Racial Equity and Environmental Justice Task Force

Racial Equity & Environmental Justice text image

The Task Force has been formed to identify areas of concerns around equity and environmental justice within the University of Waterloo School of Architecture, as a means to create a concrete plan of action. The project of equity doesn’t end at producing a level playing field, but must also examine the systemic disadvantages that underlie formal equality, working to change these as well, by offering specific supports for marginalized students, staff and faculty. As this is a significant effort to transform the School and the School has heard sustained activism from students around issues of systemic racism, environmental justice and decolonization, this Task Force is mandated to act intersectionally to address equity and sustainability issues, while centering these efforts in the project of racial equity. Damage to the health of people and land caused by climate change and environmental degradation is disproportionately borne by Black, Indigenous, people of colour, low-income people, women, 2SLGBTQ+, and persons with disabilities. Only by addressing climate justice in our School, can we meaningfully address equity. The Task Force is mandated to consider these issues specifically within the School, and more broadly in the relation to the university, profession and wider society.

Current Task Force Members: Tara Bissett, Adrian Blackwell (Administrative Coordinator), Anne Bordeleau, Simone Delaney, Jane Hutton, Fiona Lim Tung, Vic Mantha-Blythe, Poorna Patange, Salman Rauf, Emily Stafford (Communications Coordinator).

If you have feedback, comments, questions or concerns please reach out to the Task Force at  uwsa.equitytaskforce@uwaterloo.ca or through the feedback form.

We have also established an Advisory Board to the Task Force. The Advisory Board will be called upon to provide input and feedback at key moments in our process to set out commitments, implement changes, and determine ways to track and report on those changes. 

Advisory Board Members
Joyce Barlow, Michelle Fenton, Omar Ferwati, Jaliya Fonseka, KaaSheGaaBaaWeak/Eladia Smoke, Safira Lakhani, Elsa Lam, Camille Mitchell, Paniz Moayeri, William Woodworth/Raweno:kwas, Evan Schilling.

The University of Waterloo School of Architecture School’s Racial Equity and Environmental Justice Task Force Statements of Interest

Tara Bissett, Waterloo Architecture Adjunct Faculty (she/her)


I come to this Task Force with a sense of urgency to see greater inclusivity within Canadian universities. For years I have witnessed racism, sexism, homophobia, and ableism in both school culture and curricula. I have tried to address and mitigate these issues within the classroom, in part by decentering the western canon within the cultural history program, by engendering frank class discussions about devastating colonial legacies, and by listening carefully to my students’ experiences, but my impact thus far has been incremental and relatively small. I bring to the Task Force several years of experience as a contract lecturer in architectural history. From this vantage point, I believe it is time for Canadian universities to transform hiring policies and innovate recruitment strategies in order to systematize equity and diversity. I recognize that I experience privilege on a daily basis from my lived reality as a white, cis-gendered woman.  Having a parent who is fully quadriplegic gives me a small window on the physical biases of the built world and the struggle of persistently advocating for change that never seems to materialize. As a member of the Task Force, my personal aim to is to hold the School, and myself, accountable and to help build a university culture that is ethical, kind-hearted, and materially responsive to the current calls for change across the world.

Adrian Blackwell, Waterloo Architecture Associate Professor (he/him)


As a tenured, straight, white, cisman, not living with a disability, I benefit from the intersection of multiple privileges. Since joining Waterloo in 2012, I have tried to orient my teaching and research to overturn existing power relations: focusing on feminist approaches to housing, architecture and capitalism, global neoliberal urbanization, its attack on public space, climate change, and the violent continuities between settler colonialism and contemporary property relations. This summer’s uprising within our School and around the world has changed what I imagined was possible. When I look back on my teaching and research now, I see that much of my work focused on a critique of capitalism, without unpacking its foundation in white supremacy. I read what I thought of as a “radical” canon of Marxian and poststructuralist thinkers, without displacing a preponderance of white male voices. I feared the disaster of climate change, but often addressed my teaching toward social, instead of ecological problems. I didn’t think it was possible to make concrete changes in the school itself and largely accepted its claims of good intentions, without pushing to change its dominantly white male reading lists and faculty. From the present, I see many omissions and mistakes in my teaching, research, and service. I am committed to learning how to use my privilege to confront systemic racism and work toward environmental justice within the school, to help unlock its potential to educate architects in knowledge useful for building an equitable, sustainable, and creative world.

