What’s your name, what year are you, and what are you majoring in?
My name is Najir Austin, and I’m a second year graphic design major at SVA.
What made you want to attend SVA?
I wanted to attend SVA because of its design program and location.
Do you feel supported as a student by your department (or advisor)? Why or why not?
I don’t feel as though our department reflects or acknowledges the contributions of black artists and especially designers. I hear about white designers doing wonderful things and creating new lanes and ways of thinking but the only times I see black people is when we’re being used by the white people to forward their art. I feel like we as black people haven’t done anything in design because I have no reason to think otherwise. We are all addressed by our teachers the same way: “In your careers, you all are going to have to face these challenges and work through it.” But they don’t acknowledge the fact that as a black man I’m going to have to face more. I know this; I’m not sure if they do and don’t want to say it or if they are just ignorant of the fact.
What challenges do you face as a student at SVA?
My experience as a black student here at SVA overall has been pretty good. I haven’t felt any negative energy toward me based on my race; it’s a friendly community. I do feel like I am underrepresented within the curriculum, however. If it wasn’t for my African-American history class, I wouldn’t have learned anything positive specifically about black people and artists. We went over Egyptian art for about a week in my world art class last semester with no mention of it being a black society and giving recognition to black people. Whenever anything came up regarding the people and their race it was always “we don’t really know what they looked like” instead of admitting the well-known fact of their race. In that same class, all of the antagonists were always depicted as dark-skinned, when I asked my teacher why that was so, he gave a weak [response of] “that’s just the way those people were”.
How do you think SVA could better serve your needs?
I think SVA needs to do a better job in diversifying the staff and educating the current staff with the issues of anti-blackness in the industry, acknowledging that we are valued and deserve to have an opportunity to work and be earn leadership roles and overall be taken seriously and be heard. As teachers and leaders in the field, they need to be better equipped with the knowledge of how to guide students who come from underrepresented communities and try to shift the culture within their lives to make us a factor and an important focal point in the recruiting process.
What are your goals once you graduate?
My goals upon graduation are to get a job and do my best to give my perspective and lend my voice to create things that are designed to better communication between people who come from different backgrounds. I want to create things that everyone can attach to and feel a part of, specifically exalting blacks and PoC to a level where they feel like they’re equal and enabled. I want to eventually do my own thing; not sure what that means yet, but I’d like to run something of my own on the side where it helps young designers and underserved people while still creating whatever I feel the world needs. I have many ideas and plan on expressing them and living out my dreams. I just need to get my feet wet first.
Have you had the opportunity to participate in any internships or gain any design-related work experience since you’ve been in the program? If so, where is/was your internship and what have you learned?
I am currently participating in an internship at an email marketing firm [in New Jersey]. So far I’ve created ads and proposals to court prospective clients and designing eye-catching and unique works that entice companies to use our services.
What has been the most valuable thing you’ve learned so far in your program?
I think so far the best thing I’ve learned is that there is give and take in the designing process when working with other people. I may be young in the design world but I do have a valid opinion and it’s often taken into consideration when talking to fellow designers, teachers and employers. The creative process and dialogue is very open and is often conducive to a better design.
What advice would you give another student of color considering SVA for college?
I would tell another student of color to use their own discretion when taking advice from professors regarding a professional setting because most likely, they’ll be speaking from a non-black perspective.