Racial Equity and Environmental Justice - April Update

Racial Equity & Environmental Justice text image

Dear all, 

As the Winter term is concluding, I would like to offer some important updates on the School of Architecture’s Racial Equity and Environmental Justice work. 

Building upon the tasks initiated by the working groups last Fall, the School of Architecture has been actively taking steps in all areas outlined by the Racial Equity and Environmental Justice (REEJ) Task Force, including School Culture, Curriculum, Hiring and Admissions, Outreach, and Accountability. The pages that follow outline some of the work initiated or completed in each area. I recognize there is still a lot of work to be done, but I am confident that this is only the beginning. With that in mind, I also want to thank all members of our community who have been engaged in various efforts to date, only some of which are described below.

This past term has also been used to focus on summarizing findings and determining the work of the Racial Equity and Environmental Justice Standing Committee moving forward, a committee that will be guided by the report generated by the REEJ Task Force. As outlined in the “Accountability” section of this update, the composition and support of the Standing Committee, with student participation and external advisors, is one of the critical issues we want to address, along with the desire for greater transparency and more regular communications.

The Task Force’s report and recommendations will be ready early in May and at this time we will also be calling for expressions of interest for members to join the REEJ Standing Committee. On May 20th, we will host a meeting to specifically share the content of the REEJ Task Force’s report, present work completed to date and answer questions from the School community. I would like to continue to encourage all members of the community to attend this meeting as it affords the opportunity for us to connect and share your feedback, so that it can be used to inform and inflect the work.

I realize as I write this report that communication was long overdue on the work we are doing, and one of the priorities of the Standing Committee will be to set up a clear communication and consultation framework for the School of Architecture’s work towards Racial Equity and Environmental Justice. Moving forward, building communication will include the report back on May 20th, but also scheduling School conversations to listen to, build awareness of, and effect change to meet the needs of marginalized groups, and engage in tangible projects that enable us to place equity and ecological care at the core of the School.

For now, if you have questions, please do not hesitate to email me directly or send any comments anonymously using the REEJ Feedback Form.

Thank you,


Anne Bordeleau, PhD, OAQ, MRAIC
O'Donovan Director, Waterloo Architecture


School of Architecture – April 2021 Update on Racial Equity and Environmental Justice Work 

While the REEJ Task Force was finalizing its document this past term, the School has still been progressing on a number of initiatives, some directly related to the work undertaken within REEJ, and other initiatives more broadly touching on different goals of the School. 

To address School Culture, we are working to increase resources, remove barriers as well as to promote and recognize work towards inclusivity and sustainability. Initiatives this past semester include:

  • Ongoing work with Indigenous Initiatives Senior Director Jean Becker to support an “Elder-in-Residence” program that could be first implemented within the School of Architecture. Informed by conversation with Dr William Woodworth / Raweno:kwas, REEJ Advisory Board Member and member of the Bear Clan of the Lower Mohawk, Six Nations of the Grand River, the School of Architecture submitted a formal proposal which is now under consideration by the Indigenous Office and the Faculty of Engineering.
  • In collaboration with Joyce Barlow, REEJ Advisory Board Member and Workplace Accessibility Specialist at the University of Waterloo, the School of Architecture prepared and submitted an “EnAbling Change” grant application to request funding that would be used to review the integration of accessibility in the space and curriculum at Schools of Architecture, a project that was supported by and would benefit all Schools of Architecture in Canada.
  • In collaboration with the Human Rights, Equity and Inclusion Office, but also informed by conversations with the School of Architecture’s Treaty Lands Global Stories members’ input and student suggestions, the School of Architecture marked the celebration of Black History Month with a collaboration with the University of Waterloo Library and the purchase of 50 additional works to strengthen the collection on Black history, designers and authors at the Musagetes Library. The list was constituted (see list attached at the end of this document) from suggestions received by students, staff and faculty (and all can continue to make suggestions!).
  • Identifying the pursuit of racial equity and environmental justice as goals that should guide all our work at the School of Architecture, we completed a review and re-organization of all our committees, drafting terms of references that identified shared responsibilities and mandates towards our progress on this work. We also have one School of Architecture faculty member on the University of Waterloo Faculty Association’s Indigenization Working Group.
  • We continue the practice of including an equity statement in all course outlines to clearly describe the process for addressing any discrimination or forms of micro-aggressions, a statement and process developed in collaboration with resources in the  Equity Office; We maintain a link of Anti-Racism Resources on the School of Architecture’s landing page; Meanwhile, many staff and faculty members continue to participate in internal and external trainings in a range of workshops, including but not limited to anti-racism training, inclusive curriculum design, and sustainability certificate.

