There has been some pushback from members who are perplexed at the emphasis being placed by our Institution on issues of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion. In this polarized environment, some believe that any mention or effort to celebrate one community over another or to acknowledge past injustices in our society is unwarranted and pits one group over another. I realize that in my capacity as President, I represent the entire membership; that we form a broad coalition of every ethnic, gender, faith-based, stripe of multiple national origins and sexual identities. It is my goal, this year, to celebrate the uniqueness of our membership in all of its splendor.
But I have to be clear that acknowledgment of some contributions is long overdue. Whitney Young, in 1968, said that the architectural profession had distinguished itself for its silence in addressing the social inequities experienced by racial minorities in our country. The AIA response was the creation of an award named after him. And more silence. In the 54 years since that address, little has changed. In 1968, two percent of our professional licensees were African American. Today, it is still two percent.
Enrollment in our accredited programs has become more diverse. Increased numbers of women and persons of color and members of multiple ethnic and racial communities are being realized in most schools across the country. But our profession is still indistinguishable from its silent past.
The letters we have received expressing outrage and discomfort about the emphasis being placed on issues of social justice by our Institute, nationally and within our state, voice a real concern about human relations and social interaction. Some are feeling left out. I can only imagine that the discomfort being felt by those authors is palpable and beg for a remedy that will quell their uneasiness. They want the messaging to stop and return to a dialog about good design and extraordinary buildings.
As your president, I wish I could eliminate the awkwardness some might feel. Just as I wish that presidents from 1968 until the recent past had felt the discomfort of their membership who were isolated and marginalized for their gender, their appearance, their life choices, or their God-given skin tone. Change is uncomfortable, but it is also inevitable. We either grow or protest; we embrace it or fear it. Everybody won’t always be the center of attention, the beneficiaries of a tainted, flawed, and highly prejudiced system.
It would have been nice if our collective voices had to be raised fifty years ago, or even forty. Thirty wouldn’t have been too bad. But instead… silence. Please know that I certainly understand what it means to feel uncomfortable, and I am grateful that we as a profession are speaking up and speaking out. For the past few years, architects are making some noise. It is inspiring. It is impactful. It is uncomfortable. And it beats the silence.
Robert Easter, FAIA
AIA Virginia President