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News . Feature Stories . An interview with CIA’s Black Scholars and Artists club


May 03, 2019

An interview with CIA’s Black Scholars and Artists club

“It's just crazy just how I can have a group of people that experience these feelings like I do.”

Gigie Santiago, Renaissance Bernard, Edward Valentin Lugo, and Alisa Reid

From left to right: Gigie Santiago, Renaissance Bernard, Edward Valentin Lugo, and Alisa Reid.

By Jessica Moore

"All are welcome. Bring a friend." That's what Alisa Reid wants you to know about CIA's Black Scholars and Artists (BSA) club. Reid, a senior in Ceramics, serves as the club's president and has been part of BSA since it began.

The all-inclusive club serves as a safe place for black students and other minorities to share their experiences. “It's to create a community, a safe space for people who feel kind of left out,” Gigie Santiago says. The sophomore Game Design student and BSA secretary adds, “It's easier to have a club like this so that we can find each other, and we can discuss issues that we go through.”

The club consists of about 15 students and is advised by staff members Caprice Odom, financial aid counselor, and Delores Hall, associate director of financial aid. In addition to Reid and Santiago, students Edward Valentin Lugo ’19 (secretary), Renaissance Bernard ’21 (sergeant at arms), and Malcolm Cochran ’19 (sergeant at arms) round out the club’s board.

Members of the group sat down with us ahead of their community mixer to tell us more about the club. Here are excerpts from the interview, which have been edited for length and clarity.

Can you tell me about your club?
Our vision is to be an agent of transformation within the institution as well as the local and global community. And so, for us, our group is a way for black students to have a safe space to talk, but also for other minorities and other people in general to come so they can hear what we're talking about and to give feedback. So, we're an all-inclusive club, even if our name doesn't say it.

So, people from all different backgrounds are in the club?
Right now, no. The majority of our attendance is black students and students who are minorities. When we send out invites for our club meetings, which are every other Friday, we do say that all are welcomed because we've started to realize that people are apprehensive because it's black scholars and artists. But, we’re not just saying it’s for black students. It's just that it is catered to talking about the black experience here at school and things that affect the black community.

What’s it like serving on the club’s board?
AR: When we took over, it was kind of a jumble because last year's board was all seniors. So, everything was kind of brand new for us. It was a learning experience. But definitely, when the new board gets inducted, we'll tell them where we kind of fell short. Like in our year, we had our little hiccups. But, there are things we want to continue too.

Can you expand on one of the hiccups you had?
AR: We did something new this year, which was a portfolio review for freshmen, and we had a little hiccup there because of the timing of when we set it up. It wasn't anything super big, it was just more of a learning curve about managing events. I remember we were all texting each other like crazy. I was like, hey, so what are we doing? We had this thing that we said we're going to do. What are we doing, you guys?

And one of the successes?
Treatie for Your Sweetie. It’s a fundraiser, and the profits end up going to our community mixer, which is April 12.

What’s the mixer like?
It's a community gathering. The entire school is invited, and we also invite people from outside of the school to participate, including Case's African American group. So, we try to reach out far and wide. There’s food, games, and we’re going to make it a little bit bigger than it was before. We’re going to also have an art display featuring work by members in the club.

Is it cool to see how far the club’s come in the past few years?
I remember when it first started. It was self-funded. We were an official club, but we didn't have any funding from the school, so it was all just us. The students and our advisors were like, hey, let's do this. Everybody just chipped in and made it work.

What do you want people to know about your group?
We have heated discussions. Everyone's welcome. We don't discriminate. At the end of the day, I actually think it'd be nice if we had other minorities or even Caucasian people in the group just to have that different perspective. I feel like a lot of the times when we have the meetings, it's only kind of viewed from one side of the argument. It would be interesting if we could have other perspectives to add into the conversation.

GS: It is about the black experience, but also a lot of our discussions are about what's going on in today's world, both in and outside the school. So, I feel like anyone would be interested in the news. And they can all come and listen and talk about it.

