NOMA blog
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Some Thoughts on Diversity in the Profession of Architecture
February 07, 2011

At the 2009 AIA Convention in San Francisco , the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) gave a reception at the Frank Lloyd Wright Tea House, hosted by Allison Williams, FAIA, of Perkins and Will, and Michael Willis , FAIA, of Michael Willis Architects. Before the evening closed, NOMA President Steve Lewis, AIA, spoke to the group about the new diversity initiative that the AIA was introducing and how he wanted NOMA to be involved. I took the floor at the close of his address and and took exception to his remarks.

I stated that the AIA’s diversity initiative would further endanger black architects, who are already endangered. The initiative would lump African American, Asian, Hispanic and white female students together and treat them the same. An example of the problem is the rise in the number of white females who have entered architectural schools and the profession in general, as opposed to the number of African Americans. Today, in the profession there are approximately 100,000 or more registered architects. Of that number, based upon statistics from Dennis Mann in the Directory of African American Architects, less than 1800 are African American architects, as opposed to approximately 35,000 white females in the profession or as architects.

I said that when I was an undergraduate at the University of Minnesota , I was the only African American in the entire school in four years. In most schools then, including Carnegie Mellon, there were about the same number of women. Today, at most schools, half of the students are female, and in some, twenty percent of the students are Asian.

Further, to lump all of the minority students together — African American, Asian, Hispanic and white females — assumes that they are all the same, and they are not. African American students come from completely different backgrounds. Most come from inner city backgrounds where the educational background is different because of the poor schools. Often they lack the economic resources and the family support systems that most other students have. To be successful, African American students in Architecture need a different support system than their Asian, Hispanic and white female counterparts. To lump them together will do the African American students a great disservice, and will impede their progress.

After my remarks, Steve Lewis said that the point had been well made. In 2009, Dr. Sharon F. Sutton, FAIA’Professor of Architecture at the University of Washington, R. Randall Vosbeck, FAIA, the 1981 AIA President, and I developed a proposal for the Latrobe Fellowship that, rather than recognizing the AIA’s concept of diversity in the education of architects. focused on the needs of the most disadvantaged students.