Racism Untaught in Interior Design Curriculum

On November 6, 2020, College of Art & Design faculty and staff attended the Racism Untaught workshop, a virtual conference led by educators Terresa Moses and Lisa Mercer. The workshop used the design research process to assist participants in identifying racialized design and critically assessing anti-racist design approaches.

The workshop’s goal is to facilitate opportunities in academia and within organizations to further explore issues of race and racism, by: critically analyzing and identifying artifacts of “racialized design;” shared experiences of microaggressions and implicit bias; and systematic forms of racism and how we and our culture perpetuate them.

“I am grateful to have participated in this experience where faculty and staff from College of Art & Design came together to reflect on their identity and consider how power, privilege, and marginalization impact experience in our everyday lives,” said Marsha Cuddeback, Director of the School of Interior Design.

Faculty from the Schools of Architecture, Art, Interior Design, and Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture participated in the workshop, working in teams to address racialized design challenges relevant to the LSU community. Workshop participants explored topics such as identity, privilege, oppression, stereotypes, and discussed some of the many challenges that marginalized communities face routinely. Through these exercises, the organizers note, the LSU art & design faculty are better prepared to address instances of racism in the future.

“How can we, as educators, intervene to make sure the design process is anti-racist?” Mercer posed the question to participants.

After LSU College of Art & Design faculty members participated in the Racism Untaught virtual workshop, analyzing systemic racism from critical lenses, they applied those strategies to teaching methods. The workshop informed their perspectives when approaching racialized design in the future.

The Interior Design Studio III taught by instructor Andrew Baque explored themes around racialized design and identified instances of racism in the built environment. The challenge was to create innovative physical environments that foster healing, hope, trust, recovery, comfort and inclusion for all demographics including racial and ethnic groups. To address the issues of equity, inclusion and diversity the class overlaid the design process with the Racism Untaught toolkit, aimed to reveal and unlearning racialized design.

“The idea of Racism Untaught is trying to discover places where racialized design exists,” Baque explained. “That leads you to something that you reconcile with, in our case that’s a project design. We use our physical interior design to reconcile the existing racialized design.”

The interior design students researched buildings across the United States and learned about facilities that were build during segregation, responses to the Jim Crow era, including hospital and high schools and buildings coined the “school to prison” model. The students studied communities trying to erase and eradicate any evidence of segregation, and looked at the physical responses to a long history of inequity in American society. The class identified three racial themes: hidden racism, leftover racism, and blatant racism.

“During the semester, I gained so much insight on how interrelated racism is with design which I was not aware of before,” said Marigny Deblanc, BID candidate. “We did copious research at the beginning of the semester, and I learned a great deal about the history of racism in architecture. I learned how ideals of race are ingrained in the design and the history of so many buildings, structures, and public infrastructure to keep people of color oppressed. This could be done very purposefully or not even consciously but either way it is so important to acknowledge and be aware of its existence.”

The students then designed new facilities as “healing strategies” to reckon with the legacy of racialized design, and aim to heal communities through carefully designed sites that would promote equity and inclusion in the future. Their projects included re-designing schools into transformed academic learning neighborhoods, planned community sites that focused on health and wellbeing as key to the educational experience. Project designs included meditation spaces, art therapy, and healing gardens.

“This course has sparked an interest and passion towards including equity, inclusion, diversity, and justice from start to finish. However, it was not until I was tasked with finding a solution to end racism that I began to see the vision of what that looks like through design,” said Michael Howell, BID candidate.

“These four design elements can be done by: 1) including variations for the user, 2) using diversity in architectural solutions, materials, finishes, and most importantly, 3) defining an identity using the local and surrounding community to create a more equitable solution to design. By including diversity, you can create equitable design solutions that establish justice for the space and community,” he said.

The Racism Untaught program helps to foster conversations and safe learning environments focused on difficult and uncomfortable social, cultural and racial issues to ensure new ideas, critical thinking and diverse and alternative forms of creating. In the studio class, the students opened up to discuss honestly the complex issues surrounding racism, and learn from each other.

“Many people contributed to making it a safe and understanding place to talk and I found most students were then eager to share their perspective,” Marigny said. “I think everyone is a student and also a teacher so that means no matter who you are-gender, race, religion, etc. that is your story which is valid and important. This was such a unique class and I loved how it went way beyond just race or interior design but is so universal and multifaceted.”