Setting New Norms: No Place for Harassment or Discrimination

From the AIA Minnesota Executive Committee

Two weeks ago, a New York Times investigation brought to light specific, well-documented accusations of sexual harassment and sexual assault made by five women against Richard Meier, FAIA – Pritzker Prize winner, AIA Gold Medalist, and member of the AIA College of Fellows. Within ten days, the AIA New York City Chapter rescinded the 2018 design awards it had been poised to present to Meier and to Peter Marino, FAIA, who has multiple pending and settled lawsuits in which he is cited for sexual harassment and racist behavior.

The situations described in the New York Times coverage of Meier are abhorrent. And yet while the details may have been surprising, the idea that Meier could have perpetrated such actions seemed to surprise almost no one. This was an open secret within the profession.

Meier’s behavior is on the more extreme end of the spectrum, but it’s also not an anomaly. There are innumerable, everyday instances of harassing and discriminatory behavior (based on gender, race, ethnicity, religion, and more) in architecture firms, on construction sites, at office social events, and at professional conferences. And throughout the nation, students too often witness and experience harassing and discriminatory behavior involving their professors and guest lecturers.

We, the Executive Committee of AIA Minnesota, are united in our conviction that all forms of harassment and discrimination are unacceptable and cannot be tolerated. We will be bringing forward to the AIA Minnesota Board of Directors specific recommendations for action related to who is lifted up as admirable members of the profession, how accusations of misconduct will be dealt with, what standards are set for leaders, and how risks will be proactively addressed. There are no easy or perfect answers, and some areas will take more time to address than others; we will seek to balance thoughtful consideration and timeliness. Specifically, we will focus on the following:

  • AWARDS: Review all AIA Minnesota and local chapter awards processes and criteria, including for the 2018 AIA Minnesota Gold Medal process, to ensure questions of character are appropriately defined and considered (potentially including a commitment similar to what will be developed by AIA at the national level, per their statement “Where we stand: Sexual harassment & the architectural profession” released March 27th). Also, identify under what circumstances a previously bestowed award or designation could be rescinded.
  • FIRM LEADERSHIP and ARCHITECTURE FACULTY: In cooperation with the Council of Firms and leadership of the University of Minnesota and Dunwoody architecture programs, gain agreement on the steps that firm leaders and heads of architecture schools will be asked to take to prevent, to interrupt, and to address harassing, discriminatory, and abusive behavior, and the steps to be taken when an individual is accused anonymously of harassment, discrimination, and/or abuse.
  • WORKPLACE CULTURE: Provide staff and volunteer support to the University of Minnesota School of Architecture’s development of “Guides for Equitable Practice” for publication and distribution by AIA national. 
  • JURORS AND SPEAKERS: In cooperation with the University of Minnesota and Dunwoody architecture programs, develop guidelines for the selection of jurors and speakers, and agreements related to appropriate conduct, designed to mitigate the risks posed to local students and conference/workshop attendees.
  • CHAPTER LEADERSHIP: Review and revise processes for the selection of AIA Minnesota and local chapter officers, board members, and committee/knowledge community leaders to incorporate vetting based on character, and to refine under what circumstances a person holding a leadership position could be asked to step down from their duties.

Additionally, recent studies show that one of the most effective types of training to combat sexual harassment is “bystander” training; growing one’s comfort and skill in interrupting bias or harassment when you witness it occurring. The AIA Minnesota Equity, Diversity & Inclusion Committee will again be offering “Speak Up – Interrupting Bias” sessions to the membership at no charge; four will take place in April (April 16, 17, 20, and 27, 11:30am – 1:00pm – register here) at the AIA Minnesota office in Minneapolis, and another three will take place in locations throughout Greater Minnesota, either as part of upcoming May regional meetings or this upcoming Fall. This is just one of our many, ongoing efforts to grow the equity, diversity, and inclusion of Minnesota’s architecture community. 

We welcome your suggestions and ideas in response to the items above, and encourage you to reach out to any of us directly, or to EVP Mary-Margaret Zindren, to share your thoughts.

 

Sincerely,

Nathan Johnson, AIA – AIA MN President

Eric West, AIA – AIA MN President-Elect

Meredith Hayes Gordon, AIA – AIA MN Past President

Mike Schellin, AIA – AIA MN Treasurer

Anna Pravinata, AIA – AIA MN Secretary

Derek McCallum, AIA – AIA Minneapolis President

Hugh Reitan, AIA – AIA Northern MN President

Mindy Michael, AIA – AIA St. Paul President

View the full April issue of Matrix.