It came to my attention that, during our virtual conference, a panelist in one of the very first sessions made some very disconcerting and provocative remarks regarding diversity in the profession. Some of the panelist’s statement goes as follows: “So, I’m really not on board with this diversity at all cost. I’m just not. I have no problem with diversity. We.. I’ve.. never denied employment to anyone, um, based on anything other than I didn’t think they were qualified….. But, I’m not going to take somebody on into the practice just because they’re non-white. Or non-male. I just wouldn’t do it.” While no one on the panel really directly responded to this statement, there has been a great deal of reaction to it outside of that presentation, and in some cases, a call to shut down this kind of thought.
This all reminds me of one of the most frustrating things that happened to me last year as I made one of my President-Elect visits. One of the foremost parts of my platform was to focus on efforts to create a more equitable, diverse, and inclusive environment for our members and for our profession. In one of my first visits, my presentation was met with silence. Absolute silence. Going forward, on the next few visits, I would tell my audience that they may not necessarily agree with what I was about to present, but that I welcomed any thoughts or questions that they had for me. Again: Silence.
It frustrated me, as I knew that the likely reason that no comments were made was that my words were as disconcerting and uncomfortable to those listening as the panelist’s words were to me (when I finally got to hear them), and rather than engage in a conversation where we both might learn something, they chose to be silent. Perhaps they felt that they would be shut down or shamed. The panelist thought so himself, as his next words were: “So, should I leave the room?” He didn’t, although I wonder: If the other panel members didn’t agree with him, why didn’t they challenge him on that? I also wonder: If he could have seen the faces of his audience, would he have felt comfortable enough to say what he did? My guess is no.
Let me be clear, while I agree that merit and qualifications are required for progression and achievement, I don’t believe that diversity easily occurs “naturally.” If “naturally-occurring” diversity was really effective, then, in the more than 50 years since Whitney Young’s address to AIA in 1968, we would have had more than three persons of color, none of whom were African-American by the way, who have led the Society. It needs help. TxA has made, and continues to make, a commitment to become a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive organization. Yet, much work still needs to be done.
But, TxA is not about shutting down or shaming someone based on their individual opinions when we disagree with those opinions. What we are about is being “The voice for Texas architecture, supporting the creation of safe, beautiful, sustainable environments.” Diversity of thought is just as important as any other marker of diversity, and it is only through having thoughtful, real — and in some instances — uncomfortable conversations, that we will make any meaningful moves forward. Perhaps we could learn something from this view. Perhaps the panelist could learn something from ours. But, if we were to shut down opposing views, it would make us no better than those who have shut us down in the past, and it shuts down the opportunity to learn from it.
There is so much more that this incident has brought to my mind than can be written in one post, and this year has brought conflict to the forefront as never before. We can only weather this and come out better and stronger if we take the opportunity to actively listen to each other, learn from each other, and make sure we create a safe space for all voices to be heard.
So, let’s talk.