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GSAPP Anti-Racism Action Plan

This page is dedicated to sharing GSAPP’s ongoing work of addressing anti-Black racism and racial injustice. This page will be updated regularly to offer a line of sight into what we’ve done to date, what we’re focused on now, and where we’re heading.

GSAPP recognizes the urgent need for our School to do more to confront racial inequity, acknowledge anti-Black racism, and take an active role in addressing systemic racism and biases. We are thankful for the meaningful statements and insight shared by faculty, students, and alumni expressed through their letters—particularly Unlearning Whiteness by faculty members Amina Blacksher, Lance Freeman, Mario Gooden, Jerome Haferd, Malo Hutson, Gordon Kipping, Justin Garrett Moore, and Mabel O. Wilson; On the Futility of Listening by the Black Student Alliance at GSAPP; Response to A Message of Solidarity by the GSAPP Alumni Group for Action; and other messages received from alumni across generations—as well as contributions at town halls, workshops, and meetings held throughout the summer. We see you, we hear you, and we stand with you. We are committed to transformative change and to engaging in a comprehensive re-examination of the School.

What does that mean?

In order to be the inclusive, vibrant community we strive to be, we have a lot of work to do to evolve our culture. This work will unfold at different levels:

  • Institutional. Confronting head-on the racism that permeates the field of architecture and the policies and structures of GSAPP and the issues of representation, exclusion, and harm that result.
  • Interactional. Engaging in brave conversations, calling in and calling out racist behaviors and practices, and holding one another accountable.
  • Individual. Creating space and support to engage in substantive inner work as leaders, faculty, staff, and students to deepen our awareness and unlearn racist beliefs and assumptions. Creating space and support to heal from the harm done and grow together.

How does it begin?

The work of dismantling racism and creating greater equity begins on several fronts and will continue to evolve. The information included here points to where we have started. We know that none of it will be enough until we begin to see and experience greater equity together.

INTERNAL CULTURE

Several teams have begun concrete work to evolve our School’s culture.


GSAPP Leadership and Faculty — Program Directors & Anti-Racism Task Force

The GSAPP faculty is committed to an engaged curriculum that does not perpetuate bias and specifically addresses anti-Black racism. In July 2020, the School formed an Anti-Racism Faculty Task Force to attempt to answer the question “What does an anti-racist GSAPP look like?” beginning with the explicit repudiation of anti-Black racism, and of racism in all its forms, and offer suggestions for constructive reform. The Task Force will propose key elements of a shared engagement with this question, including tools for the ongoing critical evaluation of the School’s pedagogy and associated practices and a sustainable basis for having difficult and empowering discussions in the future.

The Task Force is co-chaired by Kate Ascher and Malo Hutson and includes Lucia Allais, Lance Freeman, Andrés Jaque, Reinhold Martin, and Weiping Wu, who will meet regularly throughout the Fall 2020 semester to gather faculty and student feedback and ideas in order to assist them in developing recommendations geared toward fostering a more inclusive academic environment at GSAPP.


Diversity Dimensions Consulting (DDC)

What are they focusing on first?

  • Recruitment and Admissions. Through an analysis of existing data, interviews, and focus groups, DDC is taking a critical look at existing practices, policies, communications, and outcomes related to recruitment and admissions with the aim of supporting us in developing a racially equitable admissions process for the 2021 application cycle and ultimately increasing the diversity of our faculty, staff, and student body. The first deliverable is a series of recommendations related to the admissions process that will be provided to leadership in late September.
  • Shared Antiracism Vision. DDC has begun meeting with faculty, staff, and students to support us in shaping our vision of what an antiracist GSAPP looks like. What is it that we as GSAPP declare to be our mission and values? How do we wish to show up to live that mission and values each day? What does meaningful learning, behavior change, policy change, culture change look like in six months, one year, five years?
  • Communications. We want to be transparent about where we are and how things are going. We are exploring how we will evolve in communicating about this work to offer that line of sight and to more clearly and directly address the requests and calls to action we have received.

DDC brings more than 20 years of experience in diversity, equity, and inclusion work with expertise in faculty development, student access, success, and efforts to recruit and retain a more diverse graduate professional workforce.

Below is a high-level overview of their multi-dimensional approach to change to give you a sense of how they engage with this work.

Ddc image

The team from DDC is currently focused on the first two steps you see at the top left, meeting with leadership, faculty, staff, and students to develop a shared understanding of what can be built upon and what needs to be different. This understanding is critical to informing a strategy that translates into meaningful changes in the culture—in new power dynamics, behaviors, practices, policies, and norms.

