A More Inclusive Architectural Education

As the United States continues to face a reckoning over its historic and current oppression and marginalisation of people of colour, schools of architecture are no different from other institutions in their need to confront the structures that have privileged whiteness and maleness for centuries.

In fact, schools of architecture may have even more of a need, then-AIA President William Bates, noted that the percentage of Black students in architecture programs is “not that different from what it was 50 years ago.” The latest demographic findings from the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards support Bates’s statement, demonstrating that recent growth in racial and ethnic diversity in the profession is mainly among Asian and Latinx individuals, with no increase for the Black population. Even with modest growth for certain races and some progress for women, NCARB states that “women and people of colour remain underrepresented within the profession.”

Many architecture school administrators are trying to remedy this problem through a variety of strategies, and some have seen significant increases in the enrollment and retention of students of colour. But, even those who have fostered growth acknowledge there is still a long way to go.

Charlton Lewis, assistant dean for student affairs at the University of Texas at Austin School of Architecture, says that though his school has been moving in the right direction, at least 36% of its undergraduates were students of color—“I don’t want to paint a rosier picture than what actually exists.”

Director of the School of Architecture and Interior Design at the University of Cincinnati Edward Mitchell notes that though the school’s population is growing more diverse—the percentage of undergraduate students of colour more than doubled, from around 6% to at least 14%—“it’s not as diverse as we would like.”

Christian Dagg is the head of the School of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture at Auburn University, whose latest statistics show an undergraduate population in which almost a quarter of students are students of colour. He adds that the field itself makes increasing diversity difficult. “There are aspects of architectural education—the length and cost of study, for instance—that actively discourage first generation college students and students of colour from selecting architecture as a major,” he says. “We’ve done a good job of making ourselves exclusive.”

Diversity initiatives at architecture schools can only do so much, however, as long as structural inequality remains in society at large. At the same time, university policies can go hand-in-hand with larger societal shifts—or at least provide support while for fundamental change continues.

What strategies have UT Austin, Cincinnati, and Auburn implemented that have seen results. And what are these schools looking to do more of in the coming years as they strive to make their student populations not only more diverse, but more inclusive.

Reaching Out to Youth

It’s clear that recruiting young people who may not otherwise consider pursuing an architecture degree due to limited resources or a lack of personal connection to the profession is key to diversifying architecture schools’ student populations. Cincinnati runs summer camps for area middle and high school students and makes a point to recruit kids of color, with the idea that they are then more likely to apply to the program.