An Open Letter to the Faculty and Staff of the

Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture 

As students of the Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture, we have the privilege and the responsibility to think critically about our work and the work of those that came before us. Landscape Architecture has a long history of erasing, displacing, and misrepresenting people of color in the name of property values, redevelopment, and urban renewal. White supremacy is often rooted in privilege, and distancing our school from these historical horrors by denouncing them alone without any effort to work
towards a solution is a perpetuation of that. Critique without concrete action is but another tool of white supremacy and classism imparted by universities to appear progressive while upholding the capitalist state. We demand better of ourselves and of the places in which we invest our time, our money, and our knowledge. We want to work actively to promote justice and equity where it has been denied in the past and is still denied to this day.


RRSLA released a statement on police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement with the goal to assemble a task force, but has yet to follow up with an action plan. The department as it stands is anti-black in teaching, in representation, and in culture, and this inaction has dire consequences for black students as well as all students of color. A group of students took the initiative to gather and edit a list of demands to assist RRSLA in its endeavors. Our goal is to examine the place that university holds in our
society objectively and with historical understanding in order to create an environment that is accessible to all peoples with an interest in art, design, and landscapes.


We are calling on our department to stand in solidarity with us by actively promoting anti-racism and challenging white supremacy, starting with the following demands:


Curriculum

  • Decolonize design education. Commit our department to challenging white supremacy and the role that design has played in settler colonialism within the Americas and globally. Ensure that all existing courses are taught with thorough understanding of the harm that design has imparted on Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and Latinx people and the ways that western tradition has perpetuated these injustices in the present. Teach BIPOC and Latinx history as a part of the main history curriculum with at least 50% references and readings by architects of color and women to be taught by a professor of color.

  • Teach proper community engagement within all courses, but specifically studios. It is irresponsible to allow students to engage in community based design without properly educating them on race relations and the systems put in place to continually oppress communities of color. How can a majority white program engage with communities of color in equitable andmeaningful ways without a savior complex? Reject the fact that we, as designers, know what is best for marginalized communities.

  • Introduce studio projects that promote activism and land equity and directly involve RRSLA with neighboring communities. LSU encroaches on two predominantly black neighborhoods that have been subject to redlining, dislocation, food deserts, and an inadequate appropriation of green space. How can we make equitable change in the communities that surround us?

  • Consider how crime statistics and the role of law enforcement factors into site analysis and how the perpetuation of the carceral industrial complex is intertwined within universities.

  • Offer specific courses for social and land equity. While this will be discussed across the entire curriculum, give students with a specific interest in environmental justice a place to learn and discuss the role we can play in reversing the injustices our predecessors have put in place.

  • Invite BIPOC to be guest lecturers and reviewers for full representation. No more all-male, all-white lineup. Have at least 50% of lecturers come from diverse backgrounds in terms of gender, race, sexuality, and ethnicity.

  • Reevaluate expectations of time and financial commitments. Design is inaccessible to many because of the time and money needed to do work that is required. Allocate resources and funds for students without the means to afford them (hardware, software, materials, housing, etc.) and reevaluate the amount of work that is expected of students at any one time. Pulling all-nighters is unhealthy. Sitting at a desk for 12 hours a day is unhealthy. Staring at a computer screen for too long is unhealthy. Design students are expected to do all this and more, not including jobs that students need to afford not only school but also housing, food, and gas. Examine the role design school plays in the advancement of colonialist ideals that capitalize on the free labor of students rather than actually advancing design. We are being taught to crank out work without having time to care for our physical, mental, and emotional health. This limits creativity, passion, and retention of the information we learn.


Resources and Opportunities

  • Invest in recruitment for BIPOC and Latinx students. Going into inner city high schools to recruit for our program is meaningless if we cannot get those children to attend simply because they do not have the means to. Make relationships with local high schools (such as McKinley, Woodlawn, and Madison Prep) and allocate funds for scholarships for incoming students of color that offers full endowment for tuition, housing, and materials. Find value and invest in students that cannot immediately funnel money into the program.

  • Improve resources for current students of color and international students. This includes scholarships, mental health resources, language services, and equitable opportunity to tools, tech, and materials. International students make up a large fabric of our student body, and they should be valued as more than diversity statistics. Improve communication resources for international students especially during this time where some of our peers are unable to reenter the country due to Covid-19.

  • Sponsor black students to attend black-led landscape conferences in order to cultivate a network of Black professionals, alumni, and students. Create special opportunities for students of color to engage with their peers as their current body of classmates does not reflect them.


Accountability

  • Require anti-racist Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training for current faculty members, students, and staff. Even though it may not have been the intention, many students have been hurt by comments from professors and even other students with regards to race. There is an obvious white-male bias within the department, and it needs to be addressed to ensure that all students, regardless of race, gender, sexuality, or status, feel comfortable and welcomed by faculty and staff as well as their fellow students. Outline strategies for becoming actively anti-racist and document changes to curricula in the history and theory sequences for core coursework.

  • Commit to diversity in hiring. Consider why all of our faculty members are white. Who do students of color have to turn to in order to have their experiences validated? If no immediate positions can be filled by professors of color, bring in temporary or guest professors or have professors of color from other departments teach classes within our program.

  • Hire a third party advisor for equity and inclusion trained in anti-racist rhetoric in order to aid the department and ensure that faculty, staff, and students have accountability and to give a nonpartial bridge between faculty and students. Use this advisor as a tool to evaluate racism in the department and ways to fix it. Do not expect, require, or allow students of color to be responsible for this work.

  • Enact a zero tolerance policy for racist/sexist/homophobic/transphobic/ableist behavior and sexual harassment and give a comprehensive way for students to report this behavior.

  • Critically review selection criteria for scholarships, awards, TA and RA appointments, and honors. Consider that external barriers such as economic status and access to materials may keep students from qualifying for positions or scholarships. Work toward removing these barriers.

  • Push for divestment of LSU from the prison industrial complex. Hold accountability for the harm done by LSU from slave labor on campus that continues to be utilized within facility services to the territorial expansion of university land into black neighborhoods and indigenous land.

  • Commit to nonretaliation for students who are outspoken on racism, discrimination, and their own personal experiences within the department. Many students experience fear in sharing their experiences because they are unsure of how their professors or their peers will react. It is difficult to be vulnerable and honest within a place that does not at all reflect our struggle.


This letter is intended to strengthen our department and our community, but we must acknowledge that, as a profession and an institution, Landscape Architecture at LSU has done harm and will continue to do harm if left unchecked. We ask these things of you because we want our department to be better for everyone involved and who we hope to be involved in the future.


We look forward to your response and continued efforts to address these demands.

Signatures

We invite all to sign our letter in support of our efforts. Please do so by using this form. Your signature will be shared with the faculty and staff of the department.