Despite students voicing grievances about a lack of female representation at the Yale School of Architecture, only one woman is enrolled in a seminar about female architects this semester.
Under the leadership of newly appointed Dean Deborah Berke, the School of Architecture has implemented measures to address long-standing problems related to women’s issues and a lack of diversity in academic offerings — both in the classroom and in the wider profession. Such measures include the addition of new courses, schedule changes, the emergence of a new LGBTQ student group, Outlines, and greater female faculty representation.
“The issue of women within the culture of the school is something that was hidden, but is now part of a conversation on campus,” said architecture professor Peggy Deamer. “I think these are positive signs about women’s consciousness and the school’s awareness of these issues.”
But while students and faculty believe there is still progress to be made, students remain unresponsive to these improved course offerings.
EXPANDING THE CONVERSATION
After roughly six students requested more diverse course offerings, visiting professor Kathleen James-Chakraborty ’82 decided to offer a new optional seminar this semester entitled “Expanding the Canon: Making Room for Other Voices.” While the class focuses on women and architecture, it only has one enrolled student.
“The ‘Expanding the Canon’ class is a missed opportunity for Architecture School men and women alike to rethink the narrative of architecture,” said Amanda Iglesias ARC ’18, its lone student. “When we expand the purview beyond the single genius architect illusion, the role of women is undeniable.”
This is one of two seminars James-Chakraborty is offering. The other, “Louis Kahn,” traces the architectural legacy of the eponymous architect, who designed the Yale University Art Gallery and the Yale Center for British Art. Yale School of Architecture seminars are capped at 12 students, and the Kahn seminar has 10 enrolled students, with an additional four auditors.
The crux of the issue, according to James-Chakraborty, is whether courses that champion diversity in architecture should be taught as optional, specialized seminars or integrated into the curriculum of the school. In her experience teaching architecture at University College Dublin, James-Chakraborty said that her course offerings that featured female architects were popular because Irish students view prominent female architects as role models.
James-Chakraborty described her reputation as someone who teaches architecture in a gender-inclusive way and attaches weight to studying buildings outside the Western tradition. And she is not alone — Cecily Ng ARC ’17 suggesting that integrating women’s contributions to architecture in required courses would be better.
“This is not a position that has been strongly represented in this school historically,” she said. “That point of view has been present but is not central to the school’s sense of itself.”
Wesley Hiatt ARC ’17 argued that the onus of concrete change also falls on students, adding that the administration is doing all that it can by offering more diverse courses. Iglesias concurred, describing diverse course offerings as only “one part of the puzzle,” and that students must respond by showing up. She described it as problematic that the students who requested “Expanding the Canon” failed to follow through and enroll in the course.
Caroline Acheatel FES ’18 highlighted a practical concern of the low enrollment in James-Chakraborty’s class: the school’s rigid curriculum, which restricts the number of electives students are able to take. The number of electives an architecture student can take depends on his or her prior experience in architecture.
“This is the first semester this class has been offered, so it’s not that people have been consistently ignoring it, but sometimes it takes time to build up a reputation,” she said. “Some classes have a big aura around them.”
She explained that students come to Yale to study architecture for a variety of reasons, which sometimes includes studying a particular field of architecture under a certain professor.
Jacqueline Hall FES ’17 also noted that the School of Architecture student body is not well-primed to see the “radical nature” of the course. Ng added that the Architecture School’s class schedules are not in sync with that of other Yale schools, making it hard for architecture students to coordinate their schedules and take classes outside the architecture department.
Berke said although she is “profoundly disappointed” that more students did not enroll in the class, she does not want to draw large conclusions from this.
FROM ONE DEAN TO ANOTHER
Grievances about women’s issues at the Architecture School are often linked to the school’s previous dean, Robert A. M. Stern ARC ’65, whose 18-year tenure ended in 2016. James-Chakraborty said Stern was not perceived by faculty or students as supportive of women’s issues or working mothers. Deamer echoed this statement, saying the former dean’s attention to family issues concerning women “had not been stellar.”
