I am at my first official face-to-face Diversity and Inclusion meeting since I was appointed, and I am amazed at the talent surrounding me. It includes the VP of AIA, a couple of FAIA’s, a PhD, and a Hunt Fellow. As one of two Associate AIA members, I am the youngest and least experienced of the group; an intimidating group that seems like it has the potential of ringing me out to dry. My anxiety kicks in as we gather together for the morning session, and questions of doubt begin to surface.
While eating scrambled eggs, bacon, and Cuban bread, we went around the room introducing ourselves. The dialogue became more like therapy than like the bullet points off a resume that I expected. As I listened to these autobiographies, I realized that the people behind all the acronyms—AIA’s, FAIA’s and PhD’s—share something with me. Our paths, whether conventional or non-conventional, lead us to believe that no one should be left behind. A person who has the desire, passion, or love of architecture has a right to feel comfortable practicing it among their peers. My anxiety began to disappear as I shared my story.
A summer high school program at a local University introduced me to architecture. After high school, studying architecture became challenging. In addition to the rigorous demands of architecture school, I struggled with being culturally different compared to the populous majority. I was confronted with unforeseen obstacles, such as stereotypic attitudes and stigmas, unfamiliar values in the studio culture, and ineffective teaching methods, especially during crits. Although the majority of these attitudes and actions in my social environment were in subtle forms, they still impacted my architectural education. In the end, I transferred schools and graduated at a HBCU.
The afternoon session at the meeting touched on every topic imaginable, most of which related to each other and strung together with a common thread of education and giving it a voice: K-12 graders becoming architects, community colleges feeding into 4 and 5-year architecture schools, giving HBCUs resource and support, and educating about civil rights for the LGBT community. We highlighted past accomplishments, such as “Women in Architecture” and “Shadow an Architect Program,” as well as formed stronger alliances with other organizations.
At the end of the session, I felt focus and empowered. There are resources and support in this council and within the AIA community that can eliminate the challenges I faced during my architecture education and beyond. The 2009-2013 AIA Diversity Action Plan includes strategies to expand and nurture the atypical design professional. Check out aia.org/diversity as well as Twitter, Facebook and Linked-In under “diversity and inclusion” for upcoming events and to find out how the council plans to keep you informed. You can also follow me on twitter @MelissaRDaniel and Linked-In
Melissa Daniel Assoc. AIA NOMA
Melissa Daniel currently works on several standard embassy design and renovation projects for the U.S Department of State for Washington, DC-based firm Karn Charuhas Chapman & Twohey (KCCT). Ms. Daniel has significant experience with the design of major public and commercial projects, with particular expertise in construction administration. As an active member in AIA|DC Chapter Emerging Architect Committee, Ms. Daniel has worked on the Architecture Uncensored lecture series (Fall 2009) and implemented a weekly ARE study group called DCstudyARE. Recently elected board member for DC chapter of National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA), she serves as chair of the Education committee. Ms. Daniel received her Bachelor of Architecture degree from the University of District of Columbia and currently sits for the Architecture Registration Exam. Outside of architecture, she is a PACK (People & Animal Cardio Klub) volunteer with the Washington Humane Society.
This article is a personal reflection of the author and does not represent the opinion of the National Organization of Minority Architects, its board of directors, or its membership.