What are ways to get involved?

If you would like to meet the team and share your perspective, please join one of the upcoming virtual coffee hours:

You can also read more about the team here.

COMMUNITY AND PARTNERSHIPS

Beyond the studios and classrooms, GSAPP will deepen its partnerships with organizations that support Black and other professionals of color spanning the disciplines and practices of the built environment—including architects, planners, preservationists, designers, and developers—and are dedicated to the critical work of providing opportunities for underrepresented students and professionals. These efforts also focus on strengthening the School’s relationship with its immediate community and neighborhood. To this end, GSAPP is collaborating with the New York Coalition of Black Architects/NOMA to support its Project Pipeline initiative, which advocates for increased inclusiveness, diversity, fellowship, equity, and excellence in design and serves a diverse population of students who are underrepresented in the design field. For the third year, GSAPP will continue its sponsorship of the NOMA National Conference, which brings together design professionals from around the country. A number of conference tickets will again be made available to interested GSAPP students.

Over the past two years, GSAPP’s MSRED faculty, alumni, and students have been deepening an ongoing collaboration with Project Destined, an organization that provides training in financial literacy, entrepreneurship, and real estate to underserved youth. During Summer 2020, a group of MSRED alumni and students—including Rasul Hafizov ’19 MSRED, Michael Adelstein ’21 MSRED, and Brian Joonmo Yang ’20 MSRED, among others—served as mentors for Project Destined student teams. During the Fall 2020 semester, MSRED Program Director Patrice Derrington is co-teaching a course with Project Destined founder Cedric Bobo at CUNY-Lehman College.

Since launching in Fall 2019, the GSAPP Housing Lab has focused on how existing buildings inside cities can increase inclusion, resilience, and access. Professors Lance Freeman and Mario Gooden will serve as faculty advisors during the 2020-2021 academic year. The Lab identified low-rise, high-density multi-household buildings as a space of critical opportunity in New York City. Like many urban areas, New York’s housing crisis pushes vulnerable households further to the margins of opportunity, health, and access. This deepens entrenched patterns of exclusion along lines of race, age, ethnicity, gender, and immigration status. In July, the Housing Lab hosted an Action Hour to discuss current projects and plans to more explicitly integrate an anti-racist agenda into its current engagements, methods of working, and connections with the broader GSAPP community. In particular, the Lab is working to engage local partners in Harlem and Queens and to develop research that can address the exclusionary and racist legacies of housing in New York City. The meeting was enriched by alumni involvement including—Mark Barksdale ‘76 MS Health Services & Design ‘84 MSUP, Victor Body-Lawson ‘84 MARCH, Cecily King '15 MSRED, and Sharon Sutton '73 MARCH—who joined to provide valuable feedback and will continue to participate in the Lab during the Fall 2020 semester.

The GSAPP Alumni Board is an important partner in strengthening ties with the School’s alumni community across the generations and around the world. The active involvement of this generous network enables mentorship and support among alumni and students, enriches career services resources and opportunities, and provides advocacy on behalf of GSAPP to help expand partnerships and community outreach both locally and afar. As a result of numerous meetings throughout the summer, the Alumni Board dedicated its August 24 session to re-defining its mission, developing a new Committee structure for the Board’s immediate and ongoing work, and integrating a sustained commitment to equity and anti-racism in each of its efforts that can be shared with the alumni community on a regular basis. The Board also announced the appointment of Ruth Benjamin ‘10 M.Arch as President and Jennifer Romeo ‘12 M.Arch as Vice President, who will serve two-year terms. Read more.

PUBLIC PROGRAMMING

GSAPP is dedicating a majority of its public programming throughout the 2020-21 academic year to focus on issues of race and anti-Black racism, representation, and the intersections of climate change, racial equity, and social justice across the built environment. In addition to these upcoming events, the School has assembled a collection of resources and past programming that explore the direct relationship between the built environment—its disciplines, practices, and pedagogies—and the inequities that it constructs on the new Equity page.

