An Artist's Ascent: RISD President Crystal Williams in Conversation with Providence Artist Nafis M. White

Lauren Clem, Nafis M. White, Crystal Williams, Rhode Island Monthly, September 1, 2022

The September 2022 edition of Rhode Island monthly featured an article about the new President of RISD in conversation with gallery artist Nafis M. White. 


WHITE: When I and others heard you were coming to RISD, we were beside ourselves with joy. When I came in, there were a lot of challenges as an undergrad and graduate  student. There were sit-ins, there were actions, there were ways in which we as a student body moved together to change representation, to make a way to have our teachers and our staff members come from communities that represent us. We wanted curriculum really looked at; the board of trustees. We had all of these different things happening in simultaneity in these cycles that kept building. And when I learned, I was euphoric that you were coming here. As a Black woman, I thought, ‘Wow, this is a moment. Perhaps RISD is ready. RISD is ready 

now for some prolific change.’ Because I think the thing that I had noticed, and the biggest challenge I had when I was here, was the talk of change instead of actualized change.


WILLIAMS: Oh, thank you, Nafis. I have been so honored to be here among RISD artists and makers and thinkers. It’s been a great first several months! You know, your way of thinking about my being here is something I’ve heard often as I meet and talk with alumni and current students, staff and faculty. One of the things that interests me about representation and this moment is that my appointment was the result of a collective effort — catalyzed by students, faculty, staff and ultimately, the board of trustees. To your point, the community said, ‘We’ve been talking about change and we’ve been engaged in some good work, and now we want to double down on that work.’


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