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Our Progress Toward An Anti-Racist GSAPP

January 31, 2022

On a Friday afternoon, September 10, 2021, the first workshop of the GSAPP Common Circle began. In it, we watched a news report by a German broadcast station about worldwide demonstrations to support the Black Lives Matter movement. A moment of reckoning among ourselves: racism is deep seated in this country, and it exists in countries across the world. As a participating faculty member myself, I was full of hope and pride when students from different programs and backgrounds shared reflections of the movement. Then, just this month, listening to NPR’s podcast Code Switch, I found myself searching again. According to research by two political scientists, expressed support for the Black Lives Matter movement “waxed and then waned” since summer 2020.

What about at GSAPP? Where are we now in our efforts since launching the GSAPP Anti-Racism Action Plan under the leadership of Dean Andraos in fall 2020? On this eve of Black History Month, I write to share with you a series of updates on our continued conversations and actions to carry forward aspirations for an anti-racist GSAPP. No doubt, we are just at the beginning of a long, collective journey, one that is full of challenges.

Challenges challenge; they also inspire. As you read through this communication, you will see the inspiring ideas by our faculty to integrate anti-racist thoughts into research, practice, and teaching; you will meet our inaugural Assistant Dean of Recruitment, Diversity, and Inclusion—a big welcome to Alade; you will find out about the thoughtful deliberations of the faculty Anti-Racism Task Force; you will see the dedicated funding by our alums for supporting student success; and more. Around the School, especially when we come back to the classrooms in person tomorrow, I hope you have had or will have an opportunity to connect with our two inaugural Community Fellows, Najha Zigbi-Johnson and Andrew J. Padilla.

We are in this together—I look forward to continuing our long, collective journey. My best wishes for the spring semester and for those celebrating the Year of Tiger.



I am thrilled to join the GSAPP community to support and strengthen the great work already underway. This is a really exciting time to join Columbia, as the University and GSAPP deepen our commitments to diversity, equity, inclusion, and addressing systemic inequality. I look forward to learning from my colleagues and creating meaningful partnerships that will positively shape the experiences of students, faculty, staff, and alumni. As a native New Yorker, with over fifteen years of experience as a practitioner, scholar, and teacher addressing issues of equity in higher education, I am so excited to continue this work within this community of brilliant minds.

Having worked with a wide range of campus partners to develop and implement strategies and programs that promote an inclusive community, I am committed to strengthening GSAPP’s connections among our students, faculty, alumni, and the broader community. This requires strong collaboration with the University and all GSAPP programs to promote and support diversity, equity, and a path to inclusionary practices. Over the past months, I have already begun to implement many of the projects in the Anti-Racism Action Plan and will work to further connect students across the School—particularly to support students from groups that are traditionally underrepresented and to engage in the commitment to unifying the BIPOC alumni community. At the center of these efforts is inclusive programming, including organized conversations, mentorship, and networking groups that foster a lifelong relationship with all programs in GSAPP.

I encourage you to stop by my office in Avery 404 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays from 12:00-3:30pm, or reach out to me anytime to schedule an appointment, introduce yourself, or to share any suggestions or concerns at Alade.McKen@columbia.edu.


The Anti-Racism Task Force (ARTF) was established during the summer of 2020 to identify ways to promote anti-racist practice through GSAPP’s pedagogies. In the 18 months since then, a series of initiatives were implemented following the Task Force’s initial recommendations. Co-chaired by Kate Ascher and Mario Gooden, the ARTF now includes Andrew Dolkart, Andrés Jaque, and Laura Kurgan, with student assistant Sophie Sheng.

Achievements to date: The Community Fellows program solicits candidates in nearby metropolitan communities who might have an interest in becoming part of life at GSAPP during the course of an academic year. In the summer of 2021, two inaugural Fellows were selected.

In parallel with the “Dean’s Unlearning Whiteness Award,” established by Dean Andraos for research and practice, a “Curriculum Development Award” was established by the ARTF for development of new courses or new contents embracing relevant anti-racist themes and issues. We are excited to share the initial award winners below, with more information on the website.

The first interdisciplinary orientation program, known as GSAPP Common Circle, also took place in the fall of 2021 with the participation of 486 students and 20 faculty from across the School’s seven programs. The idea of an orientation program that would allow GSAPP faculty and incoming students across programs to engage with each other in a workshop setting originated with suggestions made during initial ARTF outreach to students during the summer and fall of 2020. This first iteration of Common Circle, focusing broadly on the way structural racism and anti-racism action are manifest across the world, involved three workshop-like sessions—each facilitated by two faculty from different disciplines. Although the workshops were remote due to COVID and space restrictions, feedback from students was very positive and highlighted important opportunities and challenges for the program to consider in its future iterations.

Looking forward: As the School and ARTF look ahead to 2022, our themes of study will simultaneously broaden and narrow, to incorporate other forms of racism inherent in societies and to concentrate on complicit structures and forms of racism in the built environment and how to unlearn them. Our goal is to encourage GSAPP students and faculty efforts to confront the many forms in which racism manifests itself, including racism in other parts of the world, anti-Asian racism and other forms of cultural prejudice; and to work collectively to mobilize the fields of design, real estate, historic preservation and planning around opportunities for anti-racism action. We plan to explore how teaching at GSAPP can itself unknowingly support bias and prejudices and, at the same time, raise awareness as to how these classroom prejudices can be addressed as a step to ensuring that GSAPP provides an equitable and supportive environment for learning into the future.

