A Letter to MIT Architecture Alumni

Dear MIT Architecture Alumni,

I write to update you on our conversations and actions over my first two weeks as Department Head. These two weeks have contained only two department-wide newsletters (these are a weekly, internal email begun by our communications office since our community became physically dispersed in March.) Their contents are illustrative;

The first, distributed two weeks ago, began with the following message from me in response to the death of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and of all the victims of racism and systemic injustice in the United States; “[T]his past week has been a bitter reminder of the inadequacy of good intentions and existing efforts towards equity. As creators of the structures of buildings and cities, we must acknowledge our culpability in structural racism and inequity. Yet buildings and cities, and our work and teaching around them, are today essential and necessary sites of action. Let us also recognize our great power and moral imperative to help design change and social repair, at MIT and in the world… May we all make space to hear each other, even as we commit ourselves to more, and more effective, action.”

The second newsletter did not contain any department news. It appeared on June 10, during the day of the national and international #ShutDownAcademia / #ShutDownStem protest in support of Black Lives Matter. We did shut down the department that day, and our only action was to send a newsletter with a series of links to anti-racist resources, and resources for anti-racist design. You can find that list here.

The day before that shutdown, spurred by our community’s outrage and desire for action, we convened a student-led town hall on the subject of race in the department’s teaching, research, and community life. The meeting focused on a series of specific agenda items, considered as part of a larger goal of building an anti-racist Department and actively supporting Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) students, staff, and faculty. Our students in particular brought an intelligence, urgency, and thoughtfulness to this discussion—amidst all the tensions and outrage of this moment—to which the whole community owes them a great debt of gratitude.

Starting with me two weeks ago, has been a dedicated Associate Department Head for Equity, longtime faculty member Terry Knight. Thanks to ongoing conversations and collaborations with our student government and National Organization of Minority Architecture Students (NOMAS) chapter, efforts are underway on most agenda items discussed in the Town Hall already. But our community discussions have given us the opportunity and impetus to expand our actions further, and look beyond them to more structural opportunities for change. These steps will be coordinated by myself and Terry, with staff representation and support, and a new, full-time student representative. We will continue to convene regular meetings with the Architecture Student Council (ASC), NOMAS, and our entire department community to continue collaboration in these actions, as well as those that follow. 

We would emphasize to you, as we have to our community of current faculty, staff, and students, that none of these actions are, on their own, sufficient. Nor do they represent more than a beginning to this conversation amongst all of us. Within the framework of student representation and department-wide collaboration outlined above, we are advancing discussion and action in building an actively anti-racist community. There are more complex areas where work is underway, but much more is necessary. These include but are not limited to: Department, School, and Institute-wide tenure criteria and mentorship, Curriculum Reform (beyond the creation of planned new classes), new approaches to Career Development and Support, and shifting our overall culture towards active engagement with communities, cities, and society.

We look forward to collaboration across our whole community of faculty, staff, and students in this essential task. And for many of them — from mentorship and career development, through community collaboration, and developing new resources and fellowships for students— we will particularly rely on you, our alumni, for support. I would invite any of you with suggestions and questions for myself and Terry to contact me directly.

With thanks to MITArchA for their ongoing collaboration, and thanks to all of our alumni for your engagement and care for this community,

Nicholas de Monchaux
Professor and Head of Architecture, MIT