Black graduates discuss equity, social justice, and the architecture profession

Black graduates discuss equity, social justice, and the architecture profession

This summer Nina Rappaport, publications director, convened an online roundtable discussion over two days with nine Yale School of Architecture Black alumni of different generations based in different cities. In the framework of the pandemic, protests, and quest for equity, they shared their experiences and knowledge as they explored and debated anti-racist architectural education and the various forms of practice with which they have engaged. The discourse was rich with personal stories from Yale, suggestions for academic reforms, and visions for the future. Yale professor of African-American Studies Tavia Nyong’o moderated the discussion, which was condensed and edited for Constructs.

Tavia Nyong’o You were all at Yale with different deans and represent three different eras of the school. In August 2020 we are going on two months of national protests around racial justice and widespread calls for reform across corporate America, institutions of higher education, and the field of architecture. What is your perspective as architects on these demands? What is the particular relationship between architecture and the Black Lives Matter movement in terms of grappling with the history and ongoing influence of white supremacy in the United States?

Jerome Haferd Architecture is difficult to define in many ways, but I would say it is proximate to and obviously has to deal with issues of the built environment. Because it deals with bodies and space, especially issues like property ownership, emplacement, and control, architecture is very much implicated in parts of those conversations, but we are not good at talking about the entanglements. The conversation about architecture becomes very focused on its capacity as a service profession in terms of aesthetics and form in a more conventional sense. What’s emerging in recent conversations and unrest has to do with a substrate that architecture deals with, which is the land and the movement of bodies in that space.

Jennifer Newsom The ways in which “architecture,” as a profession and a discipline, differentiates itself from “building” is through a narrow definition that doesn’t aim to take a lot of other things into its awareness. At school I was conscious of those limitations and the ways architecture reified itself through a myopic lens. Much of my own practice has been an act of refusing to operate inside these boundaries or trying to widen, reconfigure, and reimagine them. The ways in which we talk about aesthetics, out of the Enlightenment era, is a very limited perspective coming from a white dominant position. When we talk about how architecture perpetuates a white supremacist model, it’s about shaking it to its very core. That kind of reckoning presents a real existential crisis for a lot of people.

Jonathan Jones When it comes to issues such as the murders of George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery, architecture is a reflection of power. Architecture deals a lot with power, from builders who did everything, to a division of labor into those who execute and those who just think. There has to be a concerted effort to recognize that there is a default—in teaching and curriculums and buildings—that is white and favors the group in power, and we need to look at other models. In the past, cultural buildings, including Brooklyn Academy of Music, communicated those messages just in how they were built—often classical styles, a base with steps. When a neighborhood includes people of color it communicates something different, something that says, “This is not a place for you,” and these residents never go inside to the theaters because of the message communicated implicitly through the architecture. We need to push back and take down a lot of those defaults and tendencies in buildings and architectural training and employment. Architects are often not in positions of power because projects are already framed in certain ways by the time they get to the architect’s office. But if architects are in a position of power to frame the issues and the project in the beginning, then maybe we will end up with a different fabric.

Michael Marshall Sometimes it’s outside of the hands of architects or designers. But we can stimulate policies; we can try to support and elect officials that are going to do the right thing by society. We architects see things in a holistic way. That is how we can support change: by being the thinkers and the dreamers, and saying there’s a better way of doing things. But then being able to show how affordable housing can mix with and gauge the system is what some developers want.

Amina Blacksher As educators we have a huge responsibility. In any graduate program you’re given, as an example through precedents either explicitly or implicitly, the definition of architecture. Then you find that, implicitly, you actually have a master’s in European architecture. Outside of the United States and Europe there’s another way of approaching architecture. For example, I did a residency in Brazil, and I always thought of drawing as the best way to convey design intent. But master builders don’t work that way: they are more like dancers executing the form while they are dancing. In our current compartmentalization of the discipline, the architect would be the choreographer and the builder would be the dancer. Architects have become just the thinkers. The definition is myopic. When the tables start to turn and there’s diversity and inclusion within the field, the definition has to change because the people who are designing will not necessarily be designing a Cartesian box or may not fit into a narrow or exclusionary definition of architecture as previously described. It goes back to a colonial model and a hierarchy. To put this in the context of the murder of George Floyd, the difference for me is that people have been aware of but haven’t been moved to acknowledge the injustices or the definitions that favor the status quo. Everyone has a body so everyone has a way to enter into the hierarchy. Everyone is implicated in dismantling the psychology of race as a construct.

