This Friday, Dec. 3, kicks off the AIA San Francisco Equity by Design (AIASF EQxD) committee’s virtual symposium The JE:DI Agenda in Action: An Intersectional Approach for Designing a Just Future. The multipart series, which continues into next year, is the seventh iteration of AIASF EQxD’s former biennial event, which switched to a virtual format in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. JEDI stands for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion.
The 2020–2021 iteration of the EQxD symposium brought together teach-ins with design, planning, and health experts, participant breakouts and workshops, and recommended readings over four sessions. “It was more reflective because there was a lot to process in 2020 and 2021,” Sheng says. “Now we want to be able to put [what we discussed] into practice, versus just talking about it. We have to go beyond statement culture.”
Sheng says the series, and the Dec. 3 kickoff in particular, is designed for attendees both new to and experienced with social justice and the topics of diversity, equity, and inclusion in architecture and design. “Because we're on the bleeding edge of what needs to be done, we assume that everybody else has followed—but they have not,” she says. “This is a good aha moment of ‘We need to do better in disseminating the why.’ We also need to give better examples of how people at any level can participate in JEDI action.”
The 2021–2022 JE:DI Agenda in Action series will feature individuals and organizations working at a variety of scales, Sheng says. People might think their work has to be the paragon of inclusion before they can share it, but not everything has “to be ‘gold-star’ examples,” she says. Case studies exist on a wide spectrum of progress, including incremental—but crucial—accomplishments such as including all-gender restrooms and considerations for individuals with acoustical sensitivities in architecture.
The first session in the series features panelists actively working at the intersection of design, justice, and advocacy: Kiki Cooper, organizer at the Design As Protest Collective; A.L. Hu, AIA, design initiatives manager at Ascendant Neighborhood Development and an organizer at the DAP Collective; Dayton Schroeter, AIA, principal and design director at SmithGroup whose projects include Society’s Cage; and Mary-Margaret Zindren, executive vice president and executive director at AIA Minnesota.
Sheng says the second session of JE:DI Agenda in Action, tentatively planned for January, will feature past recipients of the Architect Registration Examination Challenge Scholarship, a program AIASF is offering again this year.
In the third session, anticipated for spring 2022, attendees will participate in a “hackathon” to create a JEDI action implementation plan for their firm, organization, and community, Sheng says. The group will also discuss metrics of accountability and success. “It’s going back to our roots, which is our data,” she says, referring to AIASF EQxD’s landmark equity surveys conducted in 2014, 2016, and 2018. “We’re ruminating about doing another data study or many data studies that [look at] micro and macro metrics and are accessible.”
The 2021–2022 JE:DI Agenda in Action panel moderators and facilitators will comprise AIASF EQxD core leadership team, known to many active in the architecture and DEI space. They include Sheng, a San Francisco–based principal, higher education studio leader, and JEDI director at SmithGroup; Annelise Pitts, AIA, a New York–based principal consultant at Cameron MacAllister; Ántonia Bowman, AIA, project architect and associate at ELS Architecture and Urban Design, in Berkeley, Calif.; Lilian Asperin, AIA, a San Francisco–based partner at WRNS Studio; and Julia Mandell, AIA, associate design director at Wilson Associates, in Oakland, Calif.
With architecture firms beginning to bring employees back into the office, Sheng says the time is right to advance the JE:DI discussion. “We have to be [careful] not to fall back into our old ways,” she says. “JEDI in action is a daily practice. [How to Be an Antiracist author Ibram X.] Kendi says each day is brand new.” Your firm might have made a statement supporting Black Lives Matter or speaking out after the murder of George Floyd, Sheng says. “But what did you do today?”
To register or read more about the JE:DI Agenda in Action symposium on Dec. 3, 12–2 p.m. PST, visit the AIASF Equity by Design website.