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Demanding Change

A Letter from the Syracuse School of Architecture Class of '20

Dear Dean Michael Speaks, SU School of Architecture Administration and Faculty,

We, as the graduates of 2020, are disheartened and dissatisfied with the Syracuse University School of Architecture’s empty response to the protests against the systemic, institutional racism taking place. As an educator and leader in the design community, you have a responsibility to foster the next generation of architects and designers; however, the School of Architecture is failing to create a diverse class of graduates. Our Black friends and peers have not been welcomed into a thriving and diverse environment at Syracuse University. The School of Architecture has neglected to listen to its student body and to enact the changes which have repeatedly been asked for. Therefore, we must ask again and we urge you to listen and respond.

The Syracuse University School of Architecture has failed our Black community of designers and we are imploring you to take action. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic further illuminated the depth of pre-existing issues that arise from socioeconomic divisions, making certain facets of our education inaccessible to many. While this pandemic was unexpected, many of these issues were not addressed or were met with little sensitivity. Even prior to this, our final year at Syracuse University was rightfully underlined by the failures of the University as a whole to foster a safe environment for our Black friends and peers with the #notagainSU movement. This was an opportunity for our architecture community to listen, acknowledge, and swiftly act upon the requests of our student body. We asked for classes to be canceled amid an unsafe environment for our peers, a request that other colleges on campus willingly obliged. Yet, the School of Architecture did not do this, leaving the decision to individual professors. We asked the school to seek out and hire a truly diverse group of faculty members, curated to teach all histories and facets of architectural design. However, of the 51 faculty members currently listed on the SU SOA website, approximately 38 are White, 8 are Asian/ East Asian, and only 2 are Black; approximately 20 of the 28 staff members are White, and approximately 37 of the 60 visiting critics are White. Here, the School does not reflect the kind of diversity that it claims to have. We asked the School to provide both elective and required courses that highlight and celebrate Black designers and movements. We asked the school for more diversity in accepting, and offering scholarships to, Black students and students of varying socio-economic levels. We asked the school for more diversity in the lecture series, both in the topic and the lecturer. Yet the school has repeatedly failed its student body in these regards; these are no longer requests, they are urgent needs.

Moving forward, we are asking for tangible ways in which the School of Architecture will evolve to create an inclusive environment for upcoming classes. What resources will be provided to curate this space, for faculty, administration, and students alike? What changes can we expect the School of Architecture to take immediate action on to transform the school and its curriculum? At future forums, will we see a more diverse panel of leaders moderating the discussion? What policy changes will be implemented to admit and retain Black and minority students, faculty, and staff in the school? In asking these questions, we also ask for transparency in the actions being taken and by whom to ensure these goals are being met; there must be accountability. Without transparency, we can only expect the same questions to arise and be met with the same answers, putting everyone at a standstill.

Our hope is that this email, and these protests, will activate/reactivate a conversation followed by swift action within the School of Architecture. Issues of racism and classism are embedded in the architecture discipline, and as a leading school in architectural education, both nationally and internationally,  the School of Architecture has a responsibility to critique and push back against those systems in our classrooms and design studios. As we leave Syracuse University, we implore administration and faculty to enact change to develop a truly diverse and inclusive community within Slocum Hall, one which notably celebrates our past, present, and future Black designers. 


The SU SOA Class of 2020

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