Crystal Williams Named RISD President

Williams: Art & Design Narrates Who We Can Become

Rhode Island School of Design’s (RISD) Board of Trustees have named Crystal Williams as the institution’s 18th president effective April 1, 2022. Currently vice president and associate provost for community and inclusion at Boston University, Williams was selected after an international search. The criteria:  a leader with the capability and passion to educate artists, designers, and scholars for a rapidly changing future, while guiding RISD’s role in helping to create a more just, fair, and sustainable society. “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,” notes Board Chair Michael Spalter.

Williams brings more than two decades of higher education experience to RISD. She 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. “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,” said RISD President-Elect Williams.  Williams succeeds Rosanne Somerson (BFA 76, Industrial Design). RISD Senior Vice President of Finance & Administration Dave Proulx has been serving as interim president since Somerson’s retirement at the end of June 2021.