May 29, 2020: COVID-19 Update

For the latest updates visit COVID-19 Updates.

Dear Members of the RISD Community,

Campus today is eerily quiet. On what would have originally been the day before Commencement, RISD would be bustling with students and their families busy celebrating at department receptions, visiting the numerous end-of-year shows, or dining at many of Providence’s famed restaurants and eateries. Instead we are dispersed around the globe, each doing our part to protect ourselves and our loved ones from a pandemic that upended our semester and our lives.

I have watched the RISD community display compassion, dedication and enormous creativity during a time of crisis—from the staff that worked around the clock to help our students move out of the residence halls on a moment’s notice, to the faculty and support staff that quickly translated their courses online and worked to ensure their students had access to technology, materials and resources, to the students who cared so much for each other’s well-being that they started their own GoFundMe campaign to support each other. To say that my love for RISD has deepened is an understatement. Each of you is a testament to our educational imperative as well as to the shared sacrifice that we have all made to protect the health and safety of our fellow human beings.

While this historic moment has revealed many aspects of the strength of united humanity, it has also shown cracks that continue to widen in our society. In the US, the harsh realities of the racial health disparities that cause people of color to experience far higher incidences of severe illness and death is extremely disturbing and a reminder of our need for systemic change. And in current news, the attacks on black individuals such as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and Christian Cooper have outraged and once again reopened wounds, exposing the fact that the strong hand of racism still tightly grips our country. My heart goes out to everyone who is personally shaken by these horrific events. I share your outrage. While this pandemic has changed much about how RISD operates—and will continue to—our values and strategic priorities remain the same. We are committed to social equity and justice and will continue to work to empower each one of our community members to make change in the world in multiple capacities. Know that even during a time in which you may feel isolated, your voice is powerful and our collective voice as a community is stronger than ever. Our campus remains a place where every individual is safe and valued.

Tomorrow, that collective voice will be audible in the virtual celebration of RISD 2020 graduates. I am so proud of this graduating class. It is full of individuals who will make positive impact in the world through their work and actions. So much of the final work that I was able to view in critiques made evident our students’ passions about using their talents to make a better future. I hope you will honor our newest graduates by tuning in at 9 am EDT on (note that it will be available after this time for those of you across time zones). While we cannot yet be together in person to honor these graduates, we can still celebrate their extraordinary accomplishments and the conferral of their degrees. We look forward to holding Commencement when COVID-19 circumstances permit.

I want to close by thanking each of you. The last part of this semester was unlike anything we could have expected, but out of upheaval many unexpected creations emerged, along with new collaborations, shared moments and discoveries. Your commitment made this possible, and for that I am forever grateful. And moreover, this time showed clearly that the creative assertion, buoyed by the strength of a RISD education, thrives in circumstances of uncertainty and change as artists and designers find their own pathways for voicing what their urgent beliefs and perspectives need to say. Congratulations to all of our students and particularly to the class of 2020!

Rosanne Somerson

Information & Support Resources

If you are a student in need of any kind of assistance, please contact For staff and faculty, our 24/7 confidential employee assistance program (EAP) is available to you, your dependents and members of your household through our partner, AllOne Health (1-800-451-1834).

The Center for Student Involvement is organizing many virtual gatherings each week. Find out what is planned and subscribe to Word Out to stay up-to-date on events and resources.

Everyone on campus must wear a face covering when in all RISD facilities, except when you are alone in private offices or rooms. If you do not have one, please contact Public Safety Deputy Chief Anna Brookes at

For the latest information from RISD on COVID-19 and answers to frequently asked questions, please visit

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