Association’s Scholarship Contest Highlights Racial Barriers in Its Field

A mini-scholarship contest attracted responses from landscape architecture students on social media and exposed inequities in a profession long dominated by a white majority.

Finding out what obstacles young people face when they are thinking about entering a profession can sometimes shine a light on uncomfortable realities about an industry, as evidenced by a response to the National Association of Minority Landscape Architects inaugural mini-scholarship campaign, which offered a $500 prize.

A prompt on NAMLA’s Instagram page gave landscape architecture students an opportunity to speak their minds in response to a deliberately thought-provoking post: “What do you think is the biggest challenge for minorities in obtaining leadership roles in landscape architecture? And what would you propose to remedy this challenge?”

The winning response, written by Dana Tinio, a graduate student in landscape architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, stated that landscape architecture in the U.S. is a “historically white profession guided by Western pedagogy, thought, practice, and bias.” She cited those issues as the main obstacles for minorities trying to establish a foothold in the profession.

“We chose Dana’s response because her essay looked at difficulties that minorities are confronted with at different levels of their career,” said Sara Abed, NAMLA’s cofounder and vice president. “She also used data to illustrate that the profession is lacking minority representation.”

Tinio wrote, “Only 10 percent of professionals identify as Latino and only 3 percent as Black, both of which are disproportionately less than their representation in the U.S. population.”

The data proved a point. “It resonated with us,” Abed said, “because it helps us measure what is lacking in our industry and what needs to be done to bring more diversity into the profession.” It also aligned with a tenet of NAMLA’s mission to “use research as a tool to shed light on the structural racism that has omitted people of color from having leadership roles in landscape architecture.”

NAMLA was founded by its president, Steven Chavez, and Abed in 2020. They were both motivated by their own experiences in the profession and wanted to address the lack of people of color in decision-making roles in developing American landscapes.

They viewed the scholarship series as a way to assist students financially and provide them with a broader forum. “It gives them the opportunity to be heard by a wider audience, and we encourage them to speak up,” Abed said, acknowledging that’s not always easy to do. But their voices add an important perspective on topics that aren’t always openly discussed.

As Tinio wrote in her winning essay, “The field must be promoted so that ‘landscape architect’ becomes as commonly known to aspiring youth as ‘doctor,’ and its mission should be as clear.” She noted that if more minorities join the field, institutions will be under greater pressure to open up more leadership roles to members of underrepresented groups.

(michaeljung/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Lisa Boylan

By Lisa Boylan

Lisa Boylan is a senior editor of Associations Now. MORE

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