In relation to the Curriculum, the School is responding to the call to develop overarching pedagogical objectives related to social and ecological justice, and the renew the School’s curriculum:

  • Working from the recommendations and summary of the REEJ Cultural History working group, a group of seven faculty members currently teaching cultural history courses have been re-envisioning the Cultural History stream’s framework and breadth. The proposed changes – developed through a series of meetings, discussion with members of different REEJ working groups, and based on the resources gathered and summary document produced by the REEJ working group – is now being reviewed by the Curriculum and Teaching Committee, so that it can be submitted later this month and approved in time for the earliest cycle of calendar revisions (i.e. 2022).
  • We continue to offer electives that expand the range of cultural perspectives with expertise and focus on social and environmental justice. This past semester, some of these courses included Anwar Jaber’s Divided Cities: The Politics of Mapping and Design,  and Sarah Gunawan’s Architecture Across the Ecological Continuum, as well as a studio co-coordinated by Adrian Blackwell and Cheryll Case, entitled Affordable Housing is Environmental Justice: Confronting Systemic Bias in the Housing and Climate Crises.  
  • As part of the Professional Practice course, John McMinn coordinated a series of presentations introduction practices internationally, the Global Practice Sessions, which is open to all the School Community.
  • The Environmental Building Design course this term was co-taught by Anishinaabe Professor Mkomose (Dr. Andrew Judge), in collaboration with Anna Beznogova, introducing environmental design from broad perspectives that include land stewardship and indigenous sustainable land practices, as well as passive house strategies and other approaches to sustainable and socially responsible environmental design.

In the area of Hiring and Admissions, the School is working to welcome educators, researchers, staff and students that can support and reflect the School of Architecture equity and environmental justice commitments:

  • Responding to the Task Force’s recommendations to develop a system through which teaching faculty can apply for funding bring in speakers belonging to racialized groups  and knowledge of racial equity and environmental justice related topics into classes and workshops, the School created a budget for any faculty who are not teaching studio to apply to fund a guest speaker insofar as the invitation and presentation support the School’s commitment to equity, diversity and environmental justice.
  • We have included and will be updating a statement of the School of Architecture’s commitments to equity on the Sessional lecturers and Career Opportunities pages.
  • We continue our outreach to alumni and partners of the School of Architecture to garner donations to the REEJ Trust Fund – a fund with pledges now just under $60,000 –created to support present or future school community members belonging to racialized groups through programs and activities which may include outreach, research, collaboration, fellowships, Indigenous initiatives, and work on sustainability. The openness of the fund is an invitation to work with specific student and alumni groups to define funding priorities that are best aligned with our goals towards equity and environmental justice.

Outreach is ongoing, with ambitions to work both within the University, in our local communities as well as in the discipline, across Schools of Architecture and in collaboration with government and non-government, non-profit and social movement organizations to share resources. It has involved the efforts by community members engaging various roles and outreach initiatives both within and external to the University of Waterloo.

