One Year Later: College of Design’s Faculty of Color and Allies Writing Retreat

September 21, 2020

photo of group on Oregon CoastThe 2019 Faculty of Color and Allies Writing Retreat at the Oregon Coast including, from left, José Meléndez, Saurabh Lall, Solmaz Mohammadzadeh Kive, Tanya Golash-Boza, Daisy-O'lice Williams, John Arroyo, Siobhan Rockcastle, Gerardo Sandoval, and James Buckley

Almost exactly a year ago, several College of Design faculty members spent a weekend at the Oregon Coast for the first Faculty of Color and Allies Writing Retreat. The retreat was a strategy within the college’s Diversity Action Plan (DAP) that contributes to meeting the University’s goal of increasing representation of diverse faculty at all levels of the university. High among the college’s DAP priorities are recruiting and retaining a diverse faculty.

In Lincoln City, eight faculty members—both people of color and those whose work examines justice and equity—spent two days in writing and feedback sessions, conversation groups, and workshops led by University of California, Merced, Professor of Sociology and Writing Specialist Tanya Golash-Boza.

“The retreat was probably the best thing I’ve done at the university so far,” said Gerardo Sandoval, the College of Design’s Equity and Justice Faculty Fellow and a School of Planning, Public Policy and Management (PPPM) Associate Professor.

This year, many of the participating faculty will be publishing writing that they workshopped during that weekend with their colleagues. Sandoval said the retreat fostered cross-disciplinary conversations and group bonding, as they stayed in two beach houses (pre-COVID-19), where  they cooked together and shared their experiences of inclusion within the college.

“We built social capital with each other, as many of us didn’t know one another beforehand,” Sandoval said. “Overall, it was really fantastic.”

The retreat was one of Sandoval’s first projects as the Equity and Justice Faculty Fellow, a position where he also oversees the implementation of the College of Design’s DAP. Recognizing diversity and inclusion as a critical priority, the college dedicated resources to creating this fellow position two years ago to provide intellectual leadership and advance change in this area. 

“Beginning his third year in the role, Gerardo is helping us develop and institute tangible improvements for faculty, students, and staff,” said Interim Dean Laura Vandenburgh.

One of the reasons the retreat was a success, Sandoval says, is because the faculty also represented the diversity of departments within the college, including: Associate Professor of Architecture Daisy-O'lice Williams; Assistant Professor of Architecture Solmaz Mohammadzadeh Kive; Assistant Professor of Architecture Siobhan Rockcastle; PPPM Assistant Professor John Arroyo, PPPM Assistant Professor José Meléndez, PPPM Assistant Professor Saurabh Lall; and Historic Preservation Director and Associate Professor James Buckley.

“Time and tranquil space to do writing and research is paramount to being a scholar, especially a junior scholar,” said Arroyo, who joined the college in 2019. “However, during the academic year, when things get busy with teaching and administrative tasks, it’s much harder to find room for both. Having a few days to connect with other underrepresented faculty members to talk about writing (and write!) on the Oregon Coast was a nice way for me to begin my first year at the UO.”

“The retreat acknowledged the reality for BIPOC faculty members in the College of Design,” said Williams, who explained that it can be an isolating experience. “For many underrepresented faculty members of color, whose research intersects with their identity, the community that sustains you professionally is built outside your units and departments. To build this within the college helped foster a sense of local community. There is quite a bit of power in having your intentions, your scholarly work, affirmed in a local community. There is power in acknowledging that these conditions exist. Feeling isolated does not lead to productivity; it’s a barrier to productivity.”

Williams partnered with Buckley, swapping pieces to provide feedback on. Williams has been researching and writing on Paul R. Williams, a Black American architect based in Los Angeles whose career ranged from the 1920s to the 1960s. R. Williams, of whom there is sparse scholarship, has been sort of retroactively reduced to an “architect to the stars,” Williams said

.Illustration of Paul Revere Williams and his buildings“It’s a compelling but troubling storyline, to talk about the fact that he was an architect to Hollywood’s elite, but he himself as a black man would not be allowed to live in those neighborhoods,” Williams said. “For me, it’s this reputation of him and comparing that to the full reality of his career that I find intriguing.”

She said working with a scholar outside her expertise was enlightening. Buckley was able to ask meaningful questions and provide feedback, giving insight into how other academics may view her work.

Williams has already produced, as project lead, the Paul Revere Williams Career Mapper, a database and interactive map of the architect’s buildings internationally. This fall, she will complete a manuscript on the project.

Buckley was able to share with Williams his work on the Albina African-American Cultural Heritage Conservation, a project about the historically Black Portland district with the goal of creating a model for minority communities to develop their own strategies for strengthening their cultural heritage.

“I was at the beginning of this research project and I was gathering my thoughts and people could say, ‘How about this?’” Buckley said. He noted that Williams and other faculty pushed him to more clearly identify his intentions for the project so that it would have more impact.

In 2021, Buckley will publish the article he workshopped at the retreat—“Just Fieldwork: Exploring the Vernacular in the African-American Community of Portland’s Albina District”—in the journal Future Anterior.

Photo of Portland's Albina neighborhood in 1950sPortland's Albina neighborhood circa 1950 

Meléndez said that he has submitted three items that he worked on during the retreat, including the article “Differentiating Participation: Identifying and Defining Civic Capacities Used by Latino Immigrants’ in Participatory Budgeting” for the journal City & Community; the conference paper “Global Perspectives on Social Movement Collective Action as Learning” for the 2020 International Conference of the Learning Sciences; and a letter of intent for the Russell Sage Foundation’s new “Decision Making and Human Behavior in Context” peer-reviewed grant application.

“I found the writing retreat to be a rewarding experience for multiple reasons,” Meléndez said. “This included the structure and guidance provided by the writing coach during the weekend; getting to know other faculty of color and allies across the College of Design, while learning about the common hardships many of us face that are so ingrained in the college. Finally, the setting provided a needed oasis for me to enjoy while doing the hard work of writing.”

Meléndez adds that he commends the enormous efforts that went into organizing the retreat, and hopes it becomes a common practice supported by the college.

Williams and Buckley agree. Williams explains that it will help with the retention of faculty of color.

 “The retreat made me feel more hopeful about our college and about what the future could hold,” Williams said. 

“Building a truly inclusive and engaged community is essential to the rigor and relevance of the College of Design,” said Vandenburgh. “Our goal is for successful initiatives, like the cross-disciplinary writing workshop that Gerardo developed, to be central to the culture of the college and all of the work we do.”