Poet and advocate Crystal Williams named next RISD president

December 16, 2021 GMT

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Crystal Williams, an award-winning poet who currently leads Boston University’s diversity and inclusion efforts, has been named the next president of the Rhode Island School of Design, the school’s board of trustees announced Thursday.

Williams was selected from more than 100 candidates and will become the school’s 18th president effective April 1, the board said.

Michael Spalter, the board’s chair, said the school was looking for a leader with “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.”

“We found all of that and more in Crystal Williams,” Spalter said in a statement.

Williams has been at Boston University since 2017, where she now serves as vice president and associate provost for community and inclusion. Her more than two decades in higher education also include leadership roles at Bates College in Maine and Reed College in Oregon.


A poet and essayist, Williams has published four collections of poetry, and her work is part of the Museum of Modern Art’s Poetry Project, a tour of poems responding to pieces in the museum’s permanent collection.

In a statement, Williams called it a “profound honor” to be named president, adding that “art, education and equity and justice are the three foundational focuses of my life and everything about me.”

“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,” Williams wrote.

She succeeds Rosanne Somerson, who is retiring and will serve as RISD’s first president emerita.