Dear SARUP Students:
As Chancellor Mone expressed on Monday, I too want to express my support and solidarity with the protestors who are shining a light on the manifest injustices that our society has failed to address. As a school, I want SARUP to more explicitly recognize and address our responsibilities to achieve social justice in our own spheres. We must commit to change.
The past weeks have witnessed increasingly sad and distressing developments that together lay bare multiple injustices for all to see. The number of COVID-19 deaths passed 100,000. Tens of millions of workers have lost their jobs. And the US witnessed the wrongful and unjust murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer while other officers at the scene did nothing to intervene to stop the violence, even as Mr. Floyd and bystanders begged that he be allowed to breathe.
In these dark days, I fervently hope that positive change will come from George Floyd’s murder. I believe that we are at a turning point, but one that requires that we reinvest our pain and anguish in being different than we were just a few weeks ago. Today, I commit to work with all faculty, staff, and students to seize this moment.
Last evening, NOMAS announced a series of actions it is taking. NOMAS has shown tremendous leadership in my communications with them over the past few days. I sincerely thank them. Please follow their “NOMAS UWM” Instagram page @nomas_uwm to stay informed about upcoming developments.
Already, NOMAS UWM is planning a fund-raiser. Today, I am personally pledging to match each donation up to $1000, in addition, I will earmark an additional match from our scholarship fund for new scholarship donations up to $5000—creating a new $10,000 fund for recruiting under-represented students. This scholarship would be awarded for the 2020-21 academic year for a student who is black, indigenous or other person of color. I will seek NOMAS’s participation in making the selection of the scholarship recipient. I also will work to engage our professional community in Wisconsin to participate in the fund-raising effort.[June 11 update: I have fulfilled my matching gift to NOMAS UWM but you can still participate in their fund‐raiser. I will announce more details of my initiative to raise funds for new SARUP scholarships to advance racial equity in the coming weeks. I learned this morning that UWM is coordinating an effort across schools and colleges. Once I know the details, I will share them in an upcoming newsletter.]
I am sorely aware that our professions—architecture and urban planning— have not always stood up to injustices. Like those officers standing around as Mr. Floyd passed from this life, our professions were silent, and sometimes accomplices, while neighborhoods were segregated through zoning and redlining policies that explicitly denied “non-white” people opportunities to participate in homeownership and wealth-building. We focus on grand iconic buildings that crowd out efforts to find more humane ways to meet the housing needs of those who have suffered the greatest disadvantages. Our professions have been ineffective objectors when public investment and development subsidies go to areas enjoyed by white users with comfortable incomes. Our professions acquiesce to a system that puts our clients’ interests above the needs of those who will occupy the places and spaces we plan and design.
Yet, I am hopeful. Our professional organizations are also aware of these shortcomings and are working to address them. But I am especially hopeful when I interact you, our students. I find you eager to re-invent the systems that produce inequality so that the needs of every segment of our community can be met.
I find cause for hope in the lessons that we see before us in the very tragedies that surround us. Many white Americans are seeing more clearly than before that our systems, more than individual shortcomings, explain unequal social, economic, and health outcomes, and that these are all bound up together. This is evident in the complexion of the COVID-19 victims.
Facing largely unavoidable exposures related to their work and home situations, people of color are disproportionately represented among the COVID-19 victims. Public health experts report that social distancing is more difficult for those in low-wage occupations. Low-wage workers have also suffered the vast majority of layoffs in the current crisis and face illness with limited or no health insurance. People of color are also more likely to live in apartments with narrow halls and high occupancy levels that increase their risk of contracting the virus. We see more clearly than before that these inequalities are built into our systems of work, health delivery, and housing.
Knowledge is powerful, but hope alone is not enough. Together we must act and act together with urgency. We will find that when we advance justice, we all benefit.
In the coming weeks, please join with SARUP faculty and staff as we re-double our efforts. We have good models and a more than a good start: Professor Sen’s Field School; visiting lecturers in architecture and planning that point us to ways that architects and planners can build a more just world; and exhibits like “Evicted” at the Mobile Design Box last year and the upcoming “Now What?!” exhibit for the SARUP gallery, alumni support for scholarships that help us attract more students of color, to name just a few. Now, we need to get beyond “start”.
Students: please hold us accountable. Seek authentic engagement. Be our partners in enacting some new values that support the best of what we have been while eliminating the hidden injuries of racial and class inequality.