Francesca Carney I am newer to the working world and have been introduced to a certain way of thinking about how the built environment is set to look. I like the notion of being in a position of influence to frame our built environment. After RFPs are given and reviewed, you often realize the intent is superficial and may not benefit the greater good. As architects we are supposed to have the health, safety, and welfare of our communities in mind. Hopefully things will change now, but the conversation on diversification in education has not really happened.

Everardo Jefferson The field of architecture is reluctant to admit its complicity with racism because it usually does not have to deal with it. I worked for seven years at the Yale Construction Management Department, where I had a wonderful boss who said, “Do you know about the sleeping-dog theory? Our field is a dog that has to do a job. And you kick the dog and you have to push it until it gets up and does some task, and then it goes back to sleep.” This is what happens in architecture: it awakens to some crisis, it does just enough to address it, and then it goes back to sleep. That is my experience as a Yale graduate. It went to sleep, and now it’s awakened again. We have to keep kicking the dog before it goes back to sleep again. I agree with what Jerome is saying about ownership; we have to present ideas that work for our communities because it’s not just for ourselves.

Jerome Haferd We also need to address some of the issues Everardo is bringing up as an evolution of language and consciousness. It’s the turning of the gaze to something like Whiteness, for example, that I haven’t seen before. The evolution of understanding and of integrating—especially for non-POC people—the decolonization of our practices, our institutions, and aesthetics is to the immense benefit of all. “We are all raced and within that system [racism], bereft,” as Toni Morrison so eloquently stated. I think people are really starting to get that notion, and if enough of us do the work then we’re onto something.

Jennifer Newsom This pattern has repeated so many times at Yale and elsewhere. Every 15 to 20 years the Yale School of Architecture has this conversation with itself and tries to reckon with these issues, and then amnesia takes hold and a deep slumber comes over it. Perhaps focusing the gaze on Whiteness and white supremacy, rather than discussing racism as something that only happens to people of color, is the pivot we all need for our collective liberation. The question really is, “What will be the lasting change—how will things be done differently this time?” Otherwise we will be having the exact same conversation in 2035.

Tavia Nyong’o Could you reflect upon what the current moment means for your field? This is not the first time architecture has been called upon to promote social justice through the built environment. What lessons can we learn from the successes and the failures of past efforts?

John Reddick I’m a beneficiary of the postwar civil-rights era. Veterans like my father accessed the G.I. Bill for education and housing based on sacrifices that were shared equally by the Bushes and Kennedys, who lost a son in a war. I’m not saying that everything of the period was hunky-dory and equal, but it allowed a generation of working-class whites to go to Yale as well. Sure, there were brand names in my class at Yale, but there were also ethnic whites who had excelled in public schools just as I did. Many were second-generation students whose families had accessed college through the G.I. Bill. So there was a sense of uplift in the mix for all of us; there was more equality in how all of us got to Yale back then. I feel that the country has really stepped away from this in terms of providing a more equal playing field socially and economically. How do you create a dialogue that allows everybody to move forward together on an equal plane? The Ralph Ellison Memorial project, in Riverside Park, gave me the opportunity to incorporate the political, community, and artistic aspects, and so on. Our culture portrays all people as created equal. It’s our pursuit of happiness. It’s about inclusion. But I think our challenge is how to bring our voices together and accentuate the best of what we’re doing.

Michael Marshall My perspective is more as a practitioner. Knowing that African- American architects understand the nuances of African-American culture and the neighborhoods where we work makes it easier to move certain initiatives forward. The local government and the practitioner have to buy into the policy—especially African-American architects, who may not have had the same opportunities as their contemporaries, not only because of race but also lack of access to decision makers in certain clubs and associations. So that is the lens I’m looking through, and the opportunity is to correct some of those exclusions over time and prepare the next generation. I think this generation coming up has the chutzpah. We just have to push the door open so they can step in and present themselves.

