While medicine, law, and other professions have made considerable progress, race and gender equity remains a major concern in architecture and planning, and among the organizations that oversee education and practice.
Inside universities, the demographics are more promising, but still lag behind national averages. Too often, this discussion begins and ends with the numbers. While the percentages of underrepresented minorities, women, and other groups are key measures of progress, numbers do not necessarily reflect the commitment a school of architecture and planning has to diversity and social justice.
As you compare programs, make sure to ask three questions:
Most programs will have at least one (often more) courses that cover some aspect of cultural diversity—gender, race, sexuality, religion, ethnicity, etc. These issues have become both important and popular topics across all majors, including architecture, planning, and design. The difference between deeply committed and partially committed programs is the depth and breadth of offerings. Again, this is in part about the numbers—how many courses are offered and across how many topic areas—but there is also a qualitative side. Are courses on diversity and social justice elective courses or are they part of the core curriculum? The number of major courses that explore issues of social justice and equity a program offers, especially studios, sends a clear message about its dedication. The top schools have entire programs focused on diversity and equity.
The breadth and depth of offerings is, of course, tightly connected with the faculty members who teach in the program. Are diversity and social justice courses all taught by the same person, or are multiple professors involved? More specifically, are they teachers only or are they researchers and designers that are leading the way? Do they write books, publish papers, or design or consult on architecture and planning projects? Do they collaborate with colleagues in other disciplines or work in the community? If promoting equality is important to you, it is likely that you will pursue a program, conduct a thesis, and/or seek professional opportunities that push this value forward. You will want a faculty mentor who shares your passion, has contributed to this field, and is experienced in helping other students meet their goals. Leading schools will have multiple faculty members working at the forefront of design for diversity and social justice.
The most committed schools will have a comprehensive diversity plan. It will include a mission statement, specific goals, and key strategies for achieving those goals. It will include both faculty and student recruitment, and it will include support systems like scholarships, academic advising, and social networking. If you find a school’s diversity plan, check when it was last updated. Check how many people are involved in developing it and implementing it. This will give you a sense of how truly committed a school is.
It may also be worth asking a few final questions. Is there an active student group, such as NOMAS? Are there opportunities tostudy abroad, or to chart your own educational path? Is there a formal mentoring program in place that matches your career goals with that of a faculty member of professional in the field?
Of course, a commitment to diversity is likely only one factor in your decision-making process as you weigh your options of where to apply or where to enroll. Affordability, the quality of the faculty, and other factors come into play. But a program’s meaningful commitment to diversity also tells you something about the values of the place. This, in turn, provides a glimpse into the framework of opportunities you may harness as you design your particular educational experience.