ArtCenter’s Chief Diversity Officer to Address Importance of Global Citizenship, Strengthening Pasadena’s Sister City Relationship with Dakar-Plateau

By Justin Chapman, Pasadena Now, 4/5/2021

What does it mean to be a global citizen? 

How can the Pasadena community make the most of its Sister City relationship with Dakar-Plateau, Senegal?

Dr. Aaron Bruce, vice president and chief diversity officer at ArtCenter College of Design, will address these important questions when the Pasadena Sister Cities Committee’s Senegal Subcommittee’s virtual speaker series continues Thursday at 6 p.m.

“It’s important that we build out robust partnerships and relationships that are sustainable and honor the traditions and legacies of communities and cultures that we may not be familiar with,” Bruce said. “It’s very easy for us as Americans to go to places and impose our perspective. What I’ve learned through my journey, my life, my marriage, and through raising my children is that it is really important to be flexible and open to doing things a different way.”

Bruce, who was born and raised in Princeton, New Jersey, has more than 20 years of experience leading initiatives focused on campus diversity, inclusion and international (DEI) engagement. He joined ArtCenter in 2018 and helped establish its Center for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in Art and Design. Before ArtCenter, Bruce served as the chief diversity officer at San Diego State University and director of multicultural affairs at Rhode Island College.

The Senegal Subcommittee facilitates the diplomatic relationship between Pasadena and Dakar-Plateau, Senegal, Pasadena’s first sister city on the African continent.

Bruce “will take us on an exciting personal quest” and “help us discover the semi-mysterious ArtCenter, partly hidden in trees of the Linda Vista hills above the Rose Bowl,” according to the Senegal subcommittee. “In the spirit of a Global Citizen, Dr. Bruce, who himself traveled to Africa and South and Central America, will discuss ways ArtCenter can join in our cooperation with Dakar-Plateau.”

Bruce was an early supporter of Pasadena’s sister city relationship with Dakar-Plateau, which was confirmed in 2018. In June 2019, Dakar-Plateau Mayor Alioune Ndoye led a delegation to Pasadena. ArtCenter hosted the delegation for a discussion on building exchange partnerships between Dakar-Plateau art students and ArtCenter art students.

“However, COVID has put a damper on that,” Bruce said. 

In the meantime, he added, Pasadenans should take this time to learn more about Senegal. 

“Many Americans don’t even know where Senegal is located, unfortunately. They don’t know the difference between Dakar and Nairobi. That’s the first step, is for us as community members who are dedicated to the sister city partnership, which I think is so important, to be honest and open and reflect on how much we really know about what’s going on there right now and the history of the country,” Bruce said.

He added that it’s not just the Pasadena Sister Cities Committee members who are part of the sisterhood, but the entire Pasadena community.

“If we’re going to build an authentic relationship, it is important for us to know a lot more about what the everyday life for someone is, but also the economy, some of the challenges around politics, and learning culture: what are some of the things that individuals embrace? As we do that, more curiosity, more interest in establishing partnerships will come,” Bruce said.

Bruce will also speak about his personal journey and how the international experiences he has had have shaped his perspective on global citizenship and diversity, equity and inclusion.

“Part of that is understanding people and their lived experiences and developing a sense of empathy and understanding power dynamics and some of the politics associated with that,” he said.

He will also address how Pasadena institutions such as ArtCenter can make the most out of its sister city partnership with Dakar-Plateau, during and after the pandemic.

“It’s important to personalize what this partnership with a sister city really means,” he said. “Although some Americans do travel to other places, they often travel to places that are very similar to the United States. Their experiences are more like a human safari where they’re not really engaging in any in-depth way with individuals but it’s more a quick service experience and then they’re off to their life of privilege.”

Bruce pointed out that ArtCenter alumni have spent time over the past year in Dakar, Senegal, at Kehinde Wiley’s Black Rock artist residency studio. Wiley painted President Barack Obama’s official portrait, which hangs in the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery’s “America’s Presidents” exhibition and depicts Obama sitting on a chair among green foliage.

Black Rock is a multidisciplinary artist-in-residence program founded in 2019 that hosts international artists in Dakar for months at a time. The program’s mission is to “support new artistic creation through collaborative exchange and to incite change in the global discourse about Africa.”

Bruce said ArtCenter also wants to create spaces here in Pasadena for visiting artists to “share their perspective and lived experiences.”

He added that now is the time to lay the groundwork and establish plans for what the future could look like, now that light is beginning to appear at the end of the pandemic tunnel. 

ArtCenter plans to begin bringing students and faculty back to campus this summer, but the college has maintained a robust online learning experience during the pandemic.

“The COVID virus over the last year has created some unique challenges but ArtCenter is filled with creative problem solvers,” Bruce said. “Our students have been able to adjust actually very quickly. Those who haven’t been able to adjust, we’ve been providing a lot of support. Not everyone has the same technology in their house or access to the same materials. We’ve been working very closely with them to try to make sure they have what they need.”

Bruce also said that universities across the country are beginning to make progress when it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion.

“Universities have been on a 20-year journey to be bold and brave in that DEI space,” he said. “Historically, it has a lot more to do with whether there was a legal imperative to create inclusive spaces on university campuses or whether it was actually woven into the values of that institution. What we’re seeing right now is a sincere commitment from many universities around the country to shift the improprieties and disparities that have existed historically, whether it was related to gender and pay equity and those spaces or whether it’s related to representation in the curriculum.”

He said ArtCenter has been doing this work for a long time, but with the Center for DEI that he leads, it is “becoming more organized and institutionalized in a way that everyone can participate. It’s actually a very exciting place to be.”

Register for the April 8 Sister Cities event with Dr. Aaron Bruce at

About Pasadena Sister Cities

The Pasadena Sister Cities Committee’s Dakar-Plateau Subcommittee had a number of in-person events and cultural exchanges in mind before the COVID-19 pandemic intervened. To help bridge that gap, they’ve launched a virtual speaker series as a way to educate the public and keep that relationship connected, said Boualem Bousseloub, chair of the subcommittee.

The idea of partnering cities grew out of the Twin Town concept in Europe in 1946 following World War II. Ludwigshafen was selected in 1948 by the Pasadena branch of the American Friends Service Committee. America’s involvement came in 1956 following President Dwight Eisenhower’s White House conference on citizen diplomacy, out of which grew Sister Cities International (SCI). Pasadena formally established its Sister Cities chapter in 1960.

Pasadena has six Sister Cities partnerships, with Ludwigshafen, Germany (1948); Mishima, Japan (1957); Järvenpää, Finland (1983); Vanadzor, Armenia (1991); the Xicheng District of Beijing, China (1999); and Dakar-Plateau, Senegal, which was approved by the Pasadena City Council in 2018 after many years of discussion, planning, and research, including an exploratory delegation to the West African city led by Bousseloub and Councilmember John Kennedy. Following approval by both cities, Dakar-Plateau Mayor Alioune Ndoye led a delegation to Pasadena in June 2019 and then-Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek led a delegation to Dakar-Plateau in March 2020 to finalize the partnership.

Dakar-Plateau has a population of nearly 37,000 people and is one of 19 districts of Senegal’s capital of greater Dakar, serving as its political, financial and commercial center. Dakar is the westernmost city on Africa’s mainland, with a population of 1 million.