by Lauren Bostic, Assoc. AIA
Finding diversity at an AIA national convention is not difficult, right? Start out with a few sessions on sustainability, check out the ongoing efforts of the Diversity and Inclusiveness Discussion Group in the Diversity Lounge, sprinkle in some sessions on nurturing emerging professionals, and take advantage of one of the many tours before you leave the city. But how many of these experiences celebrate and promote diversity within the profession? A number of events during the 2008 AIA Convention moved me on a more personal note.
My experience was somewhat unique in that I had the pleasure of being shadowed by two college students who sought mentors after learning about the program upon arrival at the convention. One of the young women has already started an architecture program at the BAC and the other is considering architecture after completing her first degree at Tufts. The morning allowed us the opportunity to learn about each other’s interests, share work experiences, and spend some time on the Expo Floor visiting booths, including the National Organization of Minority Architects. We have been in touch since we returned from the convention and I will continue to.
Later that evening, I attended a reception at the Boston Architectural College, which housed the "2%: Women of Color in Design" exhibition. It was there that I was able to see my work presented along with many women who had been "firsts" in the field. The energy in the room heightened as people discussed the work that so many of us had not seen presented in this light. The evening also had a touching moment in store for Marshall Purnell as he was presented with copies of AIA certificates documenting the induction of the first African-American AIA member and Fellow of the Institute, Paul Williams, FAIA. President Purnell was moved as he received the certificates from Mr. Williams’ granddaughter, as well as when he looked at the faces in the room, commenting on those whom he has looked up to as his mentors over the years.
The following day was another first for the AIA. Norma Sklarek, FAIA, the first African American female licensed architect and Fellow of the Institute, became the first woman to receive the AIA Whitney M. Young Jr. Award. In what Purnell referred to as a “court of honor,” all past winners of the award who were present were called to the stage to help honor Ms. Sklarek. This was a proud moment for anyone who attended, including me, having had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Sklarek that week during a session that presented a conversation between Jack Travis, FAIA, and Ms. Sklarek. As they recounted the many challenges and successes of her career the discussion confirmed her modesty and warm spirit. As a woman of color who graduated from Columbia University in 1950, she admitted that it was not easy and she always felt she was more visible than her classmates. When asked how she came to study at Columbia University, she simply replied: “Well, it was within walking distance of my house.” I could not help but laugh and wonder if she realized how much the challenges she has overcome continue to inspire architects. As proof of her influence over the years, the exchange ended with testimony from those whose careers were impacted by her achievements, her mentorship, and her character.
A wide variety of events surrounded by thousands of professionals from around the world is sure to diversify any convention, but seeking and engaging in activities that promote a more diverse experience is critical to the future of the profession. I was pleased that my experience of diversity at this year's convention became an interactive series of celebrations and opportunities to learn from my past and continue a commitment to generations to come.