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Launching New Initiatives of the GSAPP Anti-Racism Action Plan

May 25, 2021

Dear GSAPP Community,

I write to you today, on the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man whose life was brutally taken—as too many Black lives have been before him and since. In the wake of Floyd’s death, Black Lives Matter protests erupted in solidarity on streets across cities in the US and abroad—exposing the persistent racial inequities that are designed into cities, policies, and institutions and underscored by the outsized impact of COVID on the most vulnerable people, communities, and nations around the globe. Our thoughts today are especially with our students and alumni and their families and friends who are suffering as a result of the recent violence in Israel-Palestine. Please know that the University’s ISSO team and our Student Affairs office are available to assist you.

As a school of architecture and the built environment, situated in the heart of New York City and with ties all over the world, we recognized throughout the year the urgency of intensifying our focus to expose and unlearn the exclusionary and extractive modes of thinking, designing, planning, and building that remain foundational to our disciplines and practices. Across scales and formats, we learned to acknowledge our institutions’ contributions to the erasure of the histories and practices of Black, Indigenous and People of Color. We engaged in discussions as to how constructs such as race, orientalism, and other reductive forms of representation are central to our disciplines’ histories. We refocused our critical and self-reflective modes of knowing to reveal how our tools—drawing, building, writing, policy-making and more—have and continue to build-in segregationist, colonial, and settler practices across the built environment. And we committed ourselves to exploring what anti-racist and decolonizing practices might mean for our disciplines, and how we can use these lenses to move towards renewed engagement and collective action to construct a more sustainable, equitable, and creative built environment.

Buttressing this multi-faceted effort is the GSAPP Anti-Racism Action Plan, established as a collective framework to affirm the School’s commitment to supporting and advancing new modes of anti-racist scholarship and practice at GSAPP and to support the transformation of the field beyond our walls. Today, as part of this Plan, I am pleased to announce that the School is ready to launch three key initiatives:

  • The GSAPP Community Fellowship Program will promote educational ties between GSAPP and surrounding communities of color in response to students’ desire to learn more about the urban environment in which the School is situated. Applications are open for two $20,000 fellowships to support local practitioners’ participation in lectures, programs, and classes related to one or more of the disciplines of the built environment addressed at GSAPP. More information about how to apply can be found online.

  • The Anti-Racism Curriculum Development Award is designed to foster the development of new School-wide courses, or the revision of existing courses, that address questions and material related to race, equity, and society in the built environment. The grants focus on School-wide teaching in recognition of the shared project of further developing a robustly anti-racist curriculum in the built environment, which draws on specific expertise in each program and shares that expertise with students across the School. Applications for up to three $10,000 grants this year are open. More information on the application process can be found online.

  • The Dean’s Unlearning Whiteness Research Award is designed to help GSAPP to become more diverse, equitable, and inclusive through research that explores and advances new forms of anti-racist practice in the built environment. Applications are open for up to three $10,000 grants for faculty-led initiatives, research, and new forms of practice including independent publications, exhibitions, and other projects to initiate and sustain efforts towards the project of unlearning Whiteness. More information on the application process can be found online.

In addition, work is underway to launch a fourth initiative in September of this year:

  • GSAPP Common Circle, a series of required interdisciplinary workshops for new students on anti-racist thought and pedagogy, responds to student calls for broader discourse across GSAPP programs. This School-wide orientation initiative will be taught collaboratively by approximately twenty GSAPP faculty, with two faculty per section. The call for faculty participation has recently been issued in preparation for the debut of this new, cross-disciplinary programming during the Fall 2021 semester.

Alongside these initiatives, I also want to highlight the outcomes of our initial work in admissions designed to increase applications from underrepresented student groups. As we begin the 2021-2022 academic year, I am very happy to share that we will welcome a significantly more diverse cohort with a three-fold increase in Black students and a more than 75% increase in the number of Asian-American and Hispanic and Latinx students compared to last year. We are providing more than $500,000 in additional financial aid, and will welcome our first full-tuition Norma Merrick Sklarek Scholars Fund recipients among our new students. This summer we are also launching the new Hilyard Robinson Scholars Fund with support from the IDC Foundation to provide full tuition for up to 10 students from Historically Black Colleges and Universities joining our Intro to Architecture and Intro to Urban Planning program.

In addition, the next round of GSAPP Incubator Prizes for recent alumni—including our Class of 2021—was just announced, and is dedicated to supporting new forms of anti-racist professional practice together with new approaches to community engagement. The application deadline is at the end of August in order to allow those of you completing your summer semester to participate, and application details can be found online.

Finally, I would like to invite all of you again to the first School-wide reading which has been scheduled for June 4. Professor Lance Freeman will present Chapter 3 of his recently published A Haven and a Hell: The Ghetto in Black America as well as Chapter 2 from The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein, in conversation with Professors Weiping Wu, Malo Hutson, and Kate Ascher. I hope that you will also join us on June 9 for the conversation Reimagining Learning and Research with Avery Library Director Hannah Bennett, Assistant Professor Ateya Khorakiwala, Ph.D. candidate Charlette Caldwell, and MSCCCP graduate Caitlyn Campbell, as we extend the conversation of developing new forms of research and collection access during COVID-19 in light of long-standing structural biases and exclusionary practices.

Anti-racism is a daily practice that I invite all of us to engage in, to “show up” to with our vulnerabilities, and with humility and generosity in light of the overwhelming task ahead. It is a framework that I believe can be transformative across our field, and one to which I believe GSAPP can contribute immensely, now and in the future.