October 12, 2021
Dear GSAPP Community,
Following a successful start to the Fall semester that brought the long-anticipated return of our students and faculty back to Columbia’s campus, I am writing to share some recent progress in our collective work towards a more equitable and deliberately anti-racist GSAPP. Many of these important initiatives are the outcome of work by the Faculty Anti-Racism Task Force, and I would like to thank Lucia Allais, Kate Ascher, Lance Freeman, Malo Hutson, Andrés Jaque, Reinhold Martin, and Weiping Wu for their leadership throughout the past year. In the current academic year, Mario Gooden and Laura Kurgan join the Task Force alongside Andrés Jaque and co-chairs Kate Ascher and Weiping Wu.
To those of you who have not already met him, it is my pleasure to introduce Alade McKen, who joined the School last month in the newly created role of Assistant Dean of Recruitment, Diversity, and Inclusion. Alade has already taken the lead on many of the projects in the Anti-Racism Action Plan and will be working directly with many of you as we continue to implement and develop these further. A native New Yorker, Alade is a diversity, equity, and inclusion thought leader with more than fifteen years of experience focused on belonging and equity. Alade joins us from Lehman College and recently completed his PhD in Education with a focus on Social and Cultural Studies at Iowa State University. At Iowa State he was Editor of The Journal of Critical Thought and Practice, an Asa G. Hillard III and Barbara A. Sizemore Fellow, and the recipient of a Teaching Excellence Award. Through his research and publications, Alade examines the social dynamics of education and culture within society and their impact on race and equity issues. I know he will make a great contribution to the School as an integral member of our team as well as in collaboration with students and faculty as we continue our shared commitment to the initiatives outlined in the Anti-Racism Action Plan.
I also want to take this opportunity to share other concrete steps we have taken in recent months to advance GSAPP’s Anti-Racism Action Plan:
GSAPP’s call for Community Fellowship applications received many strong proposals, from which the jury selected Andrew J. Padilla and Najha Zigbi-Johnson as the inaugural cohort. Padilla is an award-winning artist and educator born and raised in East Harlem who has lectured on displacement and Urban Politics across the U.S. He currently serves on his local community board Manhattan CB 11, where he sits on the budget and land use committees. Zigbi-Johnson was born and raised in Harlem and is committed to building Black power social movements through cultural and civic engagement work. She is a recent graduate of Harvard Divinity School, where she explored Black American social movement history and Black cultural production as a Presidential Scholar. Zigbi-Johnson is the Director of Institutional Advancement at The Shabazz Center, a state-designed memorial, cultural, and educational institution in Washington Heights. You can read more about the Community Fellows online and will hear about upcoming opportunities to meet and interact with Andrew Padilla and Najha Zigbi-Johnson as they join the intellectual and cultural life of GSAPP throughout the 2021-22 academic year.
Our faculty have submitted applications for the Dean’s Unlearning Whiteness Research Award and the GSAPP Anti-Racism Curriculum Development Award, which are being reviewed this month. The outcome for these important opportunities will be shared in November, and I look forward to learning more about the ideas and initiatives to further develop the faculty’s and the School’s anti-racist research, practice, and teaching. I am grateful for the thoughtfulness and time the jury members—Lance Freeman, Reinhold Martin, Kate Orff, Jorge Otero-Pailos, and Mabel O. Wilson—are giving to the selection of these faculty awards, as well as their earlier review of the Community Fellows applications.
At the start of this semester we launched the Common Circle, a series of orientation workshops on anti-racist thought and pedagogy being taught collaboratively by 20 faculty for all incoming students across the School’s programs. Two faculty members from different programs lead each group with the intention to interrogate and reflect on racism as a structuring component of societies across the world and to enhance our engagement with antiracism personally, as members of the School, and as professionals and scholars whose work contributes to shaping the built environment. A big thank-you to the cohort of faculty participating in this first-time effort, which was also very positively highlighted by the M.Arch Accreditation Team. We look forward to reflecting on the outcomes after the final sessions in early November and as always welcome your observations and feedback.
The GSAPP Incubator Prize always encourages a wide range of alumni-led projects while focusing on a specific topic of inquiry, and this year it is dedicated to supporting new forms of anti-racist professional practice by emphasizing initiatives that critically redefine community engagement and participation, with special consideration given to projects that engage communities in Harlem. A jury comprised of faculty and alumni—Lance Freeman and Laura Kurgan with alumni Michael Chen ’01 MARCH, Jason Pugh ’06 MSAUD, and Roberta Washington ’71 MARCH—is currently reviewing this year’s submissions, and we look forward to announcing the outcome in the coming weeks and to welcoming the selected alumni back to the School to share their projects later in the year.
I’m also especially pleased by a new scholarship that allowed us to welcome the first ten fully-funded Hilyard Robinson Scholars to the Intro to Architecture program this past summer. Named in honor of the School’s first Black graduate and former chair of the architecture department at Howard University, Hilyard Robinson scholarships are specifically aimed at undergraduate students currently enrolled in Historically Black Colleges and Universities and are intended to promote diversity, inclusion, and equity in the field of architecture and related fields and to introduce the possibility of career paths to underrepresented individuals. The inaugural student cohort also had the opportunity to work with the GSAPP Housing Lab and contribute to a case study with the West Harlem Group Assistance. This scholarship was created through a grant from the IDC Foundation and is one example of the School’s ongoing fundraising efforts specially aimed at increasing financial aid and student support.
It has been a year since we began to discuss and outline the Anti-Racism Action Plan with involvement from so many of you—students, faculty, alumni, and staff—and while we continue to have a long way to go, I am encouraged by the progress we have made so far. Thank you to the entire GSAPP community, and especially our students, for your invaluable ideas, active participation, and ongoing feedback as we further develop and build on this work in support of anti-racist teaching, practice, and School culture.
I look forward to sharing additional updates and wish you much success as you prepare for midterms and mid-reviews.