Clifton Fordham It’s important to note that it’s been more than 50 years since the Civil Rights Act. My undergraduate teachers came up through that era and were hired in pretty significant numbers. The National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) was born out of that in the early 1970s. In the 50 years that followed through today, with the neoliberal attitude of privatizing, we’re not necessarily better off. Recent protests have really underscored that, and we’re struggling for answers as to why we can’t get better representation in institutions and academia, particularly at higher levels. It’s heartening that there has been a greater response than I would ever have imagined coming out of these unfortunate events. People with power, including corporations and institutions, are at least saying that these things should be better. We can’t let this opportunity pass us by.

John Reddick I’m encouraged on one level, but I also see a lot of gestures as mere window dressing. Firms just giving workers off for Juneteenth won’t advance a genuine dialogue within the profession. People have told me as a racial-bonding story, “I came to the Apollo Theater in the 1960s. I was scared, but I came to see James Brown, and my parents didn’t like it.” I mean, one thing more than 40 years ago! Well, for African Americans, navigating outside of our comfort zone is something we have to do every day.

Michael Marshall We haven’t been able to advance because of racism and the fact that the profession is so competitive in general. Sometimes it’s a zero-sum game to get a project, and it has nothing to do with race, and sometimes they use the veil of race to exclude us. A lot of this comes down to economics. Institutions and companies need to see diversity as an investment and to monetize it. For example, firms could be rated for their diversity initiatives the way Moody’s or Standard & Poor’s accord value. Architects and developers/owners could use those points to win commissions or get regulatory relief. I am looking into models such as LEED to develop ratings for equity and employment in architecture firms. There is a big opportunity now, and we have to step up to the plate and deliver.

Clifton Fordham Unfortunately the door could close as people go back to complacency; there’s a comfort level that I think John is referring to. People start to rationalize the way things are and come up with excuses. As long as you keep the conversation going there will be some practical initiatives like Michael’s to put a mirror up to the field and say, “This is not okay.” We have to make some effort.

Michael Marshall It’s a matter of sharing—and a bottom line.

Clifton Fordham Sharing, exactly. Not everything we do is about dollars; it is often about prestige or pleasure. We have the capacity as a field to exert ourselves in ways that aren’t necessarily going to reflect on the bottom line. Are we conscious enough to be aware of how we do that? We can make that extra effort and support people through mentoring.

Michael Marshall I have faith that the younger generation doesn’t want to kick this racial can down the road anymore; they don’t want to inherit it. The only president a number of these kids out there protesting knew before Trump was a Black guy. We have to remind them what it was like before and not to become complacent. I remember some African-American architects I worked for in D.C. in the 1970s talking about projects they had done. One architect said to the other, “Was that before or after the match?” They were referring to the 1968 riots. We are going to have a George Floyd inflection point in terms of before and after. The younger generation is ready to go. I’m optimistic about it.

Clifton Fordham I’m encouraged about members of the younger generations I meet through my teaching, and I think the future is going to be better. As a country we are engaged in a struggle to shed racially based bitterness and nostalgia for times that do not reflect our better selves. Americans are paying a significant cost for unresolved equity issues in terms of health, education, and housing needs that are undersupported because the beneficiaries are considered others.

Tavia Nyong’o Francesca and Jennifer, how did your historical research change how you see your educational experience at Yale? And Jennifer, what were the key aspirations of the “Black Boxes” symposium in terms of students today?

Jennifer Newsom I planned the symposium “Black Boxes: Enigmas of Space and Race,” in January 2004, because of the frustrations I had as a student. I had experiences early on in my graduate education that made it clear to me that—even though I was present, I was in the room, and I aspired to be an architect—I was somehow invisible. I was trying to come to terms with what that meant, this crisis of self, of how to exist in this place when it doesn’t even see me, or the legacies of people who look like me. It came from a very personal place. I was not trying to arrive at any sort of conclusion about what Black architecture is, but instead explore the question of its existence through history, theory, and application.