Anne Bordeleau, Waterloo Architecture O’Donovan Director (she/her)


Under the magnifying glass of the pandemic, the failures of our systems are more than ever manifest. The climate actions and anti-racism protests are potent and urgent reminders that have the power to mobilize us to act and implement meaningful change. In our School, we must rethink what we teach and how we teach, rewrite policies and reinvent processes to promote racial equity and environmental justice. As we all more or less continue to function as best as we can, students studying, professors teaching, administrators administering, businesses reopening, what worries me most is: what if nothing changes? I am wholeheartedly committed to work with the School community to break the canon and disrupt inherited traditions that perpetuate a culture of white privilege and inequities within our education and institution, as well as in our discipline and profession. While I come to this work mostly with privileges, I respond to these calls to action with the humility of someone who has a lot to learn and unlearn, and also with the motivation to tackle these changes in my different roles that are as many opportunities to advocate for a thorough rethinking of our practices and teachings. I am invested not only to participate in this work within the School of Architecture, but also beyond, through the University, as well as in Canadian and international organizations that are vehicles with and within which we need to address systemic racism, inequities and disparities.

Simone Delaney, Waterloo Architecture Undergraduate student (she/her)


Through my paternal lineage I am part of the long-settled Afro-Canadian community of Black Loyalists in the Maritimes. As a member of this community, I am well aware of systemic racial injustices and ecocide from the experiences of my family. I also grew up partially in Montreal where I’ve participated in public programming, mentorship, and community-based pacifist intervention work in Little Burgundy, the centre of the anglophone Black community. Although I have focused on environmental and democratized community work in marginalized communities in different capacities on co-op terms, I have never truly attempted to help address the deep-rooted issues of eurocentrism and institutionalized inequities that exist at UWSA. I recognize that many privileges as a mixed race, cis-gendered woman, including my relational proximity to whiteness, have allowed me to get a foot into the design industry. However, like many racialized students, I have also personally experienced inequitable barriers existing within the current white cis-heteropatriarchal reality of academia and the elitist profession at large. I hope my perspective as a Black woman, a minority grossly underrepresented in the design world, can help to create positive structural change for current and future students through an intersectional and pluralistic lens. This is in the hope of contributing to the much needed transformation of the educational experience at UWSA, but also to provide students with the tools to one day create inclusive spatialities.

Jane Hutton, Waterloo Architecture Assistant Professor (she/her)


I want to participate in this work because I can’t see any way forward for the School (and design education and practice more broadly) without disrupting the legacies of colonialism, ecocide, racism, and patriarchy that pervade them. For a long time I’ve felt anger about how these legacies deeply hurt people, but also, by excluding so many, impoverishes education. Despite this, I haven’t, until now, felt the agency and collective momentum to make meaningful systemic change. Since I joined the school, I’ve learned from Treaty Lands, Global Stories and the Sustainability Collective; their abundant visions have challenged me to strengthen my own. In research I focus on the extraction of materials and exploitation of workers that are part of architectural practice. In teaching landscape design, I encourage students to approach design as participation in ecological relations. My efforts to counteract the legacies of power are heartfelt, but they have stayed theoretical; I want to reorient towards real solidarity with movements for change, within the School and outside of it. I have many different privileges: I’m biracial with Chinese and Scottish family lines, but pass as white, I have a well-paid tenure-track position, I had a middle-class upbringing and have four parents that went to university, and am a cis-gender woman. Growing up in mixed race and same-sex families I got to experience different cultures at home, but also understood the discriminations that people I love lived with. I’m motivated to participate in this school-wide effort because I think that there is a lot of work to do and that we all depend on it.

Fiona Lim Tung, Waterloo Architecture Adjunct Faculty (she/her)


I am an immigrant to Canada and a woman of colour. I grew up in small town Ontario where my family was one of the very few non-white families. I know from experience that discrimination and racism come in many forms, both overt and subtle. I share many of the same lived experiences and frustrations as the BIPOC and female communities of our school, and I am invested in working with the Task Force to help reduce the issues faced while at Waterloo.

