At the top of the hydrangea, the petals are purple-blue, but they’re all kinds of gradients too.— Nishi Patel
Interview by Josh Korenblat
What brought you into your current role here at New Paltz?
I was not anything related to being an art student when I was in school. And then when it came to applying for college, I suddenly knew that I didn’t want to do anything science-related, which is what I was studying. And then it was a discussion between me, and my parents, and they were just like, “Oh, these are the options that you could do that will help.” And I picked graphic design. It was random. And I was thinking, “Oh, it’s art, but it’s also not something that I have to be physically doing.” And then, I thought, “it was a good merge between digital work and being a non-artsy person.”
I applied, I wasn’t expecting much of it, and I got into the program. I got into my first graphic design course my sophomore year. And it just went from there. I learned everything. I was able to pick up things quickly. And the professors and the whole environment of just having people around you that are not graphic design majors. They were photography majors, journalism majors, and everybody takes those basic level courses together. It helped to push me to realize that graphic design is worth pursuing—that sense of community.
What issues or challenges are you confronted with as a student here at New Paltz?
On a personal level, it is that sense of community for me, being a person of color—more specifically, Indian. But I realize that in our classes, for example, in the graphic design program, it is a small program, but there are still so many people I can relate to. So, I guess it is more beneficial in a way that everybody is so different. And in a more technical aspect of speaking, it was just the fact that I really didn’t know how to use anything. I didn’t know anything about the Adobe Creative Suite. I came in with a completely blank slate into these art programs. Just like those foundation courses, we have a graphic design basic program, which does teach us the basics, and it was helpful. But then some people had an upper hand because they had already known how to use Illustrator or Photoshop. They were able to go ahead faster. So, being able to be exposed to a basic level of introduction to software was an issue for me.
Why do you think those challenges exist?
I guess this also just depends on where a person went to school and if they offered those courses in high school for them, and that would predispose them to graphic design. After coming to New Paltz, I know a lot of people who already knew what they’re going to do, or they knew of the programs coming in. Maybe just having a more open community. I know we have a Design Society, but I think it’s also where people just assess that as, “It’s only for people who are in the arts.”
I think people still have that sense of hesitancy to move forward with anything design-related, whether they’re in the program. With diversity, I think it is a very societal and cultural thing. I guess it varies from person to person, but our program is also a small program, which limits who can come in. Also, New Paltz is in an odd location. But there’s diversity on the campus. I think the challenge is just in a sense for people to really come together, whether it be a part of their major or just something that they’re interested in.
What are some challenges that exist in the larger system?
I’m a first-generation American, I guess it’s kind of something that stems from that. And being from India, you don’t go into the arts or anything that’s not something that has been going on for generations. So probably if you’re from Asia, Southeast Asia, or South Asia, there’s more prevalence of engineering and doctors and distinct types of stuff like that. And the arts aren’t really something that kids are pushed into doing—at least not yet. Now it’s becoming something that’s being introduced, so I think that’s a culture-to-culture thing is to what,, society has always said that “This is something that will make you money. This is something that people will respect you in. I think it just comes a lot from that. Whatever’s been happening for years and years ago just keeps happening. But I think now with our generation and generations to come, people are becoming more accepting of other people’s choices and decisions. I think it’s slowly opening, but there’s still a long way to go. I think a lot of it is a mindset and communication.
What are the blockages in the system?
The blockages would be the people themselves if they’re not open to something or to really do something else than what other people have told them or what they think is the right thing to do. I guess that’s kind of it, I think it’s the person and their mindset. And in a way, societal hierarchies. People believe they’re going to be respected in a specific area of interest, then they would only go to that interest. So, it’s more of a personal mindset thing and a social mindset.
What are your most important sources of success and change?
I think it is a community and being able to have professors that are accessible and have more knowledge in that specific area of whatever you have a question. And having a mentor, whether they be your age or younger or older, that’s important. And being around diverse types of people, it’s so beneficial because you get so many perspectives—be they people in your major or in another major. For example, I live in a house that’s a majority of minorities, and we all study completely different things. We have arts, we have science, we have sociology, and we have international relations.
Everybody’s really all over the place. But that sense of when we talk about one topic lands within one person’s major. And so, they would know more, but we would all chip in, and then it just takes discussions like that in a different direction. So, I think just being able to be around people who have different perspectives will help even with my design work. I’d show it to everybody, whether they know what it is or what it’s not.
What would a better system look like for you?
An easier way to be able to interact with people, not only in your system, in your area of study, but also just other people in general. I imagine a big space or a room where everybody gets to do or work on whatever they’re working on, and they can just get up and go to someone and ask them whether they know who they are or what they’re doing, or if they have any idea what their project is about, to get opinions and be able to discuss things.
