SOA Action Letter on Racial Injustice

July 21, 2020

Hello Everyone–

It has been a month since the brutal execution of Mr. George Floyd. Outrage continues, protests have occurred and many statements have been written. If true meaningful and long-lasting change is going to occur, we need more than statements of understanding and critique. We need deliberate short and long term actions.

With this in mind, a meeting occurred a couple of weeks ago, facilitated by our National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) students. It included students, faculty, administration and alumni. The conversations were honest, blunt and difficult. Several of the students and I have continued to meet and ask: What can we do to affect meaningful restructuring of our School and our disciplines of architecture and community development? Like the tiles in a mosaic that connect to each other, each person in a community influences and connects with other people to create a bigger picture of, or a bigger impact for the community—whether the community is a neighborhood, a group of friends or our School of Architecture. Each person still retains their individual identity as they impact the larger community. We have a mosaic of communities that make up our cities and towns. We must have a mosaic of architects and community developers to create equitable, ecological and inspiring work with them.

Unfortunately, as of the year 2020, this relationship does not exist. For example, according to research done by the American Institute of Architects, Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture, National Architectural Accrediting Board, National Council of Architectural Registration Board and the National Organization of Minority Architects, 2% of all licensed architects are African American. Only 0.3% are African American females. In our colleges and universities across the United States, people of color make up less than 20% of the faculty who teach architecture students. Only 5% of architecture faculty are African American. The percentage of African American faculty teaching community development is similar, and males still outnumber females teaching community development two to one. Though the School of Architecture has made great strides in hiring female instructors in architecture and community development, faculty members of color are still significantly underrepresented. If we are a School that truly wishes to celebrate and not ignore the differences people bring with them... If we believe that people with the same backgrounds, same heritage and/or same cultural understanding working on an issue will develop results that do more than validate old methods... Then our future should rely on leading in our profession in a way that will change these statistics. But it is also more than statistics. We have the opportunity to change our systems that have oppressed and stagnated people who were not part of the dominant power class.

We submit that the core of what guides us and drives us at the Detroit Mercy School of Architecture should be rooted in Racial Equity and Social Justice. Many of you have asked me what our plan is moving forward. Before the School of Architecture initiates another strategic plan, together we will define and embrace Social Justice and Racial Equity, however, Noah and I do not think that we alone should be developing this work. We should do this collectively. This will become the foundation for the School’s strategic framework for decision-making versus becoming something that is “tacked on” to an existing plan. Many of you know that I entered this academic year with this agenda and some progress has been made. But now there is a momentum and a driving force that is moving up this steep hill of change at an ever more increasing pace. This is our time to simultaneously act and plan. Together we will assist each other in making small to large scale on the ground change today and tomorrow at our School and in our disciplines.

Well then, what are some of the near-term actions we can do now?

School Wide Priorities

  • Initiate SOA Social Justice and Racial Equity Foundation work with NEW Solutions for Nonprofits. (Fall 2020) This work will provide the lens for decision making as the SOA embarks on its strategic planning work.
  • Finalize Howard University|Detroit Mercy exchange|collaboration. (Finalize: 2020-21; Implement: 2021-22) Already in the planning process, this initiative will establish yearly collaboration and exchange between Howard University and Detroit Mercy School of Architecture.
  • Roll out fund development priorities centered on the School of Architecture social justice and racial equity systems change which includes; The Pathway to Diversity - Emerging Leaders High School Internships, Emerging Leaders Mosaic Scholarships, Diversity Endowed Professorships/Chairs, Emerging Leaders Public Interest Design Fellowships. (Process began Winter 2020; Implement Summer 2020)
  • Acknowledge and identify “community partners” as more meaningful part of the educational process. (Fall 2020)
  • Ensure that visitors, critics and lecturers overwhelmingly represent people of color. (Ongoing)
  • Initiate and maintain Open Student|Faculty|Staff|Administration forums. (Fall 2020) We see these as wonderful opportunities to help inform additional short term actions not present on this list.

Faculty-Focused Priorities

  • Initiate anti-racism and faculty|administration|staff biased training. (Summer 2020 and continuing annually) (Consultants are currently being reviewed.)
  • Prioritize diversity in faculty hiring criteria. (Ongoing)
  • Continue co-teaching and adjunct opportunities to build experiences for non-white faculty. (Ongoing)
  • Develop new fulltime instructor opportunities for non-white faculty. (Fall 2020)
  • Design and Implement active methods of recruiting faculty of color. (Fall 2020)

Student-Focused Priorities

  • Initiate anti-racism and student biased training. (Fall 2020 and continuing annually) (Consultants are currently being reviewed.)
  • Prioritize diversity in student admissions process. (Ongoing)
  • Formalize alternative admissions criteria that realigns priorities away from standardized testing.
  • Design and Implement active methods of attracting students of color. (Fall 2020)
  • Design and Implement new systems of support and mentorship for our students of color so that they do not merely remain in our program, but thrive in it. (Winter 2021)
  • Implement Summer Talks | Dialogues with Key Black Leaders. (Summer 2020) A virtual dialogue series between national black architecture and community development leaders and SOA students.
  • Develop and promote work and study abroad opportunities that expand beyond the western European traditions. (Ongoing)
  • Expand precedents illustrated in the studio and the classroom to include people of color and their work. (Ongoing)
  • Remove barriers | Increase access to resources, which include: Develop a laptop sharing program. (2020-21); Restructure printing and plotting fees. (Fall 2020); Restructure 1st year supply list and costs. (Summer 2020)
  • Look for ways to work more effectively with our MArch and MCD Student Advisory Groups. (Fall 2020)

The items on this list are short term additions and revisions to existing systems. As I mentioned previously, long term strategic planning grounded in Racial Equity and Social Justice will occur as a community process. It will not merely revise how we work and educate. It will transform our future.

We need to live like we are making history, because we are!


Dan Pitera, FAIA
Professor + Dean: Detroit Mercy School of Architecture

Noah Resnick, AIA
Professor + Associate Dean: Detroit Mercy School of Architecture

Read Dean Pitera's letter to the community, "Standing together, not just now, but always."