I believe in laying the foundation for long term change while also taking immediate action – however small – to increase accessibility to our program. As a first step in active change, I have reduced supply and book fees for this year’s 1A studio by 70% and prompted the reselling of supplies from upper year students to the incoming class. I have also shifted the focus of the studio to designing for different bodies, abilities, and family types, and will continue to search for actions to reduce barriers to entry and success for all.

I am also a voice and representative of the school’s contingent faculty who make up a significant number of the BIPOC and 2SLGBTQ+ members of our faculty and staff. I have been teaching at Waterloo for over ten years, but I was not educated at Waterloo nor do I teach here exclusively so can bring an outside – yet deeply invested – perspective to the Task Force.

Vic Mantha-Blythe, Waterloo Architecture Graduate student (she/her)


As a white queer femme I feel I am a strong advocate for creating a school culture which supports, uplifts, and makes space for its students to challenge the existing pedagogy of the Waterloo Architecture Institution. While our curriculum claims to be neutral, its Western colonial framework carries with it certain values. Values which support the racist, heteronormative, patriarchal, colonial, classist, and ableist views that are echoed by the larger Western architectural profession we operate in. I believe that changes to our profession begin at the activist + educational level and I hope this committee is just one of the few ways we will begin to see substantial change to create a more equitable and just community.

The Waterloo institution continues to uphold the systems in place which disproportionately effect Black, Indigenous, people of colour, and the 2SLGBTQ+ students within it. I hope to work with the faculty and students on this task force towards dismantling these policies and practices of UWSA, and creating space for non-Western ways of knowing and learning. I believe I am a strong voice for accountability and have the skills (and privilege) to ask the hard questions to those in positions of power at our school.

Poorna Patange, Waterloo Architecture Undergraduate student (she/her)


As an undergraduate student of South Asian heritage, I have found value in the exposure to the western canon that UW offers.  Paired with the cultural practices of my upbringing I have had the benefit of learning from various ideologies. Unfortunately, within the school presentation of anything but the western canon is couched in the placation of previous calls for equitable learning. I want to be on this task force because I want to see a more balanced curriculum that does not tokenize or valourize 'other' cultures and the design practices they inform. I want to see an academic environment that provides students with the tools to engage critically with multiple histories.  

Salman Rauf, Waterloo Architecture Undergraduate student (he/him)


If there’s one thing I have learned to embrace during my time at UWSA, it is to embrace who I am, where I come from and to seek knowledge about my cultural background and heritage. It is not because of the school’s aptitude for cultural awareness, but in spite of it. As a person of colour, the conversation of racism, equity and equality is one that I have been forced to grow into. There are many times that we subconsciously suppress or tolerate situations and don’t even understand the magnitude of them until we discuss them with others who feel this same discomfort. I want to believe this group will give an opportunity to confront these feelings of discomfort, situations, curriculum and hopefully work towards at least some degree of systematic change from within. I am passionate about the topics at hand because I want to hear and learn about the voices and concerns others around the school may have and be active to work against them.

Emily Stafford, Waterloo Architecture Staff member (she/her)


 I sit on this task force as a representative of the full-time Architecture staff group.  We realize there are long standing systemic barriers at the School, and change is necessary.  We stand behind the necessity for change, to create a system in which equity, diversity and inclusion are the guiding core values. I see this task force as the starting point for honest internal dialogue, that encourages reflection, listening to each other and learning from one another to begin the process of change.  However, this task force can only represent a start to change, it cannot be the only means in which change will happen, we must do this together as a collective community. I participate on this task force because I want to be a part of the process that drives to break systemic barriers, and implement changes that create a culture and space that is equitable for all members of the Architecture community. 


The University of Waterloo School of Architecture School’s Racial Equity and Environmental Justice Advisory Board

The University of Waterloo School of Architecture School’s Racial Equity and Environmental Justice Advisory Board meets monthly to provide guidance and oversight to the school’s Racial Equity and Environmental Justice Task Force. 

