The Duderstadt Center Gallery, decked with hanging statistics and artwork, housed a conversation Tuesday evening that sought to link urban planning and diversity.

Hosted by the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, the event was one of several planned for the Agents of Change exhibition, a series presented by students across colleges housed on North Campus.

Tuesday’s event featured a film made by Rackham student Christopher Locke, who is studying architecture, called “Streaming Blackness.” The film depicted a series of images that represented Locke’s stance on culture and race-based attacks among citizens.

During the event, Locke said he made the film to show Black culture from different perspectives, specifically by connecting Black culture with trade relationships in China.

“This project takes a stance on the culture at large, but specifically Black culture,” Locke said. “It shows relationships in China on a global scale, such as trading oil, trading weapons and what that means for people.”

The event also featured a panel discussion with three University faculty members: Education Prof. Robert Sellers, vice provost for equity, inclusion and academic affairs, Law Prof. Amanda Alexander and Architecture Lecturer Craig Wilkins.

“I thought the panel was very engaging and I learned a lot,” Ngongi said. “I really didn’t know about the community and the planning process for diversity.”

Sellers told the crowd that diversity was important in all fields, noting thinking about different perspectives can bring new ideas to the table.

“Sometimes, we assume the point of view that we are looking at is somehow truth or objective or the only way to look at it,” he said. “When one thinks about building perspectives, we need to reinforce the notion to have as many different points of view in play to help us develop the very best ideas.”

He also pointed to different majors as a source of different perspectives that can affect opinions and approaches to issues of diversity.

“If you don’t take into consideration the different and unique experiences of individuals, then you run the risk of designing a really nice beautiful building that can do much more harm than good in terms of its usage,” Sellers said.

Sellers additionally cited the diversity strategic planning process currently underway on campus, in which University President Mark Schlissel called upon the University’s colleges to create plans to address diversity within their respective units. He said this planning process gives the opportunity for each school to improve inclusion.

“The nature of this University is such that, in any particular unit, some of the units will actually have the types of relationships in place, and there are others who haven’t,” Sellers said. “The planning process provides the opportunity to make those constituents develop those relationships and have input on how this University should work with diversity.”

Alexander, who works with the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program, touched on how the University is related to Detroit.

“We’re 45 minutes from the Blackest city in the US,” Alexander said. “The question is how do we create access for Detroiters— make them not just feel included but welcomed, valued and cherished.”

She said many faculty members don’t bring up diversity in their classrooms over concern of being criticized for not addressing the topic with nuance.

“A lot of our colleagues are afraid,” Alexander said. “They are afraid to address questions of race or diversity in the classroom for fear that they will end up on a blog somewhere.”

Wilkins, a professional architect and urban designer who is the director of the Detroit Community Design Center, said architects should learn to collaborate and relate diversity with their designs because many individuals are not concerned with aesthetics.

“You have to talk to different audiences and get specific in ways in which those tangible things mean something to you,” Wilkins said.

In an interview after the event, Rackham student Elinge Ngongi said the panel provided her with a unique view on her own Puerto Rican and Black heritage.

Urban Planning Prof. June Manning Thomas, who moderated the event, said the aim was to create a space to address diversity and inclusion.

“What we wanted to do is enter into a consultation about what the issues are of particular interest to Taubman College faculty and students and the whole idea of diversity, equity, inclusion, as well as the legacy of Taubman,” Thomas said.

Rackham student Scott Fox, who is studying urban planning and helped organize the event, said he thought the conversation was both helpful and thought-provoking.

“It was a good experience to have faculty from various perspectives talk about the specific planning process and breaking down how we can make these conversations happen,” Fox said. 

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