  • As part of the Grand Studio Design Build, a collaborative group co-led by Cree scholar Jake Chakasim, John McMinn and Cory Zurell, a proposal for an University of Waterloo Indigenous Gathering Space is being prepared in conversation with the Indigenous Initiatives Senior Director Jean Becker.
  • Jaliya Fonseka – alumni, adjunct faculty and REEJ Advisory Board member –, as well as Anne Bordeleau, wrote two pieces in the February issue of the Canadian Architect addressing systemic racism in Architecture Schools in Canada. 
  • A group of faculty and graduate students from the School of Architecture as well as Planning – Marco Chow, Barb Chrysler, Christopher Hardy and Poorna Patange, with Martine August, Adrian Blackwell and John McMinn – have been working on Tiny Homes Cambridge, a project that is now going to continue in collaboration with the City of Cambridge to address access to housing and housing affordability.
  • In different roles at the University and beyond, the Director of the School of Architecture has been advocating for equity and environmental justice:
  • As Governor on the University of Waterloo Board of Governor, read a statement at October 2020 Board of Governor meeting on behalf of the School of Architecture (faculty, staff and Sustainability Collective group) to support call for University of Waterloo to divest from fossil fuels;
  • With the Canadian Council of University Schools of Architecture (CCUSA), Waterloo Architecture took part in the first Pan-Canada lecture series with a focus on diversity this past year; This year, funding was secured from all schools to provide support to collaborative initiatives that can advance racial equity as well as environmental justice across Schools of Architecture in Canada;
  • As Chair of CCUSA, and with the support of the twelve Directors and Associate Deans of Schools of Architecture in Canada, sent a request to the Canadian Architectural Certification Board (CACB) to review the nomination process for Directors on the CACB Board and integrate a commitment to equity, diversity and inclusivity that goes beyond gender balance and regional representation to include racialized and multiple marginalized groups; 
  • As the Canada-at-large Director on the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture (ACSA), and as past jury member for the ACSA’s Distinguished Professor Award, now part of a working group to review the terms to identify and address equity issues in this award specifically, and awards more broadly.

As to Accountability, which is central to our goal to continue to report, assess and track progress across different initiatives as well as to continue the work initiated by the Task Force, the key projects have been related to setting up the framework for the Standing Committee and accountability moving forward:

  • Over this past term, two undergraduate research assistants were hired after responding to an open call to apply for research positions created to support the School’s racial equity and environmental justice work. Madeleine Lachance and Laura Woodall have been assembling the material produced by the Task Force and Working Groups throughout the process, compiling a document of the recommendations for the Task Force to review. The document integrates work to date informed by feedback gathered from the school community and advisory board, and will include the context, notes on the process, as well as the Fall working groups’ input. The Task Force report will be a living document that will guide our work on equity and environmental justice across school culture, curriculum, hiring and admissions, outreach and accountability.  
  • We plan to hold one additional Task Force meeting and one additional meeting with the Advisory Board to review this draft report by early May. As soon as this is done, the Task Force will share its final report with the School community, circulating the document early in May, reporting on progress and presenting next steps in a School of Architecture Forum on May 20th, 2021.
  • While we have received expressions of interest from faculty and staff for the permanent Racial Equity Environmental Justice Standing Committee, we are currently working to clarify the terms of reference and compensation framework for different members (including sessional instructors and students), as we see student participation and other meaningful forms of ongoing consultation as integral to the work of the committee.
  • The REEJ Standing Committee will be working in coordination with other School of Architecture Committees, and to clarify the relationships between these committees, we have revised the terms of reference of all School committees so that they all integrate responsibilities in relation to racial equity and environmental justice, and some from the memberships of the REEJ Standing Committee to specific committees. 
  • We have been meeting with advisors both internally and externally to discuss the structure and framework for the work moving forward, including conversations with external consultants (Dr. Gauthamie Poolokasingham and Colleen James), as well as other groups actively working towards equity at the University (Dr, Andre Stanberry –  Science Anti-Racism Taskforce (SART) ; Dr. Norah McRae from Co-op, Gina Hickman, Emily Burnell and Jermal Jones from the Equity Office, Jean Becker from Indigenous Initiatives, and Dr. Charmaine Dean – for the President’s Anti-Racism Taskforce or PART). We plan to circulate final Terms of Reference and call for participation in May. 
  • Finally, we have been working on the development of a Racial Equity and Environmental Justice | School of Architecture website where updates on progress on commitment will be posted. The plan is to launch this website in May.