Over the past few days there have been over 30,000 views of this blog's Archinect post on Kanye, and many times that number of reposts and articles about the event at other media outlets (including Rolling Stone, The Atlantic, Vanity Fair, USA Today, and Buzzfeed). It seems as if there's also been about that many critical comments online, within and outside of architecture circles. So if you're tired of the coverage, please disregard this post--I understand.
That said, I wanted to share this because as news has surfaced about the quiet leadership of the GSD's African American Student Union in this event, it has become clear that the media frenzy we've seen was just the gold-plated tip of a more substantive iceberg.
Apologies for that analogy, but let's move on:
At the GSD website a news release has been posted, including the following statement by the GSD's African American Student Union:
The Harvard Graduate School of Design's African American Student Union wrote Kanye West a personal letter in response to a series of interviews Kanye delivered referencing his growing interest in design and his experiences with race as an artist in the United States. Very recently, we received word from Kanye West and his team stating that he would be in town for a concert on Sunday evening and that he wanted to meet with a very small core of our group's leaders with his security personnel and closest advisors in tow. Kanye led a very thoughtful conversation regarding the trajectory of design discourse and practice as well as the under-representation of minorities in design disciplines.
Photo of Kanye West with GSD AASU. Photo credit: Kim Kardashian. Photo from ArchDaily.
Dean Mohsen Mostafavi also commented:
We are thrilled that Kayne West decided to visit Harvard Graduate School of Design and has taken such interest in our students, their work and design in general. I share Mr. West’s concern that minorities are underrepresented in design disciplines. We hope that Mr. West’s visit will raise awareness of design education among students of color and will inspire others to recognize the important role of designers in re-imagining and improving the spaces in which we live.
Let's put this in context. As Architectural Record has reported, "only 1,444, or 5.3 percent" of students in US accredited architecture programs identify as black or African American. And of over 100 000 registered architects in the US, fewer than 2000 are black, as architect and GSD student Sekou Cooke pointed in a recent ArchDaily essay. As Architectural Record notes, there are proportionally fewer black architecture students than black law or medical students, so we are doing poorly even in comparison with other fields that have long been confined to an elite few.
Nobody is claiming that the GSD AASU's coup of successfully inviting Kanye West solves the serious problems that contribute to this imbalance. But with this gutsy, optimistic, and outward-facing action that brought some public attention to the idea that design can change the world, and to the fact that there are talented and ambitious black and African American students shaking things up at the top-ranked US architecture school*--all while galvanizing the entire student body for one unforgettable night--this group of students made me proud to be an alum of their school.
Thanks for reading!
P.S. Update on the update: If you just can't get enough, FYI that GSD students, including student leaders from the GSD's AASU, have been interviewed by Vibe about meeting and coordinating with Kanye.
*the largest "class of color" in the GSD's history, the AASU announced at the beginning of the semester! As the LoeBlog points out, the AASU together with GSD Loeb Fellow Jean Lauer was also instrumental in reaching out to African American prospective students over the past year. The result? "For the first time ever this spring, all African American students offered admission to the GSD accepted." <3
Lectures and exhibitions, news and events, now primarily from the Bay Area! Please note that all live blogs are abridged and approximate. If you want to see exactly what happened, in many cases a video of the event is posted online by the event's hosts.