The legacy of Whitney M. Young Jr.: Diversity in architecture

Whitney M. Young Jr. Press Conference at AIA Convention 1968

Press conference featuring Whitney M. Young Jr. at the 1968 AIA Convention

This essay is one of a series commemorating the 50-year anniversary of Whitney Young Jr.’s remarks at the 1968 AIA Convention in Portland. Visit our page honoring this historic speech to read more.

Discussions of Whitney Young, Jr.’s 1968 remarks to AIA members typically focus on two issues: the absence of black architects in the profession and what Young described as the profession’s profound “irrelevance” in speaking out on the issues of the day.

Decrying the lack of architects of color as he gazed out at his audience, Young saw their absence as a symbol of larger issues that had an impact on all Americans, specifically equity and disenfranchisement. If the urban poor, largely black, were denied a voice in shaping their own destiny, so were “poor Appalachian whites, Mexican-Americans, Puerto Ricans, and Indians.” Programs directed to serve the needs of the urban and rural poor were typically top-down initiatives with little or no input from those affected.

Young pointed out that the lack of diversity in the profession could be cut two ways. The profession was denying itself the full range of human creativity, and by the same token entire communities were not given the opportunity to chart their own future because they were dealing with a profession that neither looked like them nor understood their unique needs.

He set in motion within the national AIA and its components an evolving understanding of diversity that, as he had intended, went far beyond the plight of the urban poor and race. A truly inclusive society and profession, he had insisted, meant just that—making room for everyone.

The AIA and its components pushed for change by the rise of committees focused on various minorities in the profession, convention resolutions that have spoken to issues raised by Young, and the hiring of staff specifically tasked to address these issues. One of the outcomes of real consequence has been a series of revisions to the AIA Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct that over time have banned discrimination based on race, sex, creed, or national origin (1970), the disabled (1977), and members of the LGBT community (1992).

Young also inspired AIA/Architects Foundation Diversity Advancement Scholarship, established in 1970 as the AIA/AF Minority Disadvantaged Scholarship, and two years later and the creation of an Institute honor, the Whitney M. Young Jr. Award. Over time, both have been reshaped by an increasingly broad understanding of who the disenfranchised and underserved are, and who embodies Young’s lifelong commitment to equity and justice.

AIA is committed to broadening equity, diversity, and inclusion to create a stronger profession and promote Equity in Architecture. AIA seeks examine and support a diverse workforce through initiatives such as the  Diversity Recognition Program and Diversity in the Profession of Architecture Survey and build a stronger pipeline through K-12, Higher Education, and Emerging Professionals programs.

Image credits

Whitney M. Young Jr. Press Conference at AIA Convention 1968

American Institute of Architects

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