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BFA Show Blues

How a single email sparked outcry from SAIC’s spring graduates

By Featured, SAIC

Illustration by Aditi Singh

Over this year’s winter break many undergraduate students set to graduate in the spring of 2024 looked toward their final semester of study with panic. Frantic texts were made, social media polls were posted and emails were sent to the Department of Undergraduate Exhibitions. The subject matter? A significant number of students who had apparently missed the deadline to sign up for spring Undergraduate Exhibitions by a month without knowing.

The only communication the students received was a single email containing all of the registration information and forms for the three primary Undergraduate Exhibitions. This email was sent out on Nov. 17, 2023 and marked the opening of the registration period, which closed on Nov. 30. No follow-up email regarding registration was sent during or after this period.

In previous years, registration was in early February. No announcement of this change was made by the Department of Undergraduate Exhibitions prior to November, so students weren’t on the lookout for registration. 

Opening registration on Nov. 17, 2023 became a point of contention among students as it was also the day of the 2023 holiday art sale. Students tabling at the sale were expected to be away from their phones during this notoriously busy day. 

Honey Nilson, a BFA senior who was tabling at the sale said that while they were technically informed about the registration, the communication was insufficient.

“Without any follow up emails or anything else it’s hard to say I was really aware of it despite being informed,” Honey said. 

Several students were unable to complete sign up, many citing their participation in the sale as a primary reason for them missing the deadline.

Those who caught their missed registration early by communicating with advisors were able to appeal and be included in the exhibition within the following weeks. The real trouble came in late December when many students first began to realize they had missed registration for their senior exhibitions. Posts began flying around social media as affected students tried to make sense of the situation and find peers in the same boat. 

When the campus reopened on Jan. 2, 2024, the Department informed the students who had been in touch over the break that they would be unable to participate in exhibitions, but could submit their work to the Digital Feature, a slideshow that runs on the second floor of the 33 E. Washington galleries during the BFA show. Some students who pressed further were sent links to appeal their decision in early January. The appeal form was shared between students and posted online allowing a larger group to attempt to appeal. 

Graduating BFA senior Isabel,who asked to be identified with their first name only to protect their privacy, wrote an appeal letter that expressed the widespread concern.

“I have spoken with dozens of students who are in similar situations, and I am anticipating finding more. These are hardworking students who have been looking forward to this opportunity for years. Who have already begun planning and purchasing materials. Who are organized, on top of their emails, and have somehow still found themselves in the same situation as me. I would understand your lack of flexibility if this was an individual circumstance, but knowing how many students have been affected has led me to beg you to reconsider,” Isabel’s letter read. 

These appeals were unanimously denied with no explanation offered.

Students reported that they continued pushing though, emailing the department repeatedly. Eventually, on Jan. 30, the Department of Undergraduate Exhibitions sent out an email to all eligible students, including those who had been rejected previously, announcing that appeals would be available via request and were set to close on Feb. 8, 2024. A follow-up email reminder was sent on Feb 6, 2024. This announcement prompted many students to appeal a second time. These second appeals were largely accepted.

So why were the deadlines to sign up for BFA Spring show deadlines changed?

We’ve found that with a February registration deadline for the Spring Undergraduate Exhibition, students had very little time to submit appeals to participate and for those appeals to be reviewed before the start of installation for the exhibition,” said Trevor Martin, the executive director of exhibitions at SAIC.

According to Martin, the Department took into account student feedback, consulted with the dean of undergraduate affairs, and pushed the deadline to November. This would allow for a two-month appeal period in which the needs of students pursuing inclusion in the shows could be more widely assessed and addressed. The extended appeals period and added time for consideration by the department also meant that students who had appealed in early January and were rejected had an opportunity for their appeals to be considered.

The intention to extend the appeals period was not communicated to students at the time of registration. Mass communication about appeals were not sent out until after many students had already been rejected. 

The Department plans to take student feedback into consideration again and in collaboration with the academic advising team and the dean of undergraduate affairs, reevaluate how registration for undergraduate festivals is handled in the future.

Students have called for communication that is clearer, more easily accessible, and repeated especially when it pertains to events that are so central to the SAIC experience. 

“I have been an orientation leader for three years because of how much I believed in this school and wanted to share that enthusiasm with others and after four years here, most of that enthusiasm is gone because of how things are run and this situation really highlights that for me,” said Tess (BFA 2024) who requested their last name not be used to protect their privacy.

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One Response to BFA Show Blues

  1. Franz Kafka says:

    Curious how the article doesn’t mention how really unfair it is to the students who followed directions and registered for the show on time, that we got less space in the exhibition so that these late students could be accomodated. Irresponsible students not reading their email and then threatening to sue to the school because they missed the deadline for an optional opportunity is crazy.

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