Standing in unity and action: Black Lives Matter

by Rachel Teaman

Published September 9, 2020

“Our professional training and practice - across architecture, planning, real estate and related disciplines - must be prepared to ‘see’ and eliminate the place-based injustices experienced by Black communities. ”
Samina Raja and Robert Shibley
School of Architecture and Planning

The School of Architecture and Planning is coninuing its efforts to listen, plan, reflect and act toward racial justice in our School, surrounding community and professions through a number of new initiatives launching this fall.

Next week, the School opens its 2020-21 Lecture Series as a dedicated yearlong conversation on racial justice in our disciplines and the broader impacts that the work of architects and urban planners have on historically disenfranchised communities.

"Toward Racial Justice" opens Sept. 16, 2020, with a symposium organized by Charles Davis II, "Rewriting 'American Architecture': Recovering Black Narratives of Space." Other participating faculty from UB include Erkin Ozay and Henry Taylor and a symposium organized by UB's African American Students of Architecture and Planning. The Bethune Lecture this year will be presented by Jennifer Newsom of the University of Minnesota and Dream The Combine. Jeffrey Lowe, from Southern Texas University's urban planning program, will explore African American urban planner and their efforts to build inclusion into the profession. 

On Sept. 22 and Sept. 29, the School will host two training workshops for faculty and staff in support of empowering, just and collegial learning and work spaces. Presented by UB's Center for Diversity Innovation, the training sessions will help employees address implicit bias and microaggressions in the workplace. 

These plans and activities build on commitments our School made in our 2019-2024 strategic plan, as well as renewed commitments resulting from conversations in recent weeks.

These steps are only the beginning of our journey

toward a more just racial future for our School and professions. 

Other recent and ongoing activities include:

  • Over the summer, student leaders in the School hosted multipe virtual Town Halls, leading conversation with more than 100 individuals in our community, including faculty, students, alumni and School leadership. Our students and alumni have also led a courageous and timely call to action that has been embraced and supported by our leadership, an action that guided three Town Halls held over the summer to address opportunities to integrate anti-racism into our curriculum
  • Racial Equity, Social Justice, and Inclusion committee is a reconfiguration of an existing committee on inclusion, equity, and diversity established by the School in 2019. The committee, currently chaired by Associate Dean Samina Raja, includes faculty, staff, students, and alumni.
  • Curricular changes: We anticipate that by 2021-2022 all students graduating from UB’s School of Architecture and Planning will have completed required coursework that prepares them to engage as architects and planners with an anti-racist perspective.
  • New lessons and workshops integrated into sophomore studio (historic site analysis in context of race)
  • More immediately, faculty are reviewing their course syllabi for the fall 2020 semester to infuse content that explicitly addresses racial inequities (faculty are receiving support on syllabus review). Nearly a dozen reviewed so far.
  • Our School will change its student orientation procedures immediately to be more inclusive for Black students while at the same time preparing our white students and non-Black students of color to think about racial inequities.
  • The 2020-2021 fall orientation will include specific sessions on race in the professions, and a session exploring health (in)equity in the built environment.
  • Physical space: sub-committee of the Racial Equity Committee in consultation with the Dean will execute a strategy for honoring and celebrating Black scholars/leaders in the disciplines of architecture, planning, and design-related professions within the physical facilities of Hayes Hall. 
  • We also intend to bring resources, including required workshops, to our white and non-Black faculty and staff of color to develop their capacity to engage in conversations about race.
  • Commitment to hiring Black faculty and staff: We are grateful for the work of our current and past Black faculty and staff in architecture and urban and regional planning. However, Black faculty and staff remain a small minority. In keeping with our 2019-2024 strategic plan and university-wide initiatives for hiring diversity, we will continue to diversify our faculty, including tenure-track and visiting faculty and scholars, to serve our students and broader community better.  
  • Listening: Beginning in spring 2020, all students had the opportunity to reflect on how a particular course offered by the School created an inclusive learning environment through student course evaluations. More recently, the School has begun hosting a series of town halls to understand how racial inequities impact the practices, procedures, and policies in the School.

Dear SAP students,

Achieving racial equity and justice is a crucial commitment of the School of Architecture and Planning community. Since our last communication, our School of Architecture and Planning community has been listening, reflecting, planning, and responding to urgent and renewed conversations about racial inequities in our School, professions, and society-at-large. Within the last four to five weeks, we have had multiple discussions with over 100 individuals of our school community, including faculty, students, alumni, and school leadership, who have clearly and unequivocally affirmed the need to act in unity and with decisive action to persistent racial inequities. 

Our school community has the opportunity to demonstrate leadership in fostering racial equity. We are sharing with you a brief update of short-term and long-term plans and actions in process. These plans and activities build on commitments our School made in our 2019-2024 strategic plan, as well as renewed commitments resulting from conversations in recent weeks. The School’s obligations are also in concert with a courageous and timely call to action by our students and alum and affirmed by our faculty and school leadership. Following recent school-wide conversations, student and alumni leaders have shared the following observation about the School: “leadership has been honest, open, and receptive to our critical assessment of the School’s insufficient institutional commitment to racial equity. We are encouraged to learn how our recommendations align with pre-existing efforts and appreciate the work being done by others to that end. That said, we, as students and alumni, have a responsibility to hold the School accountable to these goals and will continue to apply pressure and leadership to further advance racial equity in our own education.” 

Indeed, we look forward to working with all of our students on shared accountability and leadership that furthers racial equity in our School, professions, and society. Noted below are specific actions the School of Architecture and Planning will undertake. These steps are only the beginning of our journey toward a more just racial future for our School and professions. 


1.       Lecture series: Toward Racial Justice

Curated by Samina Raja and Joyce Hwang

Includes programming for fall 2020 and spring 2021

Features student participation and a symposium by African American Students of Architecture and Planning

2.       Structural racism and COVID, police violence: perspectives from Henry Taylor –

-          Taylor, PhD, is a professor of urban and regional planning and the founding director of the Center for Urban Studies in the UB School of Architecture and Planning. His research focuses on a historical and contemporary analysis of underdeveloped urban neighborhoods, social isolation, and race and class issues among people of color.

-          Taylor is quoted throughout national media on disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on communities of color

-          Viewpoint piece published in NBC’s Think addresses racially motivated police aggressive in relation to white in-migration in cities which leads to dangerous encounters between Blacks and police


3.       Legacies of racism in built environment: Charles Davis

-          Black Spaces Matter” published in architectural history journal Aggregate, examines historic legacy of race and place, from Booker T. Washington and Robert Robinson Taylor's formation of the Tuskegee Institute into a living model of Black social uplift to the redlining of the early 20th century that created stark lines of racial segregation and disinvestment that persist today Racial Equity Roundtable

-          His forthcoming book Race and Modern Architecture offers a welcome and long-awaited intervention for the field by shining a spotlight on constructions of race and their impact on architecture and theory in Europe and North America and across various global contexts since the eighteenth century.

Additional learning resources

View a reading list on Race and Justice available on UB's Architecture and Planning library website. The list was compiled by Madelaine Britt and Enjoli Hall of the UB Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab in preparation for a visit in 2017 by scholar and activist john powell, director of the Othering & Belonging Institute at Berkeley University.