By JP Arnold, LEED Green Associate, APR
Diversity efforts are pointing to a greater immersion of minority and underrepresented individuals in all facets of our nation and state, and architectural firms are seeing this change. As well, the University of Colorado Denver College of Architecture and Planning is experiencing its highest numbers of minority students yet. The question is: Is your firm ready to embrace this newer normal?
To create a collaborative dialogue and strengthen our efforts, AIA Colorado partnered with the recently established Colorado Chapter of National Organization of Minority Architects (NOMA) for a joint webinar on July 7, “Are Firms Ready for Diversity.” Kicking off the presentation, AIA Colorado CEO Mike Waldinger said, “We desire to foster a culture of belonging.” To this end, NOMA Founding Board Member and UC Denver Visiting Assistant Professor Annicia Streete joined Waldinger as co-host and moderated the webinar of the four panelists:
- Yiselle Santos Rivera, AIA, NOMA, LEED AP BD+C, WELL AP, Firmwide Director of Justice, Equity, Diversity & Inclusion + Medical Planner + Vice President, HKS, Inc.
- David Allen, NOMA, Architectural Designer, Rowland+Broughton
- Sarah Aziz, J.E.D.I. Visiting Professor at CU Denver College of Architecture and Planning
- Jeremy Fretts, AIA, NCARB, M.A. Ed., Assistant Vice President, Experience+Education National Council of Architectural Registration Boards (NCARB)
The conversation—the full recording of which is now available on YouTube—provided the following takeaways:
Barriers to Architecture. Sarah Aziz led the dialogue about how a lack of resources could affect internship offerings and the ability to live in large cities where firms are located. Next, the method of architecture licensure may be prohibitive to minority prospects. Waldinger noted that the AIA Colorado Licensure Advancement Fund is available and can assist in off-setting costs.
Licensing Challenges. Representing NCARB, Jeremy Fretts knows many questions need to be answered regarding the formal architectural licensing procedure. This process is being evaluated to determine if it is equitable and attainable for any and all emerging professionals. Is there exam-question bias or pass-rate correlations that need to be changed? Terminology and experiential paths could affect outcomes on achieving licensure. This vital career path needs to be fair and accessible.
What Matters Most. David Allen shared his personal architectural journey and how his firm, Rowland+Broughton, provided him a voice that encompasses his whole self. He championed NOMA Colorado and the needs this organization meets for minority architecture careers. “The NOMA Chapter was a home away from home as it is hard to find people who look like me and understand the challenges I was experiencing,” Allen said. He proposed that mentors are vital at any stage in an architect’s career, and his helped him gain better awareness and how to navigate the ups, downs, and barriers.
Dance to Advance. Yiselle Santos Rivera encouraged those with influence to not just invite others to the party, but also to ask others to dance—in their own unique style. Be intentional in having a voice different from others. Provide an anonymous communication feedback forum that provides open dialogue and tangible results. Said Santos Rivera, “If you are doing something wrong, admit the mistake and develop that conversation. Defensiveness does not help growth. Welcome challenges.”
Reinforcing her comments, Waldinger said, “Good intentions can be wrongly executed. Acknowledge this and move forward.” What will help us get better? The conversation is no longer what you will not do, but what you will do.
Allen’s passion of drawing led to an impromptu invite to a college design day, a mentor, and ultimately an architectural career. AIA Colorado is committed to continuing more of these success stories. Understanding and awareness will benefit everyone involved in our state’s architectural profession. What can you do today?
About the Author
JP Arnold, LEED Green Associate, APR, is Marketing and Business Development Manager at Bridgers & Paxton. He is an Allied Member of AIA and sits on the 2021 Editorial Committee. He is a retired U.S. Army Public Affairs Officer (PAO) and Signal Officer. As a PAO, he worked over 150 media engagements around the world to include The New York Times, CNN, BBC, Newsweek, NBC News, along with Seattle and Colorado Springs media markets. He worked on the National Army Marketing and Advertising Recruiting Campaign alongside Weber Shandwick PR and McCann Erickson Ad Agency. Arnold is Accredited in Public Relations (APR) and holds both undergraduate and graduate degrees in Mass Communication from Ouachita Baptist University and Middle Tennessee State University (Phi Kappa Phi Honors). He has been married for more than 20 years to his wife and they have two children and several pets.