Jennifer Newsom, AIA, is co-founder of Dream the Combine, the Minneapolis, Minn.–based firm that was the winner of the MoMA PS1’s 2018 Young Architects Program. She is also an assistant professor at the University of Minnesota School of Architecture.

Young spoke with a bravery, deliberateness, and forcefulness that was as necessary in 1968 as it is today. I was struck by the unflinching nature of his tone: I’m sure this came as a shocking wake-up call to those in attendance. Unfortunately, many of the silences, exclusions, and actively discriminatory “designs” he railed against the profession for in 1968 have only marginally been addressed in the 50 years since. Have architects specifically been leading the charge for social, economic, and political equity? I don’t think so.

I don’t see diversity increasing significantly. I am the 277th black female architect ever licensed in the U.S. (I got my first registration in 2011). That is a piteous number that hasn’t gone up very much in the seven years since. But pity isn’t going to get us to where we need to be in terms of equity in the field.

In her book When the Ivory Towers were Black, Sharon Sutton writes about how, in the late 60s, students catalyzed Columbia’s GSAPP program to enact a vigorous recruitment program and make changes in the curriculum that reflected a social justice focus, in part inspired by Young’s speech and their own feelings of underrepresentation and disenchantment. Numbers grew for a brief moment in time, echoing work HBCUs have long been doing. What are other, white majority institutions, the state schools and the Ivies doing to really change things? These are questions that I continue to have.

It is going to require systemic change at the educational level. If students (of all backgrounds) are learning how society and our profession especially are influenced by limiting beliefs about race and gender, then they can begin the work of changing it.

I think people have to operate from where they are, with the tools that they have. What can I do as an educator, as a designer, as a human being to address these issues? Architecture is a service profession. We each need to answer the question: What are you working in service of? To whom much is given, much is required.

I am cautiously optimistic about the work that is happening on a variety of spectrums, from academic research to on-the-ground social justice initiatives that are engaging architectural concerns directly. I think people of all stripes, especially our younger people, are waking up, especially given the events of the past year. They have a desire to shape the world into a more just, beautiful, and healthy future.

There is still the issue of representation, which I think has a significant impact on people feeling like they have access to this profession. As a female person of color in the field, sometimes you are sent searching, seeking out others in a safe space where you can have different sorts of conversations, such as the Black in Design conference held at Harvard Graduate School of Design last year. Everyone kept remarking how beautiful (and rare) seeing all those brown faces felt. It was this wonderful declaration: we are here. But much of the time, in our home cities and institutions and firms, you are going it alone.