Jul 14th 2020

A Letter from the Dean

Dear members of the IIT College of Architecture Community:

Since writing in the immediate aftermath of George Floyd’s killing, I have heard from a number of you with questions about how the College will respond to the larger issues that this senseless, tragic event has thrust into the national conversation. Architecture and landscape architecture, though rooted in a common desire to make the world a better place, are hardly paragons of social equity: to this day, people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ community, and others remain deeply under-represented in our professions, particularly in leadership. And sadly, some of the most notorious environments of exclusion have been created at the hands of architects and planners, often while espousing progressive ideals.

As most of you know, IIT was founded more than 100 years ago specifically to challenge the status quo. Frank Gunsaulus and Philip Armour believed that higher education should not restrict social advancement but propel it. We operate with the same intention today, which is at least in part why IIT has one of the nation’s best records for improving its graduates’ economic and social mobility. 

But racism and bigotry present especially pernicious challenges. They don’t simply limit an individual; they degrade entire communities and cultures. As I said in my earlier message, racism and bigotry have no place at IIT, and should have no place in society. 

And yet they are among us, as Mr. Floyd’s brutal killing so vividly confirmed. The College of Architecture at IIT, true to the University’s mission, believes education is a basic human right, one that offers unparalleled opportunities to disrupt inherent and systematic exclusion. But we are also painfully aware of IIT’s mixed record in that struggle: Black IIT alumnus Robert Abbott helped start the Great Migration with editorials in his “Chicago Defender” newspaper, yet our landmark campus was made possible in part by replacing blocks of the Bronzeville neighborhood Abbott championed. 

Today, we move forward as a school committed to a future where destruction will never again be conflated with progress. We move forward as a school committed to a future where members of our community are respected for their history, their culture, their work, and their ideas, regardless of their physical, cultural, geographic, or economic origins. We move forward as a school committed to a future where design solves problems, not compounds them.

And we are making progress. 

Nearly half of the College’s domestic students now self-identify as non-white, which we believe places us among the most diverse architecture schools in the country. Working with the Illinois chapter of the National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) and others, we welcome more than 100 mostly African American teenagers to career discovery programs every summer (many on scholarship or “pay what you can” tuition). We recruit in neighborhood high schools. We have articulation agreements with more than a dozen regional two-year colleges, many of which serve communities of color. We’ve partnered with our Bronzeville neighbors including the Sweetwater Foundation, the Great Migration Sculpture Garden, and Bright Star Community Outreach. We have a student/faculty Diversity and Inclusion committee that helps raise awareness and address issues of representation within the College. We have a locally and nationally active NOMA student chapter.

We are proud of these accomplishments. But we recognize they are only the beginning; we must do more. To that end, I am pleased to announce the following 12-point action plan. Starting immediately, we will work to:

• increase the number of Black and Brown faculty members in the College
• increase faculty diversity in the College in general
• increase diversity in College management and oversight
• increase the number of Black and Brown students in the College—and the funding to support them
• recruit graduate students at Historically Black Colleges and Universities
• evaluate our curriculum for implicit bias and revise it to better reflect the contributions of people of color
• increase diversity among our guest lecturers and visiting critics
• increase funding for student groups/initiatives that promote diversity—and continue working closely with them to develop supporting policy
• increase the number of colleges with whom we have articulation agreements, particularly those serving underrepresented communities
• expand recruiting at high schools with largely Black and Brown populations
• continue working with NOMA and other partners to build and support our pipeline/career discovery programs for under-represented students
• expand our community engagement in Bronzeville and Chicago’s South Side

These are not initiatives in name only. In my first year here, we have welcomed three new faculty (tenure track and adjunct), including two African Americans and one Latina; an additional search will begin in August. This fall, we will offer a new course in the history of design in 19th and 20th century Black communities in Chicago. We are working closely with Chicago Planning Commissioner Maurice Cox (who began teaching in the College last fall) to develop a multi-disciplinary design studio which, in line with Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s initiatives, focuses on projects in Chicago’s underserved southern and western neighborhoods.

Undoubtedly, some aspects of this plan will move more quickly than others. But all will progress simultaneously as we continue building a school where students, faculty, and staff stand united in an effort to create inclusive, sustainable, well-designed environments.

Finally, the last several weeks have been a stark reminder that for our Black colleagues, students, friends, and neighbors, injustice and intolerance are constants, not concepts. This must change—now, and the College must play a role. To that end, in the next weeks and months, our office will reach out to a cross section of students, faculty, staff, alumni, board members, and community partners with invitations to join conversations with me about the issues raised in this letter and how the College can initiate positive change. The content of those discussions will be incorporated into (and/or modify) the action plan. I look forward to providing regular reports on our progress.

All of this, I hope, will help us live up to Gunsaulus’ and Armour’s vision, one where people are not judged by their color, creed, or economic condition, but by their consequence—what they do to improve the lives of everyone around them. Thank you for your continued support of IIT’s College of Architecture.

Reed Kroloff