06/02/20 USC School of Architecture Dean's Statement on Protest Demonstrations
We at the USC School of Architecture mourn the tragic, unnecessary, and avoidable loss of another life, that of George Floyd, in the hands of law enforcement in Minneapolis last week. We also affirm the power and meaning of thoughtful protest and civil disobedience in service of structural change for the betterment of all of our fellow Americans. We also reflect on the many lives of Black Americans that have been taken by the ravages of slavery and colonialism, abject violence in the form of beatings and lynchings, racial capitalism and exploitation, the overt and calculated criminalization of Black bodies in public and private spaces, and the many forms of racism that pervade virtually every facet of our society.
The Fourteenth Amendment—one of the so-called “Reconstruction Amendments”—outlawed slavery in 1868. Yet, as historian Eric Foner states in The Second Founding, “a state action interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment can be debilitating. It has been used, for example, in rulings that do not allow race to be taken into account in voluntary school desegregation programs, on the grounds that segregation today results not from laws, as in the past, but from ‘private choices’ that produced racially homogenous housing patterns” (The Second Founding, 173). While the Fourteenth Amendment outlawed slavery, through subsequent Supreme Court rulings and established precedent, the Amendment has been rendered irrelevant as a deterrent to racially injurious discrimination from the actions that have come to replace the overt physicality and brutality of chattel slavery, namely other forms of racism that become entrenched in our society’s infrastructures.
Private actions, state actions, and intentionally racially harmful policies. While it is true that unconscious racial bias cannot be made to disappear overnight, an intersectional approach to address the root causes of racism (and other forms of discrimination) will yield the most productive results. The level of entrenched poverty, environmental and health precarity, underinvestment in public education and housing, dearth of public space, and the disconnection from viable sources of fresh food and water—in many urban and inner-city areas with high concentrations of Black Americans—represent a failure of our collective will and a failure of our collective imagination. The university must be an ally of those who seek to imagine new forms of justice, new forms of egalitarian conditions within our cities and metropolitan regions, and new forms of sociality that enable us to build social bonds with complete strangers within a commonly held set of values. The intellectual project of the university is simultaneously a deeply democratic project based on a core intention and determinate aspiration that accessibility for all yields opportunity and upward social mobility.
At the USC School of Architecture, we see architects as citizens with a unique set of skills to enable the co-creation of new knowledge and action, amongst and between students, faculty and communities. Collectively, we too are the guardians of the democratic space and civic imaginations that breathe life into the consciousness of persons of all races, ethnicities, and identities. To the greatest extent possible, we are collectively called upon to develop, curate, enact and learn from the desperately needed structural changes in our society that will banish structural racism to the annals of history—not at some point in the distant future, but within our lifetime. The principles and values that motivate us as practitioners, designers and scholars must be in alignment with how we organize our school, invest in our collective future, and innovate with purpose and intentionality. I am proud of our students, faculty and staff for assisting in executing our strategic plan for diversity, equity and inclusion. But I also want to challenge all of us to think about specific ways in the coming academic year that we can—together—develop syllabi, courses, seminars, and research projects on how to address structural racism in the built environment. I look forward to soliciting ideas in advance of announcing some specific actions that we can undertake as an intellectual community. Please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I look forward to inviting you to join the School for one of several discussion forums this summer to talk through our collective ideas for change.
Milton S. F. Curry
Dean, Della & Harry MacDonald Dean’s Chair