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A Message from GSAPP’s Anti-Racism Task Force


December 21, 2020

Dear fellow members of the GSAPP Community,

With gratitude to all who generously shared their experiences, thoughts, and suggestions throughout this past semester, we offer this summary of the work of the GSAPP Anti-Racism Task Force to date. Reflecting the Task Force’s mandate to focus on curricular and programming matters, this summary outlines four general recommendations, with further specifics indicated in each case. Directed explicitly but not exclusively against the anti-Black racism that has come into worldwide focus in recent months, these recommendations bear also on all other forms of racial discrimination.

Each recommendation has been guided by the effort to establish an overall framework for anti-racist teaching, scholarship, and practice that is responsive to the diverse needs and emphases of GSAPP’s distinctive academic programs. Through the course of the semester, meeting with colleagues and students from all of these programs, it became clear to us that individual programs and individual faculty have undertaken important initiatives of their own, from the rewriting of syllabi to the reconsideration of case studies or site selection, which we aim only to complement with these schoolwide recommendations.

In recognition of their commitment to principled curricular change, we thank especially the authors of the open letters “Unlearning Whiteness” and “On the Futility of Listening,” as well as the other student and alumni groups who have helped advance this conversation with similar statements, reflections, and suggestions. Finally, we thank Dean Amale Andraos for her leadership in promoting the cause of anti-racist pedagogy and practice at GSAPP. We offer these recommendations in support of her work, undertaken jointly with many faculty and administrative colleagues, to commit GSAPP to an explicitly and systematically anti-racist path.

Sincerely,

Lucia Allais, Kate Ascher, Lance Freeman, Malo Hutson, Andrés Jaque, Reinhold Martin, and Weiping Wu

RECOMMENDATIONS

1. Introduce all incoming students to the principles of anti-racism, while simultaneously exposing them to different perspectives on challenges the issues present for those working in the built environment.

  • To accomplish this goal, we suggest all incoming students take a required one-point course during their first or second semester. The course will enroll students from across the school in the same sections and will meet monthly for discussion. Some suggestions for the course include the following:

    • A recommended reading prior to the beginning of the semester could be a useful place to start.
    • Course could be taught in multiple, discussion-based sections by two faculty members per section, each from different disciplines.
    • The initial focus should be on one or more cross-cutting anti-racist themes relevant to the various disciplines of the built environment.
  • This one-point interdisciplinary course should be initiated in some form no later than Fall 2021.

  • A three-point (full) multidisciplinary, school-wide elective should be developed as a follow-on.



2. Encourage all GSAPP faculty to embrace anti-racism in their teaching, scholarship, and practice.

  • Continued and enduring faculty engagement with structural, societal processes related to the built environment is necessary if GSAPP is to become a truly anti-racist institution. Such work may include issues such as alternatives to mass incarceration, discriminatory housing and financial practices, and barriers to professional advancement in built environment disciplines. Current faculty should be supported in their efforts to oppose racism and “unlearn whiteness” in their disciplines and develop inclusive forms of knowledge, practice, and pedagogy.

  • To this end, the task force recommends a grant program for anti-racist work that could be used for research or curriculum development.

    • The grant(s) would be open to adjunct and full-time faculty.
    • To maintain current momentum, a call for proposals should be issued in spring 2021.
    • A panel consisting of faculty and students would review proposals and make recommendations for awards.
  • To further assist current faculty engagement with anti-racism, the task force recommends periodic workshops be held to provide a forum for faculty to share experiences, tools, and progress in the classroom; workshops could also host outside speakers with experience and expertise on these matters. These should be held at least once per semester, beginning with one early in Spring, 2021.

  • GSAPP should consider implementing a robust system of joint-studio teaching, which can help ensure integrated antiracist pedagogy and produce a shift in studio culture towards collective achievement. The task force recommends a multi-year commitment to incentivize joint studios taught by interdisciplinary teams (vetted by the Dean or program directors) with an initial target of 10-20 per cent of the school. Joint studios taught in the Spring of 2021 should be evaluated as the basis for an expanded program in the 2021-22 academic year.

  • To complement this work, the school should consider, during future hiring and recruitment, how new hires contribute to the school’s anti-racist climate.



3. Facilitate engagement with the Harlem community and local communities more broadly

  • Rather than past approaches that have been limited to offering Columbia’s neighbors technical assistance, the Task Force recommends inviting local community members into GSAPP and its curriculum.

  • The task force suggests GSAPP develop a Community Fellows Program that would invite local leaders to engage with the GSAPP community in a semester/year-long part-time residency. Each Fellow would receive a stipend, attend lectures, meet with students, serve on juries and/or perhaps teach a course. By engaging in a formal way with GSAPP students, the Fellows would:

    • Facilitate the development of relationships between GSAPP and neighboring communities of color.
    • Institutionalize the school’s commitment to anti-racist pedagogy and practice.
    • Help educate GSAPP students and faculty about the surrounding community and more generally contribute to educating practitioners to work in partnership with communities of color.
  • The Community Fellows Program should be organized in Spring, 2021 and introduced for the full academic year 2021-22.

  • In addition to establishing a Community Fellows program, we encourage GSAPP to recruit more community members to teach or co-teach as adjunct faculty or guest lecturers.



4. Strive for cross-cultural competency and awareness more broadly, both in the classroom and as it relates to student travel. These efforts could include:

  • Educating faculty with respect to different approaches to learning by students from diverse cultural backgrounds, which acknowledges the implications of a Eurocentric approach to the classroom and to learning. Means to achieve this might include workshops, a faculty retreat, guidance from Columbia’s Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL) or other sources, and should involve students and alumni as appropriate. Further research on the appropriate approaches should be done in Spring, 2021 with an expectation of introducing this awareness training for faculty during Fall, 2021.

  • Resources, possibly tied to study trips or site visits, for working with local partners in ways that respect their time, interests, and capacities.

  • To reinforce these efforts, the Task Force encourages a shift in schoolwide philosophy of travel, whether domestic or overseas, by providing both students and faculty training in responsible travel, by weighing the benefits of travel against the risks of fostering global inequities, and by working to counter colonial bias in syllabi, instruction, and site choice.

Additional Letters from the Anti-Racism Task Force