IIDA: Increasing and Challenging Diversity at University Level Needed

08/07/2019 By Irena Frumkin

In an age when diversifying the architecture and design (A&D) industry is paramount to securing the future of design, the biggest hurdle can often be not knowing where or when to begin.

Even with our best efforts, “diversity” can become a futile buzzword when not implemented thoughtfully in the workplace.

Workplace diversity isn’t always clear-cut—especially considering its many facets, including race, gender, age, ethnicity, sexual orientation and more—but it’s a necessity in a rapidly changing world and diversifying client pool.

“Whether it is in a school, an organization or a firm, a homogenous culture will stifle voices and perspectives, and ultimately impact the quality and innovation of that practice,” said Gabrielle Bullock, IIDA, FAIA, NOMA, during a 2018 IIDA Student Roundtable, where she also noted that clients are increasingly looking for firms that reflect the diversity of the communities for which they are tasked to design.

[Related: Ruckus Storage Offers Flexible Classrooms for Back-to-School]

It’s now more critical than ever to ensure inclusivity, create diversity and allow it to flourish.

Diversifying design education doesn’t simply mean increasing the amount of minority students; it necessitates a fundamental revamping of how students are educated, what they are educated in and the kinds of role models to which they have access.

Students are Changing

For many interior design programs today, there’s no longer a “standard” student type. Many are international, coming from a variety of ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds, seeking second careers.

“Educators have to completely change the way they teach,” says Liset Robinson, IIDA, associate chair of interior design at Savannah School of Art and Design (SCAD) in Atlanta.

Professors and practitioners must:

  • Rethink design and architecture curricula
  • Challenge the status quo when it comes to methodologies and terminologies
  • Evolve the breadth and scope of the material to accommodate rapidly evolving student demographics

Pratt Institute design student Amrita Ravi says that, “In my experience, design, as taught, is very whitewashed; it’s about the Western world, American and European designers.”

As our travel, communication and business practices become more globalized, so will education, and design curriculum has to reflect the changing world. A diversified syllabus will foster a diversified student body and vice versa.

Increase in Access Needed

But before diverse students can experience this curriculum, there must be an increase in access for students who haven’t traditionally had access to design careers.

Strengthening the talent pipeline will enable more minorities to enter the A&D field. Raising awareness for the field itself will allow for the industry to become better equipped to serve diverse students, and subsequently, students will view design as a viable career path.

Groups like Radically Engaged, which introduces design and architecture to grade school-age students, are setting examples of how to increase awareness of the profession at community levels.

And scholarships run by the IIDA Foundation like the John J. Nelson Sr. Legacy Scholarship Fund, which was created to benefit and further the study of interior design and architecture by African American students, and the IA Interior Architects Diversity in Design Scholarship Fund, are key players in increasing access and diversifying the future applicant pool.

One recent Nelson Scholarship recipient, Christina Bingham, Student IIDA, an African American woman and second-career interior design student, expressed that the fund provided her access she otherwise wouldn’t have had and allowed her to start a new professional journey.

[Read also: ASID Invests in University Students Through Competition and Campus Events]

“It is an incredible honor to be representing the 0.4% of people of color in this profession,” she said while accepting her award during the 2019 IIDA Annual Meeting. “As fortunate as I have been in my education and my career, I have experienced how difficult it is to rise out of a challenging situation when adversity has your nose against a grindstone.”

Take Action Now

The emerging generation of design students are increasingly more diverse and socially aware of what institutions need to both foster and sustain diversity.

It’s up to our educators, practitioners and professionals to bolster the narrative of diversity and take action from the ground up.

Read this next: These American Design Schools Offer International Campuses

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