Located in the vibrant city of Los Angeles, the USC School of Architecture has for over 100 years engaged in fundamental questions regarding the metropolis – examining it through both investigations of form as well as concept. Many of our alumni over those years have demonstrated unprecedented levels of innovation, with their work simultaneously expanding the field and meeting the ever-evolving needs of the region. Our mission has long been socially minded, with many of our faculty and alumni producing globally recognized solutions in affordable housing to new sustainable infrastructure. Yet, despite our progressive legacy, we do not yet adequately represent the rich world our profession is meant to serve – neither in our current faculty and student demographics, nor in the breadth of our curriculum. This is a universal conundrum facing every school of architecture in the United States today.
In order to close this gap, the USC School of Architecture has created a comprehensive Five-Year Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plan, coordinating numerous new initiatives meant to further improve not only any quantitative levels of diversity in the school but also the qualitative or culture climate issues within the school as well. This plan is the result of a two-year conversation with the various constituencies that make up our community. Its writing was guided by the school’s Diversity, Inclusion and Admissions Committee. It consists of 10 interconnected goals.
The first five goals are directly related to specific community members:
1. Build a sustainable D&I administrative structure.
2. Increase student accessibility.
3. Expand faculty diversity.
4. Actively catalyze staff inclusion.
5. Leverage alumni connections.
The second set of goals relates to the broader community as a whole:
6. Develop a comprehensive approach to D&I training.
7. Maximize D&I potential in our pedagogy and curriculum.
8. Integrate D&I actions into communications and media.
9. Encourage immediate D&I actions through incentives.
10. Create key external partnerships to expand our impact.
As a steward of this plan, Dean Curry is committed to increasing access to higher education. For Dean Curry, this effort starts by repositioning the role of the architect into what he terms the “citizen-architect.” In the introduction to the plan, he states:
Our school—an academic-cultural institution—must give voice to epistemological horizons of our students and faculty that are not bounded by the perceptions of the architect as removed from the broader public. Architects are citizens too. They are pillars of communities, advocates for the sensitive design of public space and urban infrastructure, and tireless advocates of better design for the 99 percent.
The dean hopes to better amplify this core responsibility within each degree program—whether a student is studying in architecture, landscape architecture, heritage conservation, or building science. To this end, rather than simply add new priorities to our existing priorities, this plan works to integrate all new D&I-related strategies with the things we must do and always do each year, as we train a new generation of future practitioners tasked with imagining a better, more inclusive future.
Launching in Fall 2021, the USC A-Lab Architecture Development Program is the next iteration of a successful high school architecture program first established by Dean Milton S. F. Curry at the University of Michigan in 2015. The program will partner with public and charter high schools in downtown and South-Central Los Angeles to provide immersive instruction in architecture and design to underrepresented minority students.
The USC Exploration of Architecture program provides high school sophomore, junior and senior students from across the country and the world with an intensive and in-depth introduction to the world of architecture and the experience of an architectural education. Over the course of two or four weeks, students design and build in a collaborative studio environment, tour famous landmarks, live on campus in a residence hall, and work with the School’s distinguished faculty and upper division students.
The NOMAS Chapter at the University of Southern California strives to enhance the USC architecture community by promoting the cultural backgrounds and experiences of our minority students. We do this through events and activities that benefit all students and faculty members as well as the community that we live in.
The Student Association of Women Architects (SAWA-USC) is dedicated to the advancement and support of women in the field of architecture. SAWA-USC encourages and fosters high levels of women’s achievement in design through conversation, networking, mentorship, scholarship, and more. SAWA-USC cultivates awareness of the value of equality in the workplace. SAWA-USC fosters an empowering environment for women and provides students the opportunity to learn from women faculty, alumni, and professionals practicing in the field of architecture. To join, click here: https://bit.ly/2VBOxs4.
As part of our Five-Year Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Plan, we are increasing workshops and training of both faculty and students. For the student population, we are not doing a one size fits all approach. Instead, we are developing a series of embedded workshops within the studios and classroom activities to increase awareness and means to produce a more inclusive environment. This year we created a 3 workshop series for the second year grad students, which culminated in our first annual Diversity and Inclusion Charette.
It is our intention to develop activities that would maintain awareness and a culture of respect towards the differences between members of our student body, even in the difficult times we are going through. The objectives of the Diversity and Inclusion Charrette is to generate empathy between classmates by sharing our cultural identities with each other. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, as we see most communication has migrated to online platforms like Zoom, we see an opportunity to expand our capacity to share our identities and creativity with each other in our on-line visual identities. The charrette is meant to be an easy 1-afternoon activity to bring these values to the foreground.
- Spring 2020
Challenge: Students will work individually or in small groups to develop inclusive visual backgrounds for use on Zoom. Design a virtual background that represents your cultural identity/ies. This is a design competition, so every aspect of design will be evaluated in order to award the prizes. It is encouraged for students to work in teams and develop a set of backgrounds that build upon a similar theme.
Organized by Jose Sanchez and Esther Margulies.
Best Collective Design
Team 1: Esra Daghestani, Bettina Brown, Thiago Lisboa, Mila Sergeeva
Team 2: Andrew Blumm, Alison Iwashita, Makoto Izu
Team 1: Sixue He
Team 1: Robert Andrade, Hector Covarrubias Del Cueto, Will Rollins
Team 2: Gonghao Liu
Best Original Message
Team 1: Zhaoxiong Han, Liem My Tran, Jingxuan Jia, Yue Xi
Team 2: Yi Zhao
In honor of International Women’s Day, USC Architecture hosts an annual Wiki-thon to expand Wikipedia profiles of women practitioners in architecture, landscape architecture, heritage conservation and building science. The event aims to create awareness about women architects by adding accurate information to their Wikipedia pages in order to drive traffic and create a more fair representation of architects online. According to Aroussiak Gabrielian, assistant professor and faculty coordinator of the event, only a small percentage of Wikipedia’s editors are female and they contribute 50 percent less content than their male counterparts. The event aims to change this narrative and drive more representation on the site and in the field.
(2019-20 Academic Year)
Outgoing Diversity Liaison & Chair
Incoming Diversity Liaison
Executive Director of Student Services and Undergraduate Admissions
Aroussiak Gabrielian, Ph.D., FAAR
Director of Global Studies
Diane Ghirardo, Ph.D., FAAR
Professor; ACSA Distinguished Professor
Director Undergraduate Programs