they identify with. Classes on topics such as Latinx Art may not count towards an Art History degree and offer no flags. The courses that do offer flags tend to have a western, Eurocentric focus. Camacho expresses the driving force behind why a course registration flag can have such an impact on a BIPOC student’s experience at LMU:

"By making and labeling these classes as core curriculum, we're labeling what we, as a university, believe in. If we believe in social justice, spiritual well-being and nourishment of the whole person, we should be including classes in our curriculum that identify with and center the comfort of our BIPOC students because all of our core curricula is white-based classes and white-based artists."

In another statement, Camacho calls on CFA and the university as a whole to not reflect what a standard, white male majority representing art gallery may look like, but rather reflect the lived experiences and meaningful contributions of the BIPOC artists of the world. In his own words, "We as a university have an obligation to not reflect the negative statistics of how the world is."

Studio Arts and Art History Department students and alumni continue to work with faculty in order to make CFA a space that is welcoming to and representative of its BIPOC students.

The original letter by Farrukh, Beck and Camacho closes with the following call to action: “It is time for BIPOC students to be given the long overdue educational environment that makes accessible and stimulates the mission of finding thy self through art, artists and art history with a familiar face, familiar tone and familiar message.”

This initiative taken up by Simrah Farrukh, Fati Beck and José Camacho reflects a growing urgency in the pursuit of social change and racial justice at LMU.

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