Dean's Newsletters

Dean's Newsletter from Robert Alexander González

October 18, 2020

Dialogue is essential if we are to navigate difficult subjects, especially controversial topics of the day such as the pandemic, or a politically divided country and a fraught election, or the yearning felt by many BIPOC community members for the freedom to learn in inclusive environments.

To address the last of these topics, we need to examine our School for any built-in elements that impede learning. And this requires us to admit a key fact: no educational system is ever truly neutral. Even long-established academic traditions, such as lecture series by esteemed guest speakers, need rethinking. Kudos to Assistant Professors Aaron Cayer and Kathleen Kambic, co-chairs of this year’s Lecture Series Committee and their committee members, Liz Castillo, Gabriel Fries-Briggs, Elspeth Iralu, and Ted Jojola, who adopted an alternative approach: a Conversation Series. The theme of the series, CONTESTING, takes on three vital and entangled topics that are ever-present in today’s environmental design and planning discourse: Monuments, Climate, and Design. We invite you to join us for many rich conversations this year.

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In addition, the committee cleverly interlaced related dialogues with these public conversations so that our faculty and students can delve deeper into these issues together. The faculty will guide the SA+P community through these conversations. We've already begun this with our first collective reading of Teaching to Transgress, by the activist and writer bell hooks. Led by Cayer and Katya Crawford, Associate Dean of Student Equity and Excellence and Landscape Architecture Department Chair, this discussion addressed challenges that the classroom can present for those who feel disenfranchised. As a School, we must continuously re-examine the “classroom”—ironically, even more so now that the actual classroom has become an electronic device. (Can we find virtue here in distance learning?!) In Teaching to Transgress, Gloria Jean Watkins (who uses the all-lowercase bell hooks as her pen name) speaks about the shocking and disorienting shift she experienced in her own education—from her time in her beloved, nurturing, all-Black high school, Crispus Attucks, in the rural, segregated South, to the alienating reality she abruptly confronted when she was bussed to an integrated school, constantly fighting the racism in her white teachers and classmates.

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