This project was created for Fred Lynch's Journalistic Illustration class in the fall of 2019. Our task was to interview someone we didn't know very well. I chose to interview Ulli Ryder, the Director of Intercultural Student Engagement at RISD, and I wanted to challenge myself by creating a newspaper layout.
Here's the full interview text:
Ulli’s office is bright, well-decorated, and comfortable. I’m not used to being up here. I work in this building, the Ewing Multicultural Center, but usually in the room below, and not on Monday mornings. Today, I am here for a different reason – to conduct an interview with Ulli Ryder. 
    “Starting off, do you want to introduce yourself?”
    “I’m Ulli Ryder, and I am the Director of Intercultural Student Engagement at RISD.” Like many positions in student affairs, Ulli’s job title is wordy, but necessary, because her job is also pretty complicated. “Well, what do we do? We do everything,” she says. “The general mission is to support students of marginalized identities here at RISD. What that means in more practical terms is everything from doing programming, to advocacy for particular students, and then advocacy for all students of marginalized identities. In addition to overseeing programming, I also am having conversations...about issues of access and equity, more broadly, for the entire campus community. And I work very closely with Matthew Shenoda, in SEI.”
    SEI stands for Social Equity + Inclusion. This office, formed in the last few years and led by Matthew Shenoda, has the lofty goal of coordinating all of the institution’s diversity and inclusion efforts. As a student, I have a certain understanding of how RISD works from our side, but the big long-term diversity efforts are more of a mystery to me. Ulli can see both. I ask her about trying to make progress on diversity and inclusion, and what it looks like from a faculty and staff point of view.
    “I can give some examples!” Ulli describes to me some of the conversations she hears about RISD’s finances, and how tricky it is to support low-income students with RISD’s budget. Then, she mentions the in-progress project of renovating RISD’s first-year housing. “Homer is gonna go offline in June because it’s gonna be renovated. But that’s where the Pride and Reflection rooms are, so where do we put them? Because North Hall was built without space for those things,” The Pride and Reflection rooms are on-campus spaces for LGBTQIA and Spiritual communities to gather and utilize. “...There’s some anger about that. Also making sure that we’re in where these kinds of decisions are being made, that’s really important. Reminding people, you need to think about access. You need to think about pride and reflection rooms. You need to think about whether people with physical disabilities are gonna be able to access the space, all of those kinds of things. And trying to make sure that the whole campus is being mindful of that in the decision making process.”
    While there’s so much positive collaboration at RISD, it seems there’s also moments where certain voices aren’t heard. Even just between students and professors, there can sometimes be a huge gap in understanding one another. Ulli mentions this as she continues.
    “I mean, I feel for the faculty, in a way, because these are people who are trained as painters, or graphic designers, or architects, they’re not trained in diversity. And diversity is a thing that you actually have to learn,” She laughs. “And how to do it, and do it properly. So they don’t have that background, and they’re being asked to do a lot of things in the studio or in the classroom that require a certain level of cultural competence that they may or may not have just because of their backgrounds. So, one attempt at trying to help that is to have faculty workshops. Faculty are being given course releases, so they don’t have to teach one of their courses, so they can take a class on decolonizing their syllabus, for example. Which, I think, is a really great idea. And it’s a good incentive for faculty. It’s not an extra, it’s an even trade. You’re not gonna teach a class, but you’re gonna take a class.”
    I ask Ulli if she thinks, or hopes, that the young artists and designers coming out of RISD will feel an obligation to seek this kind of training. Her response is that understanding diversity and inclusion is necessary for everyone. “Having a certain level of cultural competence and awareness is just necessary to be a good person, as well as a good artist. Especially knowing students are going to be working in all sorts of different arenas...some of you will be working abroad with people who are very different from yourselves, or you’ll be working in companies where there’s a lot of diversity. So to be able to have a certain level of awareness and competence to be able to negotiate those differences in your working lives is actually really important.”
    Our conversation shifts to what Ulli loves about RISD. Besides the students, she says she just loves to be surrounded by art. Creative genes run in her family.
Her father, Mahler B. Ryder, was actually an illustration professor and activist known for his diversity work at
RISD in the 70’s and 80’s. Her father’s art decorates her office. “So, one of the things I like is that I feel like I’m carrying that on. Like, I’m my own person and I’m doing it my own way, but there’s also a connection there...I mean, he used to picket in front of Carr Haus,” she explains. Carr Haus is another RISD building which houses student affairs offices. One of Mahler Ryder’s paintings also hangs in a stairwell there.
    Ulli is clearly passionate about activism, especially for students. “Frankly, I always say this, every place I work, the students are the only ones really that have power. Because all of the rest of us are employees. We cost the college money. You’re keeping the lights on. You make the college happen. So you have an enormous amount of power.”
    “You should tell that to the freshmen,” I tell her.
    “I want to keep my job though!” She says, through laughter. “I think, maybe it’s a responsibility to older students, and students who have had experience here to pass that on...If you care about the institution and you care about the kind of education that’s being given here, then I think it does matter, to pass back and pass on whatever you’ve learned. Your strategies for getting through. But also, where are the places where you can make a difference?”
    After a long conversation about student activism, there is a knock on the office door. A student is asking for Ulli’s help with something, so I take just a few more minutes to ask my final questions.
    “What is one thing you wish RISD students knew?”
    “The wheels of education move very, very slowly. I know students really want immediate acting on things, but that’s not always possible. But that doesn’t mean nothing’s happening. There has to be a conversation, then there needs to be a committee, then there needs to be a taskforce, then there needs to be a working group. So, it just takes a while...and figuring out where the money’s gonna come from.”
    As we finish up, I ask if Ulli has any final thoughts
to share. “Just that I invite everybody no matter what
their identity is to come to Ewing. I think that people who are white, cisgender, straight - they don’t necessarily feel like this is a place for them. But it’s a place for everybody. It’s the multicultural center, and everybody is a part of multicultural. It’s not just for people of color or LGBTQIA students, it’s for everybody.”
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