The full schedule of lectures and events is published on the Calendar page, where recordings of past programming can be accessed. Selected events include:

  • Friday, September 11: Site and History: On the Question of Repair
    A discussion acknowledging and exploring Columbia University’s complicity in colonialism and anti-Black racism, especially as it relates to our position in the City. View event recording.
  • Friday, September 18: Race and Modern Architecture
    A symposium to present Race and Modern Architecture: A Critical History from the Enlightenment to the Present, published by the University of Pittsburgh Press. Moderated by book editors Mabel O. Wilson, Irene Cheng, and Charles L. Davis II. View event recording.
  • Thursday, October 8: Memorial to Enslaved Laborers
    A conversation with Gregg Bleam, Diane Browne Townes, Frank Dukes, Eto Otitigbe, Mabel O. Wilson, Eric Howeler, and J. Meejin Yoon, moderated by Farah Jasmine Griffin. Co-presented by Columbia University School of the Arts; Cornell AAP (Architecture Art Planning); the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies; the Institute for Research in African-American Studies; the Lapidus Center for the Historical Analysis of Transatlantic Slavery at the Schomburg Center; and the Studio Museum in Harlem.
  • Friday, November 13 and November 20: Two-part conference on Housing, Public Health and Spatial Justice, Racial Equity and Climate Justice
    The compounding crises of 2020 have brought to bear economic injustice, racial inequity, and climate injustice across the globe. Issues of public health, water, housing, infrastructure, migration, resilience, and resistance are all deeply connected and interlocking. Leaders of research and policy from Columbia GSAPP including the Urban Community and Health Equity Lab, the GSAPP Housing Studio, the Historic Preservation program, Center for Spatial Research, Center for Resilient Cities and Landscapes, and the Temple Hoyne Buell Center for the Study of American Architecture lead dialogues on what comes next for the field.
READINGS AND RESOURCES

Selected Readings Recommended by GSAPP Faculty

Columbia Books on Architecture and the City Recommendations

  • Preservation and Social Inclusion
    James Marston Fitch Assistant Professor Erica Avrami edited a timely volume of essays by a broad range of academics, historians, and practitioners who document historic preservation’s progress toward inclusivity and explore further steps to be taken.
  • Paths to Prison: On the Architectures of Carcerality
    Edited by Isabelle Kirkham-Lewitt, the book aims to expand the ways the built environment’s relationship to and participation in the carceral state is understood in architecture. The collected essays implicate architecture in the more longstanding and pervasive legacies of racialized coercion in the United States—and follow the premise that to understand how the prison enacts its violence in the present one must shift the epistemological frame elsewhere: to places, discourses, and narratives assumed to be outside of the sphere of incarceration.
  • Nights of the Dispossessed
    Riots are extraordinary events that have been recurring with increasing frequency and that occupy a highly controversial space in the political imagination. Nights of the Dispossessed brings together artistic works, political texts, critical urban analyses, and research projects from across the world in an endeavor to “sense,” chronicle, and think through recent riots and uprisings—evoking a phenomenology of the multitude and surplus population. Edited by Natasha Ginwala, Gal Kirn, and Niloufar Tajeri.
  • Avery Review: Issue 48
    As a journal dedicated to decentering the objects, histories, and authors of architecture, the Avery Review is committed to publishing essays that propose radical changes to the current order of things, and to amplifying the work of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) who offer a way forward in this re-building. In Issue 48, Cruz Garcia and Nathalie Frankowski listen to the post-colonial loudreaders of Puerto Rico; Louise Hickman takes stock of the devices and affective labor involved in flying while disabled; Evan Kleekamp browses the “impaired commodities” of Emily Barker’s art; Jen Rose Smith traces Native resistance to seasonal salmon fisheries in coastal Alaska in the summer of COVID-19; and Francisco Quiñones looks behind Luis Barragán’s walls to consider the role of domestic labor in shaping Mexican modernism.

Additional Resources

  • Black Lives Podcast
    Produced by the Institute for Research in African American Studies and the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies at Columbia University, this new podcast series is hosted by Professors Samuel K. Roberts, Jr. and Mabel O. Wilson to discuss the impacts of COVID19 on Black life in New York City and beyond. Episode 1 features Malo Hutson, Associate Professor and Director of the Urban Community and Health Equity Lab, in a conversation on how the built environment impacts health in Black communities, especially in New York City.
  • Resources for Promoting Racial Justice and Eliminating Anti-Black Violence
    A listing of books, films, and podcasts, gathered by members of the Task Force on Inclusion and Belonging at Columbia in partnership with Columbia Libraries, along with a list of organizations advocating for justice across the country and a Columbia conversation about race.
  • University Life Forum: Black Lives Matter, Protest and Creating Change
    This virtual Columbia University community gathering, which featured experts from across the University, focused on addressing racial injustice in our society and the ways in which we can individually and collectively achieve transformative change.