December 23, 2021

Crystal Williams named 18th president

Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)

Crystal Williams. Photo: Jo Sittenfeld.

Rhode Island School of Design’s Board of Trustees is pleased to announce the appointment of Crystal Williams as the institution’s 18th president effective April 1, 2022. Currently Boston University’s vice president and associate provost for community & inclusion, Williams was selected after an international search for a leader with the capability and passion to educate artists, designers and scholars for a rapidly changing future, and one with the global vision to guide RISD’s role in helping to create a more just, fair and sustainable society. For more information, please visit here.

“When we began the search for RISD’s 18th president, we sought candidates with not just the experience, education and wisdom that the job requires, but also receptivity, an aesthetic sensibility, the skill to communicate in a community that trades in images and materials, and something even more intangible: a deep, abiding empathy that can bind us all together,” notes RISD Board of Trustees Chair Michael Spalter. “We found all of that and more in Crystal Williams. Crystal shares our strong conviction in the critical role art and design play in shaping our world, and she has the expertise and qualities of leadership needed to meet the urgency of this moment and take RISD into the future. We are thrilled that she has accepted our invitation to be our next president.”

When launching the search for RISD’s 18th president, the institution’s Board of Trustees convened a 15-member search committee that included RISD faculty, staff, alumni, parents and trustees, and an 11-member student advisory council. The search, which began last winter and was co-chaired by four trustees, started with a listening tour to solicit ideas and input from across RISD’s community. Isaacson, Miller, a search firm with substantial art and design knowledge and experience identifying higher education leadership nationwide, supported the search process. After considering more than 100 candidates from around the globe, the search committee unanimously recommended Williams to become RISD’s next leader.

Williams brings more than two decades of higher education experience to RISD and she is an accomplished leader, collaborator and community builder. Throughout her career Williams has been an institutional catalyst, helping to envision, define and achieve greater outcomes for students, faculty and staff. As a faculty member, she advanced artistic inquiry and engagement and, as a leader, she has focused on ensuring that institutions are more effective, mission-aligned and diverse, equitable and inclusive. Williams began her career teaching at Reed College where she became a faculty activist, collaborating with colleagues to envision and catalyze a more inclusive and diverse institution. As a result, Williams was appointed the college’s inaugural dean for institutional diversity. She moved on to similarly catalytic roles first at Bates College, where Williams was the college’s first associate vice president for strategic initiatives, and then Boston University, where she also served in inaugural roles, first as associate provost for diversity & inclusion and currently as vice president and associate provost for community & inclusion.

An award-winning poet and essayist, Williams has published four collections of poems, and her work is part of MoMA’s Poetry Project, a tour of poems responding to pieces in the museum’s permanent collection. The daughter of an educator and a musician, Williams was raised in Detroit, MI and Madrid, Spain and holds degrees from New York University and Cornell University. Please find more information about Williams below.

“I entered this search because I believe in the value of art and design to elevate and amplify the human experience, and to narrate who we have been and who we can become,” notes RISD President-Elect Williams. “Art, education, and equity and justice are the three foundational focuses of my life and everything about me—who I am as a teacher, a writer, a leader, friend, daughter and human—are in accord with RISD’s mission, areas of focus and social equity and inclusion goals. Having the opportunity to serve as RISD’s president, to sustain and build on RISD’s core strengths and work on behalf of its extraordinary students, faculty, staff and alumni is a profound honor.”

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