Foster Racial Justice Through Education in the School of Architecture and Planning at UB

Foster Racial Justice Through Education in the School of Architecture and Planning at UB

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University at Buffalo Graduate Planning Student Association started this petition to Dean of the School of Architecture and Planning at the University at Buffalo Robert G. Shibley

Given the people-focused nature of the planning, architecture, and real estate professions, the University at Buffalo’s School of Architecture and Planning is markedly responsible for equipping professionals with the necessary skills to ensure racially equitable outcomes in communities. To this end, GPSA stands behind the following letter written by a current and former MUP student (Brennon Thompson and Juweria Dahir respectively) outlining policy recommendations the school must incorporate:

"Dear Dean Shibley,

This  letter  is  a  direct  call  to  action  to  address  the  institutional  failings  of  the  School  of Architecture  and  Planning  with  regard  to  racial  equity.  As  American  cities  smolder  with  the grief  and  rage  of  centuries  of  racial  injustice  articulated  through  the  recent  murders  of  George Floyd,  Breonna  Taylor,  Ahmaud  Arbery  and  countless  others,  the  School  of  Architecture  and Planning  has  graduated  yet  another  class  of  Architects,  Planners,  and  Real  Estate  Developers who’ve  had no mandatory education  in  our  racial  reality.  To  the  credit  of  many  of  our  current students  and  alumni  they  have  sought  out  and  centered  equity  in  their  own  learning. However,  as  a  matter  of  fact,  there  are  alumni  practicing  in  their  fields  today  who  have  little understanding  or  no  concept  of  the  deeply  damaging  racial  legacy  of  our  professions.  Our current program fails to  equip  students  with the  anti-racist  consciousness  and  tools  necessary to  heal  our  communities. 

Our  curriculum’s  commitment  to  racial  equity  is  as  marginal, disinvested,  and  tokenized  as  the  communities  whose  generational  cry  has  been  “I  CAN’T BREATHE”.  Our  outrage  as  students  and  alumni  is  rooted  in  the  recognition  of  the  power  of  our professions.  Historically  our  professions  have  been  used  as  tools  of  oppression  and  our contemporary  “racially  neutral”  approach  only  serves  to  mask  and  reproduce  the  status  quo of  White Supremacy in  our  society.  Imagine  instead  a  program  truly  committed  to  justice  and healing,  where  each  graduate  could  competently  and  confidently  respond  to  the  greatest challenges  of  our  time. 

Can  our  graduates  acknowledge  with  empathy  and  authenticity  the dark  legacy  of  our  professions?  Can  our  graduates  articulate  the  direct  link  between  housing policy and disproportionate impact  of  Covid-19 on communities  of  color? Can our graduates be  trusted  community  partners  to  mitigate  harm  and  build  back  better?  Unless  we institutionalize  solutions,  we  cannot  hope  to  solve  institutional  problems.  As  a  starting  point, we urge the School of Architecture and  Planning  move to  implement  the following:   

 
1. The formation of a Racial Equity Committee, co-chaired by a faculty member and student empowered with a sufficient budget to review policy, curriculum, and programs and make clear recommendations without oversight or interference. 

    a. A review of student admissions, assessment standards, aid, and discipline  

    b. A review of hiring, discipline, and advancement of faculty 

    c. A review of the honorary naming of interior and exterior spaces and facilities  

2. A course required for all Arch, MUP, RED students in the School of Architecture and Planning that focuses on race, class and gender, specific to our respective professions. 

3. Review and revise the current curriculum, specifically ‘Evolution of Urban Structure’, in order to more accurately reflect the history of our professions. To include the following:

    a. The contributions of non-white professionals 

    b. The impacts on non-white communities

4. Mandate annual Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training for all faculty and students so they can:

    a. Skillfully and empathetically navigate conversations on racial equity

    b. Recognize and disrupt individual and institutional implicit bias 

    c. Better instruct and engage the entire student population 

5. Require a Racial Equity Impact Statement as a core component in every Studio and Practicum

      a. Require a Racial Equity Impact Statement in every UBRI report  

6. Integrate Public Health into the core curriculum

As  a major  institution  in  the  region  involved  in  decision  making  that  results  in  public  policy, the  University  at  Buffalo  School  of  Architecture  and  Planning  has  an  obligation  to  faculty, staff,  students,  and  the  community  to  provide  the  most  comprehensive  education  on  racial equity.  The  implementation  of  these  recommendations  is  the  beginning  of  a  necessary  and sustained  commitment  to  racial  equity.  A  failure  to  act  is  a  failure  to  educate.  In  the  words  of Ibram  X.  Kendi  “...  there  is  no  neutrality  in  the  racism  struggle…  one  either  allows  racial inequalities  to  preserve,  as  a  racist,  or  confronts  racial  inequities,  as  an  antiracist.  There  is no  in-between  safe  space  of  ‘not  racist.’  The  claim  of  ‘not  racist’  neutrality  is  a  mask  for racism.”  We  as  an  institution  have  a  powerful  role  to  play  and  we  must  do  better.

Respectfully,

Brennon Thompson (Second Year MUP)

Juweria Dahir (Alumna MUP)"

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