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Diversity Summit Sets 2017 Action Plan

Back row from left: McGehee, Henao-Robledo, Rocquemore, Barreto, Fleming, Hildago. Front row from left: Bassey. Ruffin, Mendoza, Rivera, Ward, Okigbo.

Landscape architecture is currently facing a crisis of diversity. African Americans and Latinos together account for less than 10 percent of graduating landscape architects. These demographics fail to reflect those of the wider U.S. population. U.S. Census data project that minorities, now 37 percent of the U.S. population, will constitute 57 percent by 2060. To remain relevant and useful to the country’s increasingly diverse communities, landscape architecture must become a more ethnically and culturally diverse profession.

Four years ago, the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) inaugurated the Diversity Summit in order to better understand and address the profession’s lack of minority members. The fourth annual ASLA Diversity Summit brought together 12 landscape architects to identify tactics that ASLA could implement over the next 12 months in order further the cause of diversity. Discussions were geared towards recruitment of minorities in to academic programs and mentorship of minority students and practitioners. Summit participants drew on their experiences as minorities in the field to devise ways of leveraging school outreach programs, scholarships, professional networks, and technology to achieve said goals.

Participants, some new, some returning from last year’s summit, engaged in a series of group discussions and brainstorming exercises to devise ways of integrating design and landscape architecture principles into elementary, middle, and high school education, as well as how best to manage post-degree mentorship.

Each diversity summit has built upon the progress of years previous. Participants in the first diversity summit examined the causes for lack of diversity within the profession and turned those findings into an action plan; year two saw participants tackle strategies for early exposure and mentorship within the field; in year three, general public awareness of landscape architecture was adopted as a goal, along with implementing mentorship models among minority youth in order to guide them toward college programs.

This summit’s final exercise required participants to cast votes for major action items that they would like ASLA to implement. The action items were accrued from the previous exercises. Below are the most popular action items related to recruitment, listed in descending order of vote tallies:

1. Promote and develop minority scholarships.
2. Produce case studies on minority practitioners.
3. Create targeted advertorial material such as videos and pamphlets.
4. Include culture-centered courses in program curricula.

Related to mentorship, the most popular action items are:

1. Develop a mentor program for students and young professionals as well as an accompanying best practice guide.
2. Provide visibility and opportunities for minority students and practitioners to inspire others.
3. Develop a comprehensive diversity guidebook that students and young practitioners can use as a resource for navigating issues unique to minorities in the profession.

The one-and-a-half-day summit was facilitated by Juanita Shearer-Swink, FASLA, and Terry Poltrack, ASLA director, Public Relations and Communications.

The participants were:

Roberto Rovira, ASLA
Mercedes Ward, ASLA
Aaron Ruffin, ASLA
Angelica Rocquemore, ASLA
Melissa Henao-Robledo, ASLA

Ailyn Mendoza, ASLA
Kelly Flemming, ASLA
Paula Barreto, ASLA
Monique Bassey, ASLA
Luis Hidalgo, ASLA
Paul McGehee II, ASLA
C. Kene Okigbo, ASLA

Joel Albizo, Chief Executive Officer, Council of Landscape Architectural Registration Boards
Kona Gray, Principal, EDSA, 2016 President, Landscape Architecture Foundation
Marq Truscott, FASLA, California Sierra Trustee, Chair-Elect, Council of Fellows

Juanita Shearer-Swink, FASLA, Senior Project Manager, GoTriangle

ASLA Support Staff:
Terry Poltrack, Director of Public Relations and Communications
Carolyn Mitchell, Honors and Awards Coordinator
Kris Pritchard, LAAB Accreditation Manager
Aaron King, Summer Communications Intern, and author of this article.

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