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Hot Topics Conversations: Winter 2021 Recap

The CBE Hot Topics series continued in Winter 2021 with three sessions discussing issues central to the College community. As a reminder, the Hot Topics discussions grew out of the CBE Strategic Planning process as a space to discuss meaningful differences that exist in the College and to practice productive conflict.

The Winter conversations—EDI in CBE, Justice, and Climate Activism—drew a cross-section of College members. Each session had 15-30 in attendance including a mix of faculty, staff, students and a few alumni or community members. A special thank you to the facilitators who prepared these conversations and led them—Claudia Vergara and Adela Mu, Rachel Berney and Sara Cubillos, and Anthony Hickling and Gundula Proksch. You can read a brief recap of each session and see the “artifact” they created below. 

In each of these three sessions, participants asked the question “what’s next?” and expressed an interest in following up these preliminary conversations with more actionable discussions. As we transition to Spring 2021, the Hot Topics series will take a break to allow space for a new series of CBE Workshops. These sessions will be led by the Task Groups identified in the recently adopted Strategic Plan and provide space for these groups to engage members of the college community in the work these are developing.

Equity, Diversity and Inclusion in CBE

PDF of Google Jamboard Notes

This conversation started by the facilitators sharing the CBE definitions of diversity, equity and inclusion (these definitions were developed by the 2016 Equity Council) and asking members of CBE to engage with these definitions and their applicability to CBE today. 

  • Diversity is a range of human identities, including but not limited to age, creed, culture, ethnicity, gender, gender identity, national origin, physical ability or attributes, political beliefs, race, religious or ethical values system, sexual orientation, socioeconomic class, and veteran status. 
  • Equity is understanding how historical and structural legacies shape contemporary societal realities (e.g. citizenship, education, immigration, migration, public policy, and religion), recognizing when such legacies maintain specific power and privilege shape these realities, and restoring balance when policy and societal application does not work to the benefit of all our citizens. 
  • Inclusion is the active engagement, involvement and empowerment of our diverse community, where the inherent worth and dignity of our full community is recognized.

In the discussion, folks commented on the nuance between opportunities and outcomes in equity. Others proposed that these definitions should be tailored to speak to the built environment context in which our College exists and others called for our College to acknowledge the historic failures toward inclusion and equity in built environments generally and the College specifically. 

The second half of the discussion considered the way EDI approaches can be centered in our curricula across the College. This conversation touched on a wide range of topics—EDI as classroom practice, the need to engage in new discussions on existing texts as well as identify new content, and the challenges of bringing in conversations on EDI issues into professionally oriented courses (visual communication, industry preparation, professional practice).


This conversation focused on the question: How can built environments and BE professionals promote and/or embody justice?

Participants joined small group discussions to discuss thoughts on justice. Below are a few select comments from the document. 

  • Justice can drive accountability if we get our values down
  • Is justice a moving target or an ideal, never can be reached? Built environment’s long time frame means we can find lots of examples of injustice, e.g. detention centers. You may not be able to erase injustice in space.
  • Justice is about relationships and interactions can be people to people, people to other, and how does a system work together 
  • Justice isn’t something for now or the past but for the future and the next generations. Center yourself in the generations, both past and future
  • The built environment can be a shell for life-long injustices
  • Relationship-based and action-oriented

See this document for a summary of the discussions. 

The facilitators supplemented these thoughts with descriptions of justice from local organizers and organizations as well as grounds in the built environment spaces. 

Donald King, Nehemiah Initiative

I would view Justice as the state of fairness and equity. Justice does not always mean getting everything you want, but you get what others get. In my opinion, using the word to define punishment for crime or bad actions is a misuse. In a just world, punishment and reward is clear and predictable based on one’s good or bad actions. It is not punitive or compensated based on social status.

Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Case for Reparations (referenced in AIA Guidelines for Equitable Practice)

Justice, or social justice, denotes the assurance of fair treatment; equal economic, political, and social rights; and equitable opportunities and outcomes for all. It also encompasses a repairing of past wrongs, transformative justice, and accountability. For example, the call for racial justice in the U.S. includes a case for reparations (financial or nonfinancial) to those whose ancestors were enslaved and who continue to endure the legacy of slavery, segregation, racially-motivated violence, and discrimination. 

Design Justice Platform

Design justice advocates for the potential role of architects and architecture in redressing racial injustice and inequitable power structures, including through investment in repairing the infrastructure of neglected communities.(from Design Justice Platform) 

Nikkita Oliver, Seattle-based Attorney and Community Organizer

Justice is just us being just us

john a. powell, Othering & Belonging Institute

Justice involves claiming a shared mutual humanity

Climate Activism

[PDF of Miro Board]
[Miro Board Link]

Our final discussion of Winter 2021 focused on CBE’s role as a climate advocate. The strategic planning process identified a tension with how strongly CBE identifies itself as addressing “climate action” or “climate solutions.” 

To understand this distinction, our facilitators provided a few definitions: 

  • Climate activism can be individual or a form of civic engagement as a group, such as Fridays for Future and Climate Strikes. Some climate activism groups encourage their members to make lifestyle changes that reduce their individual carbon footprints. Though most types of activism work to move economic and political actors to change policies and behaviors in a way that will lead to reductions in emissions.
  • Climate Solutions or Climate Action are often used by large nonprofit organizations, like the United Nations, to promote their science supported programs. We would like to add a third term: 
  • Climate Advocacy works as an umbrella term and is used by various advocacy groups from climate activist organizations, to think-tanks, conservation organizations and researchers.

Most in attendance felt strongly that CBE should take an active role and identify as a “Climate Advocate.” The larger part of the discussion focused on the ways in which CBE should do this work. From incorporating more opportunities for climate advocacy related projects into the curriculum to using its knowledge base to actively engage directly with UW and the City of Seattle on their climate and sustainability plans.