Francesca Carney My research “The Black Architect at Yale” was also a personal journey. Yale was definitely the whitest environment I had ever been in. I felt isolated, so in my last semester I researched the history of Black students in the department. It seemed to me that there was, on average, one per year. I conducted interviews with previous alumni and faculty, which was really rewarding. I discovered the history of the Black architect at the Yale School of Architecture, basically a body that I didn’t know existed. That history really needs to be embedded in the education of the students so that it won’t be forgotten and can be shared beyond those walls.

Amina Blacksher I think the articles in the July/August 2020 issue of Yale Alumni Magazine got it right: “As a national community, we are engaging in the periodic ritual of being surprised by the deadly force of racism when it has been with us all along.” It is not just in architecture but it is pervasive; like the air, it is everywhere. But perhaps one thing that could be productive is an earnest effort to attack and dismantle the assumptions in your own industry. The officers who killed George Floyd, one in particular, displayed confidence in a system that would protect his actions and continue a tradition of no accountability. The men that killed Ahmaud Arbery, as Jonathan Jones said, felt they had all the power. We have to change the tide toward a standard of accountability. Things that were acceptable in society 30 years ago aren’t acceptable now, so if we can adjust the needle on what’s acceptable it will permeate into universities and other institutions.

Jerome Haferd First, I wanted to reiterate both of the points Amina raised and point out the wariness everyone here has about even participating in a conversation like this: Who is the audience and what is this conversation really about? I have to give it the leap of faith that James Baldwin describes: that there’s goodwill on behalf of the white community to make meaningful change, and that these gestures aren’t being used to absolve them so that we can all move on, now that “we’ve done our bit on race.” I also have my doubts that meaningful change will come, but it’s important to move the needle of the dialogue, language, and consciousness.

Amina Blacksher It will continue to be a burden, and a tiresome and exhausting struggle, and a full-time job, as long as it’s shouldered only by the people who are suffering from it. It’s not asking for a favor, or for accommodation. It’s you locating your knee and figuring out whose neck it’s on and how to get it off. It’s decentering whiteness as the assumption.

Tavia Nyong’o You all seem to agree that the field of architecture is behind in terms of the decolonization of its curriculum to be more anti-racist. As a number of you pointed out, the current movement is a multiracial effort focused on social justice and community involvement rather than prestige and dollar signs. Can you envision architecture playing a role? Given its deep Eurocentric roots and relationship to wealth, what might an anti-racist education in architecture look like?

Clifton Fordham In my new book Constructing Building Enclosures, I argue that we can address technical or complicated performance issues of building enclosures while still attending to the art of architecture—a central concern, particularly in academia. There is a corollary that we can start to engage concrete social, economic, and political issues without undermining the artistic side of what we do. There is a potential for much more engagement between the academy and communities beyond the social boundaries. At the same time we have to mind what expressions we are contributing to. What are the gestures? The loosening of the debate is something to look forward to. We can handle a lot more in that sense than we think we can as educators and practitioners.

Jennifer Newsom Other creative disciplines—music, literature, and visual arts—have already had the type of reckoning that architecture needs to have happen. Our discipline is just very slow to change because ultimately it is a manifestation of power. The people who hire architects are those who have capital and property and all of the things that marshal forces behind the incredible amount of effort it takes to make a building or a piece of civic infrastructure—the things that transform our built environment in such profound and generationally lasting ways. It operates at a scale of production that is very different than an artist painting in a studio.

Jonathan Jones Architecture has the greatest barriers to actually doing the work. In order to build the building, even if it’s a house, the client has to have a lot of money as well as the knowledge and cultural awareness to hire an architect.

John Reddick When I entered the discipline of architecture it was often described as a “gentleman’s profession,” and we are still in search of the gentrified benefactor. The moneyed class still decides what’s built, what will confer prestige, and what’s going to give them a dollar return. We are still forced to wedge ourselves in somehow.

Jennifer Newsom But architects define their role and whether they cater to the one percent. I think all of us on this call have, in varying ways in our practices, looked outside of that model. At a certain point it becomes a conscious choice to take on different types of work or engage with different constellations of people.