Joyce Barlow, OT Reg (Ont). has over 18 years’ experience in disability management and occupational therapy, with expertise in the area of accessibility as it relates to persons with disabilities.  She has overseen countless home and workplace renovations for individuals sustaining traumatic injuries following workplace and motor vehicle accidents, and assisted employers in various sectors in successfully implementing ergonomic programs, including manufacturing, financial institutions, government, and was the Global Accessibility Specialist for BlackBerry prior to joining the University of Waterloo in 2016.  Since joining the University in their newly created role of Workplace Accessibility Specialist, she has successfully collaborated with departments across the campus and implemented processes to create a more accessible environment and inclusive culture for individuals with disabilities throughout their employment lifecycle or student experience.

Michelle Fenton is founding partner of Khora Architecture + Interiors in Vancouver BC and a council member of the Architectural Institute of BC (AIBC). Prior to starting this practice, she was a partner in studio B architects, a principal in Groundswell architects and a practice advisor for the AIBC. At Khora, Michelle helps corporations and universities develop and design creative and healthy places through mindful stakeholder engagement, strategic workplace planning, and a desire to advance our well-being through thoughtful, collaborative design. Throughout her career, she has led the design of projects for a broad range of clients with a focus on private corporations, government offices, and institutional facilities. Her clients benefit from a thoughtful design response to often complex renovations and approval processes. Her firm pursues a collaborative design approach with a team that is engaged all the way through to the project's completion and beyond. 

Omar Ferwati completed his Master of Architecture at the University of Waterloo in 2020. Omar has worked at architecture practices in Toronto, Vancouver, Tokyo, and New York. He was also a researcher and project leader at Forensic Architecture in London, using spatial analyses for human rights investigations. Omar’s current research focuses on how civilians use architecture to survive urban conflict. He is currently writing a chapter based on this work for a book on reconstruction as violence. Omar has been advocating for environmental responsibility at Waterloo’s School of Architecture since 2014. In 2019 he founded the Sustainability Collective at the School of Architecture, an open group of students, faculty, and staff dedicated to meaningful and lasting changes in the school, community, and profession in response to the climate crisis. The Collective sees climate action as inseparable from the fight for global justice.

Jaliya Fonseka is currently based out of Washington DC, where he is collaborating with a local architect and volunteering with the World Central Kitchen’s food relief program. His Master’s thesis at the Waterloo School of Architecture explored the meaning of home, place and belonging, and allowed him to reconnect to his birthplace, Sri Lanka. Upon graduating, Jaliya pursued a six-month travel fellowship awarded by the Asia Foundation, which allowed him to study traditional art, craft, architecture, and culture while travelling throughout South Asia. He recently exhibited some of his findings at the Strathmore exhibition on the theme of Home. Jaliya serves as an adjunct instructor at the Waterloo School of Architecture and continues to balance teaching and architectural practice. He is moved by the unique human story that underpins and empowers our built world and this challenges him to grow as an architect and as an educator.

KaaSheGaaBaaWeak | Eladia Smoke is Anishinaabekwe from Obishikokaang | Lac Seul First Nation, with family roots in Alderville First Nation, Winnipeg, and Toronto. Eladia has worked in architecture since 2002, and founded Smoke Architecture as principal architect in 2014. She is a Master Lecturer at Laurentian’s McEwen School of Architecture. Her career includes principal architect with Architecture 49, Thunder Bay, and architect with Prairie Architects, Winnipeg. Eladia has served on the RAIC’s Indigenous Task Force since its inception, 2015. Eladia is on the Unceded international team of Indigenous designers and architects; led by Douglas Cardinal, which represented Canada at the 2018 Venice Biennale. Current professional work includes community centre, office, and multi-family residential projects, working with First Nation clients. Past professional projects include the Aboriginal People’s Television Network studios, Migiizi Agamik Aboriginal Student Centre at University of Manitoba, and Makoonsag Intergenerational Learning Centre; completed in Winnipeg with Prairie Architects. Eladia served as a committee and council member with Manitoba Association of Architects from 2011-2014. 

Safira Lakhani is a practicing Intern Architect with Manasc Isaac in Edmonton, Alberta. Pairing research with design, Safira is driven in her work by a passion for spatial justice which stems from her previous design and humanitarian experiences in Ecuador and Afghanistan. Her graduate thesis, The River is for Washing Carpets (UW 2017) advocates for the agency of design in fragile states, notably that the intersection of participatory architecture, decentralised infrastructure, and local ecology can create a grounded framework for enduring, systemic peace and sustainable development. Safira’s recent work with Manasc Isaac has been in the design of learning environments for First Nations, Indigenous, and Metis communities across Alberta. Safira is also a design consultant with the Aga Khan Agency for Habitat in Central Asia.

