NEW YEAR, NEW CHAPTER: The Call for Diversity in Architecture Education through NOMAS at Cooper

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By MC Love AR’24

I hope this article finds you ready to join a movement long overdue in architecture. Within the architecture community, minorities face many challenges that most architects would never even consider. Following the petition put forth by the students at Cooper, the faculty and students have been working diligently to reimagine curriculum. There are places within the architecture and design community where privilege impairs diversity, and here are some statistics to paint the picture of what I’m talking about. I have gathered data collected by the National Architectural Accrediting Board regarding diversity in accredited architecture programs:

  • In 2015, 44% of all architecture students were white
  • Only 16% of students were Latinx, 9% were Asian, and 5% were Black in 2015
  • From 2008 to 2015, the percentage of Black students remained at 5%
  • In 2017, only 1 in 5 new architects identify as a racial or ethnic minority

An architect’s responsibility is to provide wellness to all communities everywhere. Our education requires us to learn a smorgasbord of skills and talents that come from the versatility of our profession. However, the profession is not quite as inclusive as it ought to be. There are milestones to be achieved in the entire design community, but the place where change is most crucial is in the education. There are strategic steps Cooper can take towards building a more inclusive environment for minority architects.

In conversations with an incoming first year architecture student Leslie, we discussed the fact that Cooper does not have a NOMAS (National Organization of Minority Architect Students) chapter. She came to me with a proposal to start one, and we discussed a plan to begin the chapter in the fall of 2020. Considering recent events, we decided it was time to start organizing immediately. Many students and faculty seem more than willing to have a NOMAS chapter at Cooper and want to help the cause.

So, what is NOMAS and how will it fit into our community?

“NOMAS’s mission, rooted in a rich legacy of activism, is to empower their local chapters and membership to foster justice and equity in communities of color through outreach, community advocacy, professional development, and design excellence.”

Some of the aims and objectives include:

  • “Fight discrimination and other selection policies being used by public and private sector clients to unfairly restrict minority architects’ participation in design and construction”
  • “Work with local, state, and national governments on issues affecting the physical development of neighborhoods and communities”
  • “Be an effective source of motivation and inspiration for minority youth”

As a community, we would work towards attending conferences and entering design competitions. It is imperative that we raise this awareness towards the need for a more inclusive practice. It is our responsibility to begin the conversations within our profession about diversity and inclusion of minorities.

As a NOMAS chapter at Cooper Union, we aim to establish a community dialogue where students can voice their concerns, questions, and plans to make Cooper antiracist. NOMAS would serve as a meeting point for architecture activists. Students would be encouraged to discuss how the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture fits into the larger role of representation and education of minorities in architecture. Also, what actions can be taken to encourage minority high school students to apply for architecture schools. One of the major problems with underrepresentation is that it creates a misconception of who can be an architect. As a NOMAS chapter, we would establish an active role in high schools where students can be exposed to architecture as a viable profession.

As a chapter, we would also discuss ways to decolonize our school’s curriculum. Within the history classes offered at Cooper, there is a Eurocentric focus. The fixation on traditional canons teaches young architecture students precedents and ideologies that are biased to Western tradition. This results in an education that overlooks Pacific, indigenous, African, Asian, and Latin American cultures which all have their own incredibly rich architectural histories. One aim of NOMAS would be to create an open dialogue with members of faculty and students to amplify the disadvantage of only learning European art and architecture.

NOMAS would hope to have ongoing conversations with deans from the Cooper Union and other colleges to ensure that minorities are being better represented through their respected pedagogies. The deans at the school of architecture at Cooper have been receptive to the demands of the students and are looking to rethink the education of an architect. They have even called for a series of sessions with the community so students can remain at the forefront of these conversations. Hopefully, this will be a platform for the school to reform its own pedagogies while inspiring others to do the same. With NOMAS sounding so similar to “no más” which means no more, I think this is the perfect opportunity for Cooper to stand in solidarity with the struggle to end institutional racism.

You can contact Leslie for more information on how to be a part of NOMAS!

leslie.abadneagu@cooper.edu

 

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