Jerome Haferd We can continue to ask: What are the practices, even what is architecture, and this realization of the self that begins to unravel all of those things? Tavia, you’re asking about what does an anti-racist design pedagogy look like. It looks like what Amina is talking about: how African dance has to do with improvisation, a kind of creation that is simultaneous with conception. But before we even get to clients, money, and assumptions about what pertains to our concerns as architects, it’s really about how we think. We’re dealing with a profound crisis of imagination as a discipline on behalf of ourselves as citizens of the so-called United States. We don’t even encourage the imagining of another way of being that is not colonized. For example, I now give my students mostly North American indigenous precedents. A subtle move like that immediately gets you into a completely different discourse about how we inhabit space and the land, how we produce so-called architecture, and how we relate to the environment and even time or permanence.

Everardo Jefferson What does an antiracist architectural education look like? I’m an image person, and one of the images I want to see would be a diverse school with tenured Black professors who have been there for 30 years.

Jennifer Newsom There have never been any Black tenure-track or tenured professors at YSoA. At Harvard GSD, I believe there are two. These are deplorable statistics.

Everardo Jefferson The other image is that the students bring a broad scope of interests and connect each other to new ways of thinking. It would be a diverse faculty and a diverse student body—so not just two Black students, or four. In New York City they finally came up with a percentage: 38 percent of construction teams have to be owned by minorities and/or women. They just made the number up, but the idea of diversity changes the whole dynamic. That is the image change I would like to see at Yale.

Jonathan Jones Black professors can teach more types of studios. If a student wants to, say, explore color in architecture through indigenous paintings or African masks and the professor isn’t tuned into that, how much support for that exploration will be available for the student?

Everardo Jefferson I agree with you that exploration is way too limited in architecture school. But where I disagree is that we also need to learn from a whole range of interests, such as Chinese and Japanese architecture and from other cultures whose work is beautiful. When I went to see the Hagia Sophia I was just blown away at how beautiful it was.

Jennifer Newsom In my experience at YSoA, Western European architecture was often held up as the pinnacle, and there was little room for other ways of thinking about aesthetics. The Barcelona Pavilion is amazing, but I feel like we will continue to perpetuate our own irrelevance and demise as a profession if we don’t allow people to bring to the task their own subjectivities and different ways of creating architecture. It is going to be on those folks who are in the room and the gatekeepers of educational pedagogy to step up and explore other ways of knowing.

Jerome Haferd I think there’s an even bigger risk with not having a rigorous understanding of some histories—say Modernism in its entirety—which can happen easily in terms of the way the narrative is spun around different so-called “styles” of architecture. We have a different attitude, but we need to understand the substrate of domination and colonial power that undergirds a lot of what we appreciate and what we do.

Amina Blacksher It is not just changing who is in the room visually because that system can operate even if there are only one or two Black faculty members. What we are teaching has such a compounding impact. History has to decenter whiteness and call it European history. If you talk about African or Black history, you have to put a qualifier in front of it, and that is another way of othering. But who is it that is marginalizing? It is a white-centered perspective that declares, “Oh here’s something other that has to be included.” This conscious decentering is essential because even a diverse faculty might advance an entrenched European colonial model.

Michael Marshall It comes down just to education in general. I think if we had a more informed and educated base of citizenry in the United States, we would not be in the place we are now, at least politically.

John Reddick I agree. I’m thinking about my generation, the postwar cohort, and public education. James Baldwin and Richard Avedon went to public school together. Today’s separation between different groups around where kids are sent to school means that that sort of diverse engagement is slipping away from us. America’s urban public schools should be a leading conduit to college and a democratic facilitator of student diversity in institutions of higher education like Yale.

Clifton Fordham Architects have carved out a comfortable place that works pretty well in the field, but not for those who can’t pay the price of admission. The safe place is not really where we want to be. It is time to get out of the comfort zone and think about what else can be included in the academic discourse. Then it will carry over into the profession. Recently the AIA has made some statements, but it has been pretty unvocal overall with respect to what it has to contribute to the political discourse. That shouldn’t be the case; this is a time to tell, inform, and educate as a field. It is about how far the education goes, who it serves, and how rarefied it is.

John Reddick I’m working on a book about Harlem’s Black and Jewish music culture after the 1890s Columbian Exposition, and how a lot of the Black players had influence on all of the music from the beginning of the twentieth century. The Jewish author and composers of the 1936 film Show Boat, America’s first book musical in 1927, used a “passing” fair-complexioned African- American character as a stand-in for Jewish areas of outsiderness, prejudice, and discomfort. America tends to push away from the things that are painful in its history. I think all humans do. We often don’t talk about the things that affect us the most.

