CANVAS + DesignCreate support students’ aspirations, agency, and activism

Two initiatives champion BIPOC student talent and contributions while building their skills for leadership and success.

This year, urgent and overdue conversations about diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging have gained momentum on college campuses, in creative spheres, and throughout every professional field. As a college and as individuals, we are asking how we can better value the talent of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color and center BIPOC voices and contributions in ways that will extend well beyond the racial justice movement of 2020.

Two programs, including one new initiative, are among those designed to support the agency and aspirations of BIPOC students at CCA. These programs provide opportunities that build skills, nurture growth, and promote success at CCA and beyond. CCA’s Artist’s Network Valuing Aspiring Scholars (CANVAS), which launched in 2018, fosters these students’ development while on campus and attending CCA, and the new DesignCreate Career Mentorship Program focuses on preparing them for successful creative careers after college.

“Our hope is not only to provide students with the tools to become activists and creative citizens,” says CANVAS administrator Gesita Tafesse, “but to create the space to teach them that they have the agency in how their activism and creativity show up in the world.”

Through workshops, group activities, mentorships, and more, these programs are one step in adressing structural inequities within the college, as well as professional landscapes, and contributing to the college’s mission to create a safe, anti-racist, and equitable campus for all.


CANVAS program 2019 cohort. Pictured: Jaya Reddy, Farah Kaymouz, Emanuel Ordonez, Enya Fontanills, Oliver Fredericksen, Jendayi Ingram, Kamau Kokayi-Taylor, Mariah Trevino, Meredith Bond, Davion Ferrell,Lui White, Miles Peterson, and Kumari Pacheco. Photo courtesy of Gesita Tafesse.

Supporting BIPOC students from the start

The immersive CANVAS program offers holistic academic and social support for first-year, BIPOC students who meet the program’s qualifications. CANVAS students attend workshops, meet with peers and professionals, learn how to access resources at CCA, and engage with departments that can assist them as they navigate college life.

Tafesse, who is assistant dean of students for diversity, inclusion, and community engagement, says the program provides “a brave space” where students come together for monthly gatherings. The meet-ups can include healing discussion groups, a first-generation summit, a CANVAS specific job fair, Family Dinner, and movie nights.

“These meaningful moments have cultivated a community for the students,” she says, an important factor in support of the goal to have them return each year as they progress toward graduation.

The support now extends into the curriculum, too. This semester, CANVAS students are enrolled in a year-long course called Grasping at the Root: Transformation, Leadership, and Social Justice, taught by Critical Ethnic Studies Chair Shylah Pacheo Hamilton. This experience gives participants a place to gather, share their perspectives, gain a deeper understanding of CCA, activate community development, learn about BIPOC Bay Area history and culture, and discuss their ideas or concerns with CCA leaders like President Stephen Beal and Provost Tammy Rae Carland. Topics of wellness, academic support, active listening, and goal-setting are also covered to empower these students to excel in their personal endeavors and be leaders in their communities—starting with CCA.

Over the next few years, Tafesse plans to develop other courses that support BIPOC, working class, and DACA students; create a summer bridge CANVAS program for prospective students; and provide a CANVAS-specific counselor to each student as a go-to support system on their CCA journey.

“I hope,” she says, “that the CANVAS students are able to gain the agency to show up as their authentic selves in both the academic space and in their personal life.”

“I hope that the CANVAS students are able to gain the agency to show up as their authentic selves in both the academic space and in their personal life.”

— Gesita Tafesse

Assistant Dean of Students for Diversity, Inclusion, and Community Engagement

Planning for professional life after college

New this semester, an additional mentorship opportunity is available to BIPOC and first-generation students at CCA: DesignCreate Career Mentorship Program, a collaboration between the college’s Career Development office and the San Francisco experiential agency InVision Communications.

The program connects students with InVision’s creative professionals for six to nine months. Through meetings with these mentors, orientations, and a final event in the spring, students can begin to build their professional networks and gain career-related advice from expert practitioners in design—an industry noted for its lack of racial diversity.

“Our creative team is eager to work one-on-one with the students at CCA to help amplify their career trajectory, as well as hear their diverse perspectives to help co-create a bigger, bolder future for strategic marketing and the events industry,” says Jill Tanner, InVision’s senior vice president of creative design and marketing.

CCA Career Development Director Diana Chavez’s top priority is preparing students to become future leaders and flourish in their chosen fields. DesignCreate is structured to help students develop a pathway toward their career goals while building the skills and self-awareness to create a brand, identity, and vision.

Chavez also recognizes the college’s responsibility to educate employers about BIPOC professional needs, development, and talent and raise awareness of these issues across the recruitment process. “Career Development wants to ensure BIPOC students and new talent, upon graduating, are equipped to achieve their full potential here and emerge as leaders,” she says. “Thought leaders, inspirational leaders, and firm leaders.”

The professionals behind the DesignCreate program hope to grow the number of BIPOC designers within the field, and they’re not alone. Since the DesignCreate program launched this semester, Chavez says, other companies and professionals have asked how they can participate, too.

“We want to make working environments better for BIPOC professionals,” she says. “We are hoping to make positive contributions to our students' professional lives after graduation and within their long-term careers.