James Haywood Rolling Jr. A’88

Running for: Alumni Trustee

Campaign Statement

Looking back over my career to this point, I recognize that it was my work teaching 3D Design and Sculpture over two consecutive years (1986-1988) to students attending Cooper Union’s Saturday Art & Architecture Program that first helped me to comprehend the necessity of my calling as an art + design educator—serving as a catalyst in the support of creative identities as they explode into existence. Given that I would not be where I am today as a first-generation college student without the legacy of free tuition at the Cooper Union, I would be honored to offer my time and energies as a member of the Cooper Union Board of Trustees at this critical juncture in the life of an institution that has so evidently helped to shape my life’s trajectory.

I’ve been the Chair of Arts Education at Syracuse University since 2007 and I’m currently the 37th President of the National Art Education Association as NAEA celebrates our 75th anniversary. But before all of this, I was an elementary school art teacher in New York City. It’s a calling. Everything I know about preparing teachers to teach art + design, I first learned teaching art to K-12 students; and I first began learning my craft teaching high school students in Cooper Union’s Saturday Program.

I have a deep commitment to public service that has been manifested in my role as the Chair of the Peter Cooper Public Service Award Committee over the past 3 years. I will bring this same commitment and sense of greater purpose we seek in our awardees to my responsibilities as an Alumni Trustee of the Cooper Union.

I am also a founding member of the new Black Trustee Alliance for Art Museums (BTA). The mission of BTA is to increase the inclusion of minoritized perspectives and narratives in North American art museums to make our institutions more equitable spaces of cultural engagement. Similarly, as the primary architect and inaugural Chair of the new NAEA Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Commission of the National Art Education Association, I have had a considerable role in helping our association, our 50 state affiliates, and partner organizations in the development of an array of localized strategies for greater equity. I will carry my commitment to social justice, to greater diversity as an essential organizational growth strategy, and to preparing the next generation of creative leaders over into my service as a Cooper Union Alumni Trustee. My commitment to help prepare every student who enters the doors of the Cooper Union for the success I’ve been blessed with has never been greater.


As a recipient of the Cooper Union Alumni Association Award for Outstanding Service to the School upon his graduation from the School of Art in 1988, James Rolling’s commitment to the principle of service remains unquestioned. James is Dual Professor of Arts Education and Teaching & Leadership in the Syracuse University’s College of Visual & Performing Arts (VPA) and School of Education, and he has served as Chair of the university’s Arts Education programs since 2007. James is also an affiliated faculty member in African American Studies. From 2018 to 2020, James was appointed to serve as the inaugural Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion for VPA. James began his elected term of office as the 37th President of the National Art Education Association (NAEA) in March 2021. At the start of 2021, James also added two other new roles to his responsibilities—as the Co-Director of The Lender Center for Social Justice at Syracuse University, and as a member of the Board of Trustees at the Everson Museum of Art.

Over his years in leadership at the National Art Education Association, James championed the cause of achieving greater diversity throughout the visual arts fields as the inaugural Chair of the NAEA Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Commission, overseeing the dedicated work of 11 commissioners from around the nation representing various arts and museum education related fields. James’s initial service on the Board of Directors of NAEA was as the association’s Higher Education Division Director from 2011-2013. James’s record of professional contributions is highlighted by his recognition as the 2014 recipient of the National Higher Education Art Educator Award for outstanding service and achievement of national significance; his work from 2015-2017 as Senior Editor of Art Education, a bi-monthly research journal for arts education practitioners; and his induction as part of the 2017 class of NAEA Distinguished Fellows in recognition of a career of exemplary accomplishment in research, scholarship, teaching, and leadership in the field.

In his earlier education, James earned an MFA in studio arts research from the Experimental Studios department that once existed at Syracuse University, having earned a fully funded Graduate Fellowship in the Department of African American Studies. James completed his doctoral studies in art education in 2003 under the mentorship of Drs. Graeme Sullivan and Judith Burton at Teachers College, Columbia University. 

James is the author of several books and more than 35 peer-reviewed articles and commentaries, fourteen book chapters, and five encyclopedia entries on the subjects of the arts, education, creativity, and human identity. At the end of 2020, James published Growing Up Ugly: Memoirs of a Black Boy Daydreaming (Simple Word Publications), an inspirational coming-of-age narrative tracing his emergence as a painfully shy child raised in a struggling inner-city New York neighborhood who learned to rewrite the trajectory of his life story through the development of his own creative superpowers. James will bring a unique perspective to his service to the various stakeholders at the Cooper Union, not only being a first-generation college graduate himself, but having worked professionally with children and families as a New York State certified K-12 art teacher; having worked professionally in the nuts and bolts arena of higher education administration; and currently working alongside diverse faculty colleagues as a tenured, full professor at a major research university.