Clifton Fordham In terms of education, I showed some of my undergraduate students part of the Ken Burns jazz series, which was earth-shattering for those who hadn’t known about that history. The documentary shows how blues, classical music, and African rhythms fused together to form jazz and then evolved into popular music. This music is uniquely American, and I think there’s a parallel in architecture. I am making a big leap to suggest that what we are offering in our field in terms of design will require a willingness to merge different influences such as classical and European with indigenous and African traditions. Somehow jazz music, and to a greater extent pop, allowed the art form to evolve. A true evolution of architecture requires more people at the table. I like to use the word gumbo to describe what a future American architecture might look like.

Michael Marshall I also see using diversity and different viewpoints to attack certain issues as globally competitive, and it will make a difference as far as our profession is concerned. The things we were concerned with before COVID-19— density and larger populations moving into urban centers—are going to remain on course. We better be ready with the right team of people—planners, architects, and designers—to step up to the plate and make it work because if the riots and protests are not figured out when 75 percent of the world’s populations live in cities, it will be chaos. If you think about it, entertainment was a service. As African- American architects we haven’t been able to provide that service to a level of unique expressions just yet. The next generations will have the luxury to see architecture as an art form at that level of expression.

John Reddick Look at how much the rhythms of twentieth-century art and architecture riff off of jazz. The rise of hiphop is connected to the beat, the rhythms you lay on the verse, positive or negative, and the popularity of the beat carries our message over whatever cultural wall has been built.

Michael Marshall Several of us learned about this in Bob Thompson’s Yale seminar “African Art in Motion.” I think what Clifton is talking about is the practical side of making a living as an architect, but there is also the aesthetic aspect. One reason we all went into this field was for the love of the art. If we could bring skyscrapers and jazz together we might have something new and exciting.

John Reddick Bob Thompson and Vincent Scully were two of my favorite professors at Yale—two white guys who pushed beyond traditional “white comfort” zones. Scully was a working-class New Haven Irish Catholic who attended Yale on the G. I. Bill following his service in the Marine Corps. Rather than write about the derivative Newport palaces, he focused on the overlooked American Shingle style. Thompson studied the Yoruba culture; he was even anointed as a tribal priest. He entered as a total outsider, demonstrating his genius by brilliantly bridging a range of cultures with empathy and passion.

Tavia Nyong’o We have talked a lot about architecture as an art form and as a gumbo combining a diversity of influences, as well as how the ongoing pandemic will restructure education and society. Where do you see the future of architecture in this context? Are you optimistic, or pessimistic, about its capacity to change? I’m also curious how you think architectural practice can engage more effectively with race, gender, and other social issues. In light of all of these dynamics, where might the younger generation, particularly graduates just entering the field, focus its energies in the next year or so?

John Reddick I would advise finding a passion within your practice; it all takes more time and energy than you will get dollars for anyway. Look too for that passion in serving the communities where you work; it will carry you a long way, through the good and the bad of your life experience. Harlem has offered that reward for me in many ways.

Michael Marshall At Yale I learned how to learn. While you’re a student there you learn about the process of designing and shaping space. Don’t go in thinking you’re going to be spoon-fed Black and African history; you have to go out and get it. You go to Yale to learn how to research and execute buildings and cities, and the rest is up to you.

Clifton Fordham I think anybody will grow through that type of academic experience. The most important relationships I had were with other students, although I had some really special moments with faculty members. The extracurricular activities were important too. Education shouldn’t be a luxury; people who have the desire to learn should have a reasonable chance of access.

Francesca Carney The discussion about how work is being presented in the setting of architecture school is really valuable. Students bring their own interests and have the potential to change the narrative. Architecture master’s programs are not structured in ways that allow you to shape your own education. It’s not really a conversation about what should be learned; it’s just white history presented to you.

