A collaboration between researchers at the University of Washington, the American Institute of Architects (AIA), and the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture has led to the development of a guide that sheds light on the state of equity in architectural education, recommends ways to improve, and points to further resources for change.
The report, “Equity in Architectural Education,” a recent supplement to the AIA “Guides for Equitable Practice,” includes the voices of faculty, students, and departmental administration from focus group interviews. These narratives point to a shared desire to improve the systems of architectural education. They also highlight the barriers and challenges underrepresented students and faculty often face in the field.
“One of the specific issues with architecture is that for so many centuries we’ve been focused on buildings as either objects or machines, and thinking of them in terms of community anchors and forces for equity and belonging is not what we’ve [broadly] been doing. … The potential is huge, but you can’t just do it piecemeal. You have to really let it infiltrate everything you do.”
The AIA “Guides for Equitable Practice” provide advice for the industry as a whole. Topics cover intercultural competence, workplace culture, compensation, and recruitment and retention. The supplemental guide was created to make all areas that feed into the continuum of practice more equitable, with a focus on the academic space.
Renée Cheng, the John and Rosalind Jacobi Family Endowed Dean of the College of Built Environments at the University of Washington, served as the project lead.
One key takeaway from the report is that because the culture of the field is predominantly Western, male, and White, underrepresented students and faculty often feel isolated, says Cheng. Students reported a lack of representative role models and mentors, barriers in accessing resources and tools, and insufficient depiction of lived experiences in the curriculum. They also feel largely unprepared to address contemporary issues within their careers, such as climate change, despite expectations that they be the generation to solve them.
“One of the specific issues with architecture is that for so many centuries we’ve been focused on buildings as either objects or machines, and thinking of them in terms of community anchors and forces for equity and belonging is not what we’ve [broadly] been doing. … The potential is huge, but you can’t just do it piecemeal,” says Cheng. “You have to really let it infiltrate everything you do.”
Among solutions highlighted in the report, students, faculty, and administration are advised to identify personal equity values, work to implement practices that match those ethics, and review progress or lack thereof over time.
Faculty can do this by consistently exercising and applying these goals, such as having a shared understanding of DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) in the classroom, incorporating student input within course content, and scrutinizing admissions and evaluation processes.
Administration can find ways to manage biases in the system and advocate at the level of accreditation and regulation.
Cheng hopes these guides prompt discussions about equity at both businesses and academic institutions. The focus group feedback included in the report can offer new perspectives and the guides can be used to create new standards for DEI or to inform a strategic plan. Young professionals can also use it as a resource to encourage leadership to prioritize equitable goals.●
This article was published in our October 2023 issue.