Hearing the Call for Structural Change

The loss of life to police violence is appalling. The murders of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ahmaud Arbery in Glynn County, Breonna Taylor in Louisville, and countless Black lives across our nation must stop. Black lives matter.

It is time to not only speak up, but take action.

We should all join Kimberly Dowdell, NOMA National President in her call to action: “We must all leverage our positions of privilege to help our most vulnerable citizens, neighbors and colleagues strive for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I urge you to consider what’s happening right now as an American problem that we must all face together.” (See her full statement here).

While our individual actions may seem small within the enormity of widespread racism, in unity we have the potential to affect change. First, it is essential for us to acknowledge that the discipline of architecture and its institutions have always been complicit in social, economic, health and environmental discrimination. Without this acknowledgement, we will be powerless to impact the grotesque structural injustice that Black Americans and other groups have been subjected to for far too long.

We must—once and for all—end the inequities that plague our own discipline. For too many years, I have heard too many excuses about lack of diversity in the academy and the profession. Let’s be clear: while unconscious racial biases are never going to disappear overnight, we must work to ensure that our student body, our faculty and practitioners look like the rest of America. We must change admission policies as well as faculty recruitment and promotion practices. We need to correct the funding structures that for long have perpetuated the exclusion of Black Americans. We can do this, and we can do this now.

Ultimately academia and the profession will not change if we do not have access to precise information. Today the AIA, NCARB, and the NAAB provide fragmented, outdated or hard to decipher demographics. To address these issues, at Princeton we are developing an open database to bring together this disparate information, dig for more, and make it easily accessible. As we launch this project, we hope that other institutions will share their data with us and be willing to make it public. Data drives diversity.

These actions, however, will not be enough to address structural inequity in architecture. The system of licensure that has defined the architecture profession needs to be eliminated or radically transformed. We are one of the few professions that requires both a licensing exam and years of practical training. Both are structured to perpetuate discrimination and inequity. This exclusionary tactic is inexcusable, indefensible and must end.

The national crisis is bigger and more urgent than architecture. Architecture’s complicity in structural injustice cannot end without structural change of its own.

 

Monica Ponce de Leon
Dean and Professor, School of Architecture, Princeton University

 

June 7, 2020