DMU’s student-centered model of design education encourages students to see themselves as co-creators not only of a shared learning environment in the classroom but also of design justice in their own communities and creative work. We do this through disrupting student/professor hierarchies, academic/community power dynamics, and conventional practitioner/client definitions. Our Foundations of Design Justice course was co-authored by 20 scholars and taught by 27 co-facilitators and guest lecturers across multiple institutions and semesters, reflecting and affirming a diversity of thought. Our DMU workshops are learn-ins rather than teach-ins, disrupting the notion of expertise in favor of multidirectional knowledge exchange among students, instructors, and communities. And, our students are invited to co-create knowledge through curriculum and project development throughout the course.
Here, by sharing their words, we feature some of our students who ground and inspire DMU’s work and evolution.
CHAYAREI MARIE BALDONADO
DMU Course: Fugitive Practice (City College of New York and Yale University)
DMU Instructor: Jerome Haferd
I’m a recent graduate of the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture at the City College of New York with a bachelor’s degree in architecture. My interests include sustainability, inclusivity, contemporary design, interior design, furniture design, and fashion. My work prioritizes inclusivity through meaningful design that provides spaces for education and inspiration, stimulating interest and desire, and eventually building connections and relationships. Specifically, in my project titled “Reclamation,” my partner, Louis Conte, and I focused on building the relationships between different communities through cultural exchange and storytelling. DMU changed my view on how I see anything “creative,” what it really means to create, and my thought processes as a practicing designer.
DMU Course: Material Translations (Carleton University)
DMU Instructors: Jelisa Blumberg and Victor Zagabe
In all my work, I try to maintain an attitude of continuous learning, questioning, and experimentation. I believe one of the most important traits to have in architecture and education is a complete lack of arrogance in order to have the willingness and ability to learn and grow. We have a lot to learn from the people and world around us and from those that came before us. Continuous questioning allows us to dismantle notions that we may take for granted without really understanding how and why.
Working with DMU taught me to further investigate and try to understand the context of any project or community we may work with. I learned to look beyond the surface into history, culture, people, commodities, and all other aspects of our existence. I hope to continue trying to see the world and my work through this lens.
DMU Learn-in: Talking Race + Architecture (AIA New York)
DMU Instructors: Jerome Haferd, Justin Garrett Moore, Quilian Riano, and Camille Sherrod
My journey goes beyond the realms of architectural aesthetics; it extends to my commitment to recognizing the urgent need for change. Through my work, I am dedicated to creating spaces that resonate with all individuals, transcend boundaries, and invite a sense of belonging. By fostering a supportive atmosphere that celebrates BIPOC experiences and achievements, I aim to empower future architects to enrich their designs through cultural awareness and appreciation.
My commitment to anti-racism and the pursuit of BIPOC joy isn’t a choice; it’s a responsibility. I am determined to leave a mark that extends beyond physical structures, one that transforms the architectural landscape into a space of equity, unity, and shared happiness. With every project and interaction, I’m driven by the conviction that architecture can be a catalyst for change and a source of inspiration for generations to come.
DMU Network Course: ARCH 101 - Design I (Pratt Institute)
DMU Instructor: christin hu
I’m a fifth-year B.Arch. student at Pratt Institute with minors in photography and social justice/social practice. I have always been drawn to the way bell hooks describes being a seeker on a path as what fundamentally informs her life, and this is how I see myself and my journey: I am a dreamer, designer, and seeker on a path for love, joy, and justice. In my educational work, I have been part of leading curricular and cultural change at Pratt as well as supporting diverse students through the National Organization of Minority Architecture Students and the American Institute of Architecture Students. My design projects in school have been opportunities to understand how architecture is connected to people and place and how design is a tool and process that has the power to build community-centered futures and bring people together. In my participatory design work, I have worked with New York residents to reimagine and reshape spaces in their community for joy, play, and healing.
SYDNEY ROSE MAUBERT
DMU Course: Fugitive Practice (Howard University + Yale University)
DMU Instructors: Curry J. Hackett and Jerome Haferd
My ongoing work centers the rhetorical knowledge that my family gifted me. Being in institutional spaces for so many years, I learned how to articulate daily life’s decolonial or liberatory potential. Many of the domestic rituals I do and observe within my community inform my teaching and practice.
I knew I was interested in Black placemaking in my work, and being a teaching assistant during the height of Black Lives Matter, I was able to witness a pedagogical shift that truly shaped my research and teaching interests. It permitted me to introduce Black and Indigenous knowledge into my research and teaching. I’ve gifted students the joy of self-discovery, and I learned these teaching methods while co-teaching DMU courses at Yale.
REGINE LAURYN SWANSON
DMU Course: Foundations of Design Justice (Florida A&M University + University of Utah)
DMU Instructors: Tonia Sing Chi, Chat Travieso, and Jati Zunabi
DMU Course Coordinators: Andrew D. Chin and Lisa C. Henry
I am dedicated to the cultural distinction of people of color throughout the built environment. What is most important when approaching design is to ensure the visibility of inspiration drawn from BIPOC individuals. In my work, I want the built environment to act as a mirror to stakeholders of color so they can see themselves, their history, their ambition, and a bright future. DMU’s influence has led me to seek projects and collaboratives that are interested in design that addresses racial and socioeconomic issues through architecture.
This article first appeared in the October 2023 issue of ARCHITECT, which was guest edited and designed by Dark Matter U.