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ASLA Presidential Candidates Forum Question 2: SuLin Kotowicz, ASLA

SuLin Kotowicz, ASLA

“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” ~Maya Angelou

In 1899, ASLA was founded with 11 members. One race was represented; one member was female, Beatrix Farrand. 122 years later, ASLA’s goal is to reflect the diversity of the country within our membership. We’re currently 14,782 members strong. We’re short of national estimates by Census.gov for female gender (42% vs. 50.8%). We exceed national estimates for Asian and Biracial racial demographics, yet are woefully short for Black/African Americans and Hispanic/Latinx members.

To make landscape architecture attractive and accessible to a broader spectrum of society, we have work to do.

  • Awareness of the profession: landscape architecture is not fully understood nor utilized in society (Frameworks Institute, 2019). How do you generate interest in a profession the general public has little to no understanding of as a distinct concept? Fortunately, we’ll benefit from a seed planted years ago with the Frameworks Institute study. We are now finalizing phase two of this research project to shift public comprehension about landscape architecture using people’s existing ways of thinking.
  • ‘When I grow up, I want to be a veterinarian, or a classical pianist, or an accountant.’ Sorry, 10-year-old SuLin, none of these became your profession (though one’s secondary!). To change the demographics of our profession, we need to be visible early and encourage all students - whose climate interest and activism is growing - with an emphasis on BIPOC communities. ASLA’s Lisa Jennings and her team have created the PreK-12 Virtual Summit. This summit will debut in September, bringing participants an understanding of what landscape architecture is and what landscape architects do (save the world). The main audiences will be educators and Pre-K, elementary, middle and high school students. ‘Seeds’ will be planted; some will blossom into tomorrow’s landscape architects.
  • Barriers to entry into the profession exist. I’ve seen and seek more on these issues students experience. HBCU North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University presented a real and urgent example when, in the 2020 pandemic shutdown, their landscape architecture students needed technology and software they lacked the means to purchase. With a demonstration of commitment to diversity, growing the profession and strengthening the pipeline of Black landscape architects, ASLA members raised over $53,000 via the ASLA Fund to purchase 43 laptops. This is just one story highlighting the barriers which must be eliminated.

I’m proud of ASLA, who just released our Racial Equity Plan of Action. As CEO Torey Carter-Conneen shared, “we are at an inflection point in the history of our profession, the nation, and the world… The solutions for our professional community must come directly from us… The time to design the future of our profession is now.”

I couldn’t agree more. As we live into this five-point action plan, let’s emphasize the optic of ASLA/our profession reflecting our diversity. Let’s increase support, recognition and visibility of our BIPOC students and members. And in Maya Angelou’s words, let’s “do better.”

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