Jennifer Newsom I understood that friction while at Yale because I was always trying to resist it by planning the conference, doing an independent study, or meeting with professors outside of Yale who could speak to me in ways I wasn’t finding in my day-to-day interactions within the school. The narrow viewpoint Francesca described is an incredible challenge. We all experienced it, and the current students likely still do.

Everardo Jefferson I’m curious: did any of you have a professor that touched your soul?

Jennifer Newsom I had great professors, but nobody talked to me about race and architecture or about the Black experience in architecture.

Amina Blacksher I had phenomenal professors. I would put them at the top three in the world. In the conversation about race and architecture the idea of positioning and seeing yourself is huge because it implies what you are capable of. If you do decide to go out on a limb and address something that might be non-Western, how is it going to be received? Are you compromising your education? What tools might you need to bolster your research? You’re suddenly the expert on something that you’re just trying to uncover. Your impetus and your sense of vigor to take charge in the field after you graduate is planted in your education. It is currently your responsibility as a student to bridge that gap between your nuanced experience and what may be offered as the standard so a professor can understand you.

Jerome Haferd In terms of what Everardo has asked, my Yale legacy is the rigor of critical thought, level of discourse, and so-called excellence—and a lot of it was trial by fire. I had professors that inspired me but, as Amina and Jennifer say, it requires a profound sense of self. The challenge, at least for me personally, was coming up through a primarily white world. It was only a few years ago that I finally began to have a sense of where I fit, and I think we lose a lot of people along the way in that process. That’s where a multiplicity of perspectives is essential; it is a moral imperative in terms of education because we’re all limited to our lived experience. The stakes are just too high. We are losing so many people who are afraid to even walk into the A&A Building, and it shouldn’t be that way.

Everardo Jefferson The people who work in my office and went to Harvard or Yale often have been profoundly damaged by the stress. Trying to rebuild your spirit is very difficult; you need that energy coming out of school to deal with the office environment.

Jerome Haferd All my friends of color, even in the Yale program, left architecture. Some people quit for perfectly valid reasons, but I think others leave the field because the task of looking out at a landscape where they don’t see themselves or their work is just too monumental.

Everardo Jefferson That’s really sad to me because Yale should be rigorous and intense but also safe. You should be able to get out of school with a larger picture of yourself. If that’s not happening then it’s a big issue.

Amina Blacksher On the curriculum issue, Dr. Robin D’Angelo, who wrote the book White Fragility, is a great reference and gave a must-see lecture on the book that is available on YouTube. The recent article “Don’t Rely on Black Faculty to Do the Antiracist Work,” by Shenique S. Thomas-Davis (, shares excellent recommendations for allies and articulates how the participation of Black people is not necessary in order for white people to reduce their unconscious racism.

Jennifer Newsom I appreciate the idea of thinking about the spiritual nourishment of each student as a whole person. We’re all educators here, as well as practicing architects, and school shouldn’t be an endurance course that you have to get through. It should be a place of nourishment and excitement as well as rigor and stress and all the growth that comes from that—but it shouldn’t challenge the foundation of who you are as a person, or your right to be there.

Amina Blacksher The audience for these discussions cannot be the people who already know. It is like the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a well-organized group of white women who scrubbed out histories from the nationally standardized textbooks, the effects of which are still felt in curriculums today. It’s not accidental that we don’t find ourselves in history books; it’s too much for Black faculty to take on or for Black students to engage in their own investigations. It has to be a more comprehensive reckoning of those who at this late hour still exercise the role of “gatekeeper,” the people who in the current imbalance or hierarchy say, “This is architecture, this is who is human, this is who counts.” A changing of the guard—of the people defining these boundaries determining where or whether boundaries are expressed, the people who assume that decisive power—has to reflect all of us.


Tavia Nyong’o, Moderator (Yale PhD ’03) is chair and professor of Theater and Performance Studies and professor of American Studies and African American Studies at Yale, focusing on critical race theory and Black aesthetics. His book The Amalgamation Waltz: Race, Performance, and the Ruses of Memory (University of Minnesota Press, 2009) won the Errol Hill Award. His second book, Afro-Fabulations: The Queer Drama of Black Life (New York University Press, 2019) won the Barnard Hewitt Award for Outstanding Research in Theatre History. He coedits the Sexual Cultures book series at New York University Press and is a long-standing member of the Social Text Collective.