Deamer said having a woman assume the deanship has sparked conversation on campus about the cultural differences and improvements that come with Berke’s appointment.
“I’d like to imagine that by being a woman dean in and of itself shows change in the right direction,” Berke said. “I hope we will see that in our application numbers which will come in the new year.”
Although many hiring decisions and academic courses were fixed ahead of her appointment such as the course offerings for the spring semester, Berke said there are changes in the pipeline. Some will come into effect as early as next semester, she said in which more than half of the eight advanced studio classes will be taught by female professors. She added that guest faculty and lectures will include more female speakers.
Acheatel said she found Berke to be more sensitive to the work-life balance of students at the Architecture School and how that relates to mothers.
Ng cited a “positive change” that has already occurred this year: the block of time around lunch has been cleared of all classes once a week, allowing student groups to meet.
“This needs to change with the culture,” she said. “If you’re expected to be in school all day and anything less than that is considered a lack of commitment, that precludes certain demographics.”
Beyond culture, Acheatel also pointed out the lack of infrastructural support at the school. At the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, where Acheatel is completing her joint-degree program, there is a lactation room. As a consequence of these cultural and infrastructural barriers, she said there is an absence of women with families and children since such a lifestyle is “impossible” to sustain.
Ng said her experiences feeling unfairly treated as a woman usually arose when she was questioned more than a male student, when she was interrupted or when she felt that she had to work “twice as hard” for the same level of recognition. Hall agreed, adding that a general tenor of the Architecture School being a “gentlemen’s club” persists on campus.
Hiatt attributed the lack of diversity in Architecture School courses to the nature of architecture’s history, which he described as “empty of representation of women” to begin with.
James-Chakraborty explained that students are not always cognizant of the degree of discrimination in the architecture industry, and that they are afraid of “making waves” in the small circles of the Architecture School that could hinder their careers.
“Generally, students try to balance activism within the school with the academic achievements on which they build a career,” she explained. “I’d argue you can build a career upon activism.”
Students interviewed agreed that Berke has created a more welcoming environment for students to voice personal issues, particularly after a Title IX report released last year indicated that there was an unfavorable sexual climate at the school.
Deamer, who previously served as assistant dean of students, described past efforts to facilitate student discussion about gender and family issues through forums and gatherings held throughout last year. The most recent discussion, a bystander intervention workshop, was held last Friday. According to Hiatt, these discussions are led by third-year students in a town-hall style format. Many architecture students interviewed said these discussions proved to be effective and will continue in the future.
“I was surprised at how quickly the conversation about gender and family switched to one about the need for mentorship,” Deamer said. “I really saw a fairly rapid deflection of an issue that people were too fearful to talk about, which discouraged me.”
The fact that an open situation designed to facilitate conversation ended up deflecting discussion about the results of the Title IX survey, Deamer said, indicated a sense of fear about being transparent around certain issues.
Yale School of Architecture Registrar Marilyn Weiss is the current Title IX coordinator for the school. Her appointment to the role in July represents a movement away from the practice of appointing a faculty member as the coordinator. Deamer said that having a faculty member as a Title IX coordinator could make it difficult for students with sexual assault issues to come to a faculty member, who may be part of the problem.
“Marilyn is someone the students see as a safe place to go to,” Deamer said. “Before she had this role, she was someone students could come to.”
Berke, Deamer and James-Chakraborty all mentioned the problem of female inequality as more pervasive in the architecture profession than in graduate schools. In particular, Berke described the issues of women in architecture as of “staggering importance,” as well as a symptom of problems in the architecture industry at large.
When Berke was in architecture school in the 1970s, she said only 6 percent of licensed architects were female. She said the number is now around 20 percent, but that there is still much progress to be made.
“I think the leadership of architecture circles in America have actively discouraged the participation of women in the last two generations,” James-Chakraborty said.