Architects Seek Diversity
To facilitate their summit, the AIA's Diversity Forum recruited Patricia Digh, a writer, speaker, and consultant who focuses on diversity, leadership, and globalization. She presented five business points that became the framework for the day's planning and discussions:
Purpose: Where are we going? Plan: How will we get to parity in the profession? Networks: How will we work together? Tools: What resources do we need? Results: How will we measure success?
The five points established a roadmap, but participants agreed that a lot of information is still either missing from surveys and reports, or it is not detailed enough. There was a great deal of debate over how much more research and how many more studies were needed, as well as how to move the process forward.
Taylor warned, "We should not go for a quick fix. This needs to be a long-term strategic plan and process that may take years to fully implement."
"This is a stubborn, critical process," Anderson said in response to comments about the failure of past initiatives. "We are now learning from our past." He added that "Aligning the Institute for the Millennium" (AIM), an AIA planning initiative, is a good model for the diversity initiative because it returns focus to central issues and aligns them with the rest of the Institute. "Stay the course until we come up with an agreed-upon solution. If we split on this, we are doomed," he observed.
So why are there so few African Americans entering the profession? Curtis J. Sartor, Southern Polytechnic State University, outlined nine major reasons:
1. Lack of awareness of architecture as a career option
2. Lack of visibility of African American architects
3. Lack of monetary rewards within the profession
4. Lack of power and influence compared to other professions
5. Isolation of African American students in architecture programs
6. Low SAT scores
7. Architecture is not intrinsic to African American culture
8. Family opposition
Kathryn Prigmore, AIA, a senior associate at Einhorn Yaffee Prescott, Architecture & Engineering P.C. (EYP) and associate professor at Howard University said that African American students are lost to the profession for different reasons than are Anglo students.
In her experiences mentoring students, Prigmore has found that African American students are often not recruited as aggressively, nor are they nurtured as much as their Anglo counterparts.
Sartor presented Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA) survey findings that illustrated several approaches that have been most effective in recruiting African Americans into architecture. Those with the best results were high school visitations; summer programs; scholarships, grants, and loans; and recommendations.
Suggestions, inspired by the surveys, for attracting African Americans to the profession included better exposure and education about the profession at the middle and high school levels, more funding through scholarships and grants, more role models, active recruitment of African American students and faculty, better recruitment efforts in the inner city, and summer design camps in architecture programs for high school students.
The group agreed that mentorship and recruiting are critical components for bringing African American students into the profession and helping them get licensed.
Participants also called for the AIA to play a critical role in attracting and retaining minority architects. Jack Travis, AIA, principal of the New York firm, Jack Travis Architect, presented eight measures for the AIA and Diversity Forum as outlined by the 1994 Diversity Task Force:
1. Adopt a manifesto for substantive change; minority participation on the board should reflect changing demographics
2. Initiate training among upper management
3. Redress public and operating policies in the profession
4. Guide members in affiliated firms to access work produced by diverse architects
5. Counter Euro-centric views in publications
6. Support mutual efforts at mentorship
7. Establish a vigorous position in encouraging American youth
8. Adopt and deliver employment practices in AIA to encourage diverse workforces in the profession.
By the end of the day, summit participants concluded that more research is definitely needed. In the meantime, they established an interim agenda for immediate action.
Agenda items include more press and exposure about the topic, the ACSA to get more detailed data in its surveys, funding to publish and disseminate an existing ACSA survey, gathering data collected by the previous Diversity Task Force, and linking this work with the AIA's AIM initiative.
"Everything that is done with diversity should be done in the broader context of the ever-changing profession," said AIA president-elect Gordon Chong, FAIA. "The AIA must also be a central clearinghouse for the diversity initiative. Otherwise there is no way to truly capture, record, disseminate, and publicize information."
Participants also agreed that while the AIA should serve as a resource, accountability still must be shared among the five collateral organizations AIA, The American Institute of Architecture Students (AIAS), the National Architectural Accrediting Board (NAAB), the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB), ACSA, and NOMA. If no one organization is leading the charge, the challenge remains: How do we divide tasks efficiently so that the initiative does not die?
"I'm not going to let go of this issue," Travis said. "We need to reach more people in the profession and make them care about the process." He advocated publishing a comprehensive report "for all the world to see."
"This is something of critical importance not just to African Americans, but to all of us." Anderson said. "I sense there is an untapped pool of talent out there we overlooked. This loss of creativity is tragic."
Toward the end of the session, the participants put their heads together and developed several lists of ideas and plans of action based on the five business points established at the beginning of the session.
This is only a small sampling of the ideas that emerged:
Purpose: Increase the number and relevancy of African-American architects, relate architecture to African-American cultural strengths, and expose black youth to architecture.
Plan: Increase public awareness in the media, in schools, and in colleges.
Networks: Work with minority organizations, professional organizations, and community groups.
Tools: Develop funding, visibility, and committed crusaders.
Results: Measure success through the increase in numbers and influence in the profession and in society at large.
For an example of one city that is reaching out to inner-city youth, see Architecture High School at One.
Aphrodite Knoop is a writer and editor at the AIA. To learn more about this summit, send an inquiry to the AIA's Diversity Forum. This article copyright © 2001 The American Institute of Architects. All rights reserved.