Amina Blacksher (MArch ’10) is a founding principal of Atelier Office, which was established earlier this year as a merger of Atelier Amina and A(n) Office. She is currently an adjunct assistant professor at Columbia University GSAPP. Blacksher previously taught at YSoA, where she was the inaugural Presidential Visiting Fellow. Her studio uses analog and digital methods to harness force, mass, momentum, and energy to articulate scenario-based form.

Francesca Carney (MArch ’17) is a project designer at IBI Group, a global architecture, planning, engineering, and technology firm in Los Angeles. She is currently working on two Wellness Centers on LAUSD campuses which will provide health, mental health, and dental facilities to students and their families. While at YSoA she was a teaching assistant for graduate seminar courses.

Clifton Fordham (MArch ’98) is the founding principal of Clifton Fordham Architect, in Philadelphia. He is an assistant professor at Temple University and previously taught at Howard University, in Washington, D.C. He edited the book Constructing Building Enclosures: Architectural History, Technology, and Poetics in the Postwar Era (Routledge, 2020). His primary research area is integrated building design, enclosures, and details.

Jerome Haferd (MArch ’10) is an architect and educator based in Harlem, New York. He is cofounder of the practice BRANDT : HAFERD. His work focuses on architecture’s dialogue between contemporary phenomena and nonhegemonic histories as well as users and spaces. His practice won the first Folly competition, organized by the Architectural League of New York in 2012, was awarded the grand prize for the 2019 Zero Threshold competition for multi-abled housing, and received the 2020 AIA New Practices New York award. Haferd is an adjunct professor at Columbia GSAPP, Barnard and Columbia Architecture, and New York’s Spitzer School of Architecture at City College.

Everardo Jefferson (MArch ’73) is principal and founder of Caples Jefferson Architects. For over 30 years the firm has kept its commitment to performing at least 50 percent of its work in communities that are underserved by the design professions. The practice has been awarded and featured in journals and exhibitions nationally and internationally. Its work is notable for formal inventions that engage the sensory and emotional responses of people from a broad range of backgrounds. In 2015 Jefferson was the Louis I. Kahn Visiting Assistant Professor at Yale.

Jonathan Jones (MArch ’96), who also has a degree in real estate development from NYU, has been the Director of Capital Projects for the Brooklyn Academy of Music since 2010, managing and developing all aspects of design and construction projects throughout the BAM campus. The renovation and partial new construction of the BAM Harvey Theater to become BAM Strong was recently completed.

Michael Marshall (MArch ’84) is the design director and founding principal of Michael Marshall Design, in Washington D.C. He has been recognized with international, national, and local design excellence awards and featured on a variety of local and national media. The firm’s work includes public and charter school projects, higher education, mixed-use developments, cultural institutions, and sports facilities, including the Entertainment and Sports arena (housing the NBA training facility for the Washington Wizards and home court for the WNBA Champion Mystics) and the D.C. United soccer stadium.

Jennifer Newsom, (Yale College ’01, MArch ’05) is a founding principal of the Minneapolis-based architecture firm Dream the Combine. Her collaborative practice creates site-specific installations exploring metaphor, imaginary environments, and perceptual uncertainties that cast doubt on our known understanding of the world. The firm won the 2018 Young Architects Program pavilion at MoMA PS1 and the 2020–21 J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller Prize. She is an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota and previously taught at YSoA.

John T. Reddick (MArch ’75) is an architectural preservationist and historian. A Harlem resident, he is a Columbia University Community Scholar, researching a book on Harlem’s Black and Jewish Music Culture. He has worked at the office of Venturi Scott Brown, as president of the Cityscape Institute, at the Central Park Conservancy, and on public art and open-space projects commemorating African-American figures on sites throughout Harlem. Governor Cuomo’s LGBT Memorial Commission selected him to direct the process for choosing the artist for a new monument in Hudson River Park. Reddick was a curator and discussion leader of the Cooper-Hewitt Design Center’s ten-part Harlem Focus Series. His love of architecture and African-American culture and history is conveyed through tours and articles for the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Museum of Modern Art, and the New-York Historical Society, among other institutions.