EL: I also think what's happening outside of the school—the political moments—are influencing the need to come together to have these discussions. People can be with one another and know that there isn't that sort of like weird feeling or built-in anxiety that you feel where sometimes people don't want to talk to each other. And sometimes, that has happened in critiques. I don't know how it's happened in the design critiques, but I know in visual arts, students who usually talk about identity politics find it difficult to engage in those conversations. Oftentimes, the students are met with silence.

AR: Big silence.

EL: The professors will try their best to maneuver the conversation, but at the end of the day, how do we create a space so that students and professors feel like they're not excluded from the conversation? How can we have these conversations so that we can take that growth into the critiques so that there isn't that silence—that feeling of, oh, I want to speak, but I don't want to be inappropriate? It's more about learning how can we acknowledge that there are some differences.

AR: It's just sharing knowledge.

EL: Yeah. And creating that discourse—that space where people can learn about one another, grow with one another, build friendships. I mean, this is college. We want to have fun as well. That's why we're doing the mixer. But I think that that's really why BSA started, to create these spaces of community.

What makes you proud about your group?
GS: Personally, because it's a majority white school, I didn’t see a lot of diversity here until I joined this group. Ed was the only Hispanic I really knew because he's the one who told me about CIA.

So, it was nice just being with other people who were more diverse. And also, I wasn't exposed to the types of issues and topics in art until I saw Ren's work. I avoided any issues of Hispanic related things or doing anything with race. The only thing that I really was open to was some of my work dealt with LGBT issues because that's what the diversity actually is in this school.

What are some of the fun things your club has done?
Game night.

AR: I enjoyed Treatie for Your Sweetie, honestly.

RB: The Black Panther movie—that was so good.

AR: But that was last year. When Black Panther came out, we ended up getting into a private viewing.

RB: Everyone got in for only like $5. We got popcorn and a drink. It was pretty cool. And we all dressed up in black.

AR: We all were just like, so what's the theme? And we're like, all black—all black, so everyone wore all black when we went to go view Black Panther together as a club.

Who are some of your role models, related to art or design?
I know mine. That guy who made that teddy bear painting right there. He [Martinez E-B, CIA ’12] was my mentor. When he graduated in 2012, he became a facilitator at Esperanza Inc., and I went to that after-school program after high school. And if it wasn't for him, I wouldn't be in this school. I mean, he was a father figure to me. I wouldn't be here without Martinez.

GS: I feel like it sounds kind of silly. But from an artist's standpoint, it would be Jordan Peele [director of Us, Get Out] because of the movies that he's making. When I see his work, I get excited because it's like I've never seen such diverse work like that before. And it's talking about issues that are going on still today, but it's talking about issues in a way that can still interest you from an entertainment standpoint.

AR: For me, right now, based on the work that I'm doing, Kara Walker's been really inspirational. I remember going to her show that was here at the CMA [Cleveland Museum of Art] and just being blown away.

She also did a show in New York where she created molasses figures. She did a huge sculpture of an old sugar factory that was made out of Styrofoam and sprayed in sugar. And then she had these life-size figures of children made out of molasses.

And it was just like—just looking at the video of her work was gorgeous. It’s beautiful, but it's all sugar. It's just tons and tons of sugar. And then her other work is paper cutouts, but it's talking about the antebellum South and slavery and the things that happened during that time. For me right now, that's one of my big things because my work is talking about how black women are objectified and that it stems from slavery.

RB: There's a lot of people. I'd probably say everyone in the group, honestly. But more importantly, he already graduated. His name is Azziz Muhammad [CIA ’18]. He's kind of a brotherly figure to me. He's kind of put me in my place at times because I can be very cocky at times. But mostly just the community in BSA honestly inspires me. Shout out to my mom as well. It's just crazy just how I can have a group of people that experience these feelings like I do. And I don't feel necessarily alone anymore.

Are you guys friends outside of the club, too?
RB: It's required, honestly, at the end of the day because I don't think it would be as successful if we weren't friends.

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