The Journey Begins

June 30, 2024

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What’s it like being a black woman at the world's sixth leading art and design institute?Just ask Keyarow Mosley, a graduate student at Pratt Institute, a school whose existence spans longer pre the Civil Rights Act of 1964 than post. 

In this three part series and conversation, Diversify by Design’s Community Lead, Alysia Brown connected with Mosely to discuss her experience as the only black woman in most of her classrooms, study sessions, her work study program; navigating a design workforce made up of less than 5% black women.

We invite and encourage you to learn more about Keyarow's experiences at Pratt, where she comes face-to-face with the systemic challenges black women in the design industry have tackled for decades.

Alaysia Brown: Keyarow, thank you for talking to D×D. We are so excited about the work that you’ve done and we really appreciate you sharing both the good, bad, and at times the not so pretty parts of your experience as a black woman in the design industry. Can you let us know more about your background? Where are you from and what initially interested you in pursuing an education at Pratt Institute?

Keyarow Mosley: I am a Georgia native born and raised and my background is multidisciplinary. I have an undergraduate degree in Journalism, a Masters in Education, and I am currently pursuing a Masters in Experience Design. I initially pursued a degree in education because of my passion around community development and especially assisting youth. At one point, I considered working in the education system full-time, and even have experience as a teacher outside of the classroom in a variety of nonprofits.

I chose Pratt because I heard a lot of things in my community (Atlanta,GA) about it being a good school. I looked at their course curriculum and even the DEI initiatives listed on the school website (which is something that I heavily take into consideration when considering entering a program) and decided attending would be a great opportunity. 

Alaysia Brown: Ahead of attending, did you speak to anyone who had previously attended Pratt?

Keyarow Mosley: I consider myself a type-A personality, so, yes, I did as much research and had as many conversations as possible. I knew from discussions within the design industry that Pratt, as well as the design industry, struggled with diversity. So in addition to researching the Institute, I also researched their different DEI and advocacy initiatives (many of them were still in the process of being built).

Seeing that there were DEI initiatives and advocacy programs active and in the works, plus that combined with the idea that the school is in New York City, one of the most diverse cities in the world, I again thought to myself that this seems like a great school with lots of opportunity. 

Contrary to this though, I did hear concerns from former alumni, and other associates about my entering the design industry in general. People were transparent with me about their experiences. Many of them had faced microaggressions amongst other systemic issues in the field.

Alaysia Brown: So you’d done your research, and ultimately decided to attend. Side note, congrats on your acceptance into the program, getting into the world’s sixth top art and design university is no small feat. What were your initial expectations and experiences upon entering? 

Keyarow Mosley: I was open initially. I was interested in the design industry, but also the more I spoke with designers of color practicing in the field, the more I primed my expectations to be colored by what I knew could be a very isolating experience. 

During my research about the design industry, I read stories of black designers experiencing internal racism within their corporate ecosystems, high turnover, plus implicit biases, so though I was open, I went into the program primed with the knowledge that this is what current industry professionals are facing. 

I was preparing myself mentally for what I knew could be a potentially adverse situation. Initially, I was right in being very open about my experience but as I moved weeks and weeks into the program the more isolated I felt. I was oftentimes the only black woman in my classes. 

Click here for the second intallment of The Only, where Keyarow shares her experiences at Pratt and the realities of being a black woman in a predominantly white academic environment.

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