What initiative, if implemented, would have the greatest impact on you? And for the system as a whole?
That’s a big question. I guess it’s a shared space, for everybody, not necessarily like the lecture center, because those are all like different rooms, but having a studio lab space that counts for everybody, like it could be a little science section or art section—not even sections necessarily. You just go and sit and do your thing where everybody can really interact with each other more and get feedback on things. It’ll just make everybody much more open-minded because if you’re working on something, you get in your own head and you start putting your own opinions on it. But I think it’s also important, no matter what field you’re in, to really take a step back and look at who you’re doing it for, who’s it going to impact, who else it could affect, and have that snowball effect for really anything.
It sounds like the house that you’re living in, but more integrated into the campus experience.
If you could change just a few elements of the current system, what would you change?
A lot of my friends or people, other people also just like classmates from other classes, if you’re looking at graphic design specifically, they’re interested in how it goes, but I know a lot of them are also scared of three-hour classes because they’re so used to those one hour, fifteen-minute classes. I think it could be not really a GE course. It could fulfill a credit, it won’t, but it’s just something that can help people be able to go and explore and do things that they like and be around other people who like the same things and learn new things at the same time, like a workshop.
I guess the most important would be, of course, the student body. There are so many different clubs, and so many diverse types of people going to those different clubs, that would never interact with each other. And I think it’d be interesting to just see everybody come together on something like this.
Based on the conversation we just had, what was most surprising or unexpected that came to mind for you?
There’s such a strong sense of community because we’re smaller than other universities. And we also do have so many different clubs and associations that you can join, but nobody really interacts in between two clubs. I don’t think I’ve ever seen events like that.
What connected with you personally in this conversation, was there anything that really touched you?
It’s different for me personally because I did all my prior education in another country. Then coming back here, and already having that sense of like bicultural identity, and just coming here with a bunch of different people, affects the way I see things—and which you notice too. Most of my questions are community-based and have been about being open-minded about interacting with each other.
If the social field were a living being, what would it look and feel like?
Maybe it’s a flower. Take a hydrangea, and they have a variety of colors and the colors change depending on what pH their soil is, where they are, and their environment, and what they’re exposed to. And every petal has its own kind of gradient because they’re not really all the same color. I think that’s what it would be. Everything is slightly different than the other, but they’re all really clumped together. And so, the environment that they’re put in or what they’re exposed to, which in this case, the living being, the flower—would be their soil and the environment.
At the top of the hydrangea, the petals are purple-blue, but they’re all kinds of gradients too. Some of them will have a slightly different gradient. They look similar, but I think if you look close enough, they’re all slightly different.
If that being could talk, what would it say to us?
It would tell us to shift into a different soil and help it out, water it, and care for it more and take it out of that old soil. That’s been there for, for a couple of years now, and that needs to be changed, needs to be refreshed.
And if it could develop or grow?
It would multiply, it would help the other things around it, and grow into its space. I know hydrangeas grow into like a nice big bush. It would just make room, and recognize the room, to really grow, and it’ll just flourish.
What is the generative source that allows our social field to develop and thrive?
A sense of community: it’s the people who are allowing this to develop, and each person, bringing their own perspective and experiences into the mix helps it grow.
What limiting factors prevent this field or system from developing further?
It could be financial and, and again, just psychological for a lot of people, and just their mindset and their political beliefs. Which is sad, but it’s true. It all affects how we talk to each other. It can feel thrown together rather than creating a foundation.
Moving in and out of this field, what did you notice about yourself?
I’m not much of an extrovert. So I don’t necessarily do any outreach on my part unless I must, or I’m introduced by another friend or another person that I know. I talk about community a lot. And it’s something that if I know the person or if they’re in my circle, or if I’d known of them from class multiple times, here’s someone who I’d interact with and build my community with. But I’m not the type of person who would go out and really start talking to a random person about important things, or regular things too. I guess it’s something that I could start to do more of or try more of.
What ideas does this experience spark for possible prototyping initiatives you might want to take on?
A least talking about something campus-specific, I know that all RAs and the housing buildings have events that they host. So, there could be a monthly or a bi-weekly thing where two clubs come together. They can be like, “I want to do a collaboration with this club and kind of go and do that because I don’t think I’ve personally seen anything unless I’ve missed it.” This could be a regular practice so that people can be introduced to people who are not like them, but who have those little nerdy qualities for what they love. Also, a shared space too, for everybody to work and get feedback and anything really.