With that in mind, we plan to continue the initiatives set in motion in 2021 and build on them:

  • Curriculum Development grants will again be awarded in 2022.
  • The Community Fellows program will also continue for the academic year 2022-23.
  • The GSAPP Common Circle program will again be required of all students new to GSAPP, but its format will be refined. The focus will be on racism in the built environment, and case studies will be used to better understand how the disciplines of design, planning, real estate and preservation confront racism and engage with antiracism.

In addition, building on student feedback from last year’s Common Circle, we plan to more closely examine cultural prejudices or differences, and explore ways that faculty can adapt their courses and interactions with students to address pedagogical issues and support the success of our diverse and multicultural student body. Discussions with faculty will take place, exploring their own concerns around cultural differences in their classes and including a sharing of different approaches to addressing diverse perspectives in classroom or studio settings. Simultaneously, outreach to international students to better understand their concerns and experiences as learners at GSAPP will be undertaken.

The Anti-Racism Task Force welcomes and encourages faculty participation in the initiatives planned for this calendar year. This includes teaching in GSAPP Common Circle this fall, serving as jury members for award programs, sharing experiences relating to cross-cultural issues and strategies relating to pedagogy, and/or identifying other issues that the ARTF might consider including in its future agenda. Any faculty interested in helping to shape this ongoing effort should reach out to us at the earliest opportunity at GSAPPANTIRACISMTF@lists.columbia.edu.

Faculty grid
Top row, left to right: Erica Avrami, Chat Travieso, Ifeoma Ebo. Bottom row, left to right: Jerome Haferd, Lexi Tsien, Jelisa Blumberg.

GSAPP is pleased to announce the recipients of the Anti-Racism Curriculum Development Award and the Dean’s Unlearning Whiteness Award, each designed to support faculty in advancing the field through research in anti-racist pedagogy, scholarship, and practice. We are grateful to the jury members Lance Freeman, Reinhold Martin, Kate Orff, Jorge Otero-Pailos, and Mabel O. Wilson for their careful consideration, and extend our gratitude and congratulations to the following recipients:

Curriculum Development Award

  • Ifeoma Ebo, “Principles and Praxis of Spatial Justice”
  • Jerome Haferd, “New Forms of Transformative, Transinstitutional PedagogyDark Rurality II—Sojourner Truth: Legacy, Fugitivity, as Radical Urbanism”
  • Chat Travieso, “A Nation of Walls”

Dean’s Unlearning Whiteness Award

  • Erica Avrami, “Pedagogy, Place, and Publics: An Equity Analysis of GSAPP Historic Preservation Studios”
  • Lexi Tsien & Jelisa Blumberg, “Spectacular Vernacular: A Countercanonical Index for the Global Majority”

Read the news announcement with descriptions of the proposals.

  • The kick-off meeting for GSAPP’s Chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architecture Students (NOMAS) took place on January 25. The chapter will promote inclusivity through learning environments, professional development opportunities, and social awareness through every design discipline. Follow the student organization on Instagram: @gsapp_nomas.
  • BSA+GSAPP (Black Student Alliance at Columbia GSAPP) and LatinGSAPP are planning a virtual DJ set at the end of midterm reviews in March, stay tuned for details.
  • BSA+GSAPP is organizing the virtual symposium “HOME” on Saturday, April 9. Learn more and register here.

Inspired by a 1:1 match from GSAPP, alumni and major donors generously responded to the School’s call for support during the fall of 2021. Specifically directed at building the School’s financial aid endowment, these new gifts aim to support a breadth of voices and backgrounds for GSAPP’s most promising applicants.

We are pleased to announce the creation of several new endowed scholarship funds. We thank Joshua Pan ‘67 for support of our international students; Vishal and Rina Bhagwati ‘98 to support those historically underrepresented in the M.S. in Real Estate Development program; as well as additional support from the IDC Foundation to endow the recently created Hilyard Robinson Scholars Fund, providing full tuition scholarships to the Intro to Architecture summer program to undergraduate students enrolled at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in perpetuity.

Since 2016, these gifts, along with the contributions of so many more, have helped to raise nearly $7.5 million towards financial aid. This collective generosity supports GSAPP’s commitment to increased financial aid: over the past five years, financial aid awards have increased by more than 25% for Masters degree students.


Among the ways that GSAPP is further reducing the boundaries of our fields and supporting an expanded curriculum are interdisciplinary courses open to students across the programs, including these two new spring semester offerings:

  • Emanuel Admassu is teaching the interdisciplinary course “Immeasurable Cities,” which poses the question how we measure cities. Students will consider multiple forms of measurement, classification, and bordering, that consolidate power and negate the lives of racialized, gendered, and discounted bodies.

  • Vin Cipolla and Peter Flamm are offering the interdisciplinary practicum “Planning the Cultural Space,” investigating the real-time impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on cultural planning and development and its implications for traditional approaches to the performing and visual arts as well as passive recreation in cultural spaces.