Elsa Lam is editor of Canadian Architect magazine.  She holds a doctorate in architectural history and theory from Columbia University, completed under the supervision of Kenneth Frampton and Vittoria di Palma. She studied architectural history at McGill University and architectural design at the University of Waterloo, and has worked on the curatorial team at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal. Elsa has written extensively for architecture and design magazines, as well as collaborating on the editing and writing of several books. She is the co-editor of the recent book Canadian Modern Architecture, 1967 to the present, published by Princeton Architectural Press and Canadian Architect.

Camille Mitchell, OAA MRAIC is an Architect with Gensler’s Toronto office – and is currently involved with the design and implementation of a large financial tower downtown Toronto.  Camille was formerly a Project Architect with KPMB Architects where she contributed to the new commercial tower development at the Bay Adelaide Centre (Toronto) and was fully immersed in the design of the New Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois). Camille believes that is extremely important for underrepresented groups to be involved with the design of their built environments. She is a founding member of the independent organizations Building Equality in Architecture Toronto (www.BEAToronto.com) and Black Architects + Interior Designer Association (www.BAIDA.ca) . Their programs are dedicated to supporting mentorship, networking and leadership opportunities for women and visible minorities within the architecture profession.  Additionally, Camille is member of the Dean’s Advisory Council for the Faculty of Engineering and Architectural Science at Ryerson University.

Paniz Moayeri is a 2019 graduate of the M.Arch program from the University of Waterloo School of Architecture, where she also received her Bachelor of Architectural Studies in 2015. Her graduate thesis (entitled Your Passport Doesn’t Work Here: Asylum, Space, and Iranian Queer Heritage) looks at the connection between space and queer heritage in the Iranian LGBTQ+ refugee community of Toronto. Moayeri has practiced architecture in Canada, the United States, and the United Arab Emirates as a co-op student and an Intern Architect. As one of the three founders of the initiative Treaty Lands, Global Stories, Moayeri has advocated for acknowledging Canada’s Indigenous heritage, and for looking beyond the Western world in the study of history and architectural precedents in the Waterloo Architecture curriculum since 2016. Paniz is a cisgender woman of colour who describes her sexuality as fluid. She was fifteen when her family immigrated to Toronto from Tehran.

William Woodworth / Raweno:kwas is a member of the Bear Clan of the Lower Mohawks, Six Nations of the Grand River, near Brantford. His Mohawk name, Raweno:kwas, means “he is the one who dips his words”. He has practiced architecture in Ontario for 35 years and is working on the Master Plan of the Chiefswood National Historic Site along the Grand River at Six Nations. William has been an adjunct professor at the University of Waterloo School of Architecture for the past decade, where he teaches native culture and architecture. He has a degree in architecture from the University of Michigan and doctorate in Traditional Knowledge from the California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. He is the founder and executive director of the Beacon to the Ancestors Foundation, planning the installation of a sacred indigenous ceremonial site along the waterfront in Toronto. 

Evan Schilling is the Architecture Librarian at the Waterloo School of Architecture. He holds a Master of Information from the University of Toronto, a professional Bachelor of Architecture from Pratt Institute in New York, and a Bachelor of Environmental Studies from the University of Waterloo. For Evan, librarianship and teaching are not neutral practices, and they are involved in numerous initiatives, committees, and groups, both locally and internationally, focusing on inclusion, equity, and human rights. Evan was one of the first LGBTQ+ Space Makers at the University of Waterloo, and is now a trainer for the LGBTQ+ Making Spaces programme, he is a member of the Gender and Sexual Diversity Working Group (GSDWG) operating under the Provost's Advisory Committee, and the Library Representative on the Faculty Association of the University of Waterloo (FAUW) Equity committee. They are also the Co-ordinator for the Critical Librarianship Special Interest Group for the Art Libraries Society of North America. Evan is a non-binary trans man and uses he/him or they/them interchangeably.