PPPM Becomes an Innovative Research Hub for Diversity in Planning, Policy, and Design

Two men standing under an autumn tree Above: Associate Professor Gerardo Sandoval and Assistant Professor José Melendez. Below: Assistant Professor John Arroyo

Oregon is positioned to become a leader for researching diversity, equity, and inclusion in public processes and engagement, and the College of Design’s School of Planning, Public Policy and Management (PPPM) will be at the forefront.

Three leading scholars in diversity research are joining forces for the new Engaging Diverse Communities* team at PPPM.

Associate Professor Gerardo Sandoval is in his eighth year at the University of Oregon, and researches public engagement and participation in policymaking and planning. This summer, the College of Design appointed Sandoval as the first-ever Dean’s Fellow for Diversity.

This fall, José Melendez joined PPPM as an assistant professor; his research looks at civic engagement and learning in communities commonly absent from the decision-making process, such as LatinX immigrant populations. Incoming Assistant Professor John Arroyo studies diversity and equity in urban design. Arroyo will arrive in fall 2019 after he completes the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship in Latino Studies at the School of Advanced Research in Santa Fe.

The School of Planning, Public Policy and Management has identified diversity, equity, and inclusion within communities as a vital area of research, a value that aligns with the College of Design’s priority of increasing diversity in design, as well as the University of Oregon’s overall commitment to increasing diversity.

“At the School of Public Policy, Planning and Management, equity, inclusion, and diversity are not only aspirational values, but they are intimately woven into the fabric of scholarly research and increasingly teaching as well,” said Vice President for Equity and Inclusion Yvette Alex-Assensoh. “This uncommon connection between scholarship and practice positions the school to live out its values and to have far-reaching societal impact.”

With support from the College of Design and the University of Oregon’s Division of Equity and Inclusion, PPPM was able to build the Engaging Diverse Communities team, a rare opportunity to create a research hub in Oregon with leaders in the field.

“There’s momentum around diversity, equity, and inclusion issues,” Sandoval said.

“The Pacific Northwest tends to get overlooked,” when it comes to issues affecting diverse communities, said Arroyo. “But because it’s on the Pacific Rim, we have a lot to say about global diversity in the 21stcentury.”

John Arroyo
John Arroyo

As Arroyo explained, the state, with its large indigenous population and longstanding intergenerational immigrant communities, as well as a rapidly growing population of newcomers, is a unique and vital area of study—it’s one of the main reasons he decided to come to the University of Oregon.

“People don’t realize the microcosm of national issues a state like Oregon is dealing with, whether it’s rural poverty, urban income disparities, migration, or indigenous and small-city planning and infrastructure” Arroyo added.

The trio said their areas of research are complementary and explained that they can make greater strides working as a team than alone.

“One person dealing with diversity issues cannot address all of those issues,” Melendez said. “We need multiple people addressing them.” He noted that the team hire was also important to him because it has the potential to build community.

“There is more than one of me arriving, and when I say one of me, I mean one more who looks like me,” Melendez said. “Research shows that underrepresented faculty hires in places where there is not a lot of diversity can feel isolated and struggle to gain tenure in those institutions.” The College of Design, he indicated, has made a good first step to address that.

“I don’t know of any other planning department that has three LatinX faculty that are also specifically researching issues of equity and diversity and inclusion,” Sandoval said. “It’s definitely unusual. It speaks to the importance the university’s leadership has seen in this kind of effort.”

Sandoval, Melendez, and Arroyo, who make up the Engaging Diverse Communities team, see the possibility of pioneering collaboration ahead.

“We are very excited to add José and John to the faculty,” says Rich Margerum, professor and head of the School of Planning, Public Policy and Management. “Besides increasing diversity within the School of PPPM, they offer potential new research collaboration with many current faculty."

Margerum says that PPPM is planning to launch a PhD in Planning and Public Affairs in 2020, which helped create momentum for these new faculty positions. “We chose the areas based on where we intend to create research groups that will be future concentrations for doctoral students.”

“The combination of equity-focused expertise and potential for collaboration is tremendous,” Arroyo added. “From teaching to publishing our scholarship to doing more applied work that supports diverse communities around Oregon and the Pacific Northwest.”

“I think we’ll be able to make a pretty deep impact, not only here in Oregon, but in our own discipline, urban planning, so it’s exciting,” Sandoval said.

*After publication, the team changed its name to the Access and Equity Research Group