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Feb 24, 2022 By IIDA HQ
Diversity in Design: Diversity From the Top
Six students awarded scholarships for representing diverse voices and perspectives; and their voice in addressing institutional, education, and industry-wide diversity.
By IIDA HQ Feb 24, 2022
Published in Foundation

IA Interior Architects and IIDA are proud to announce the 2022 Diversity in Design Scholarship Awardees. Our winners represent diverse voices and perspectives in interior design, and we are pleased to enrich diversity of thought in the industry by supporting these students in their educational pursuits with one $5,000 scholarship, one $3,000 scholarship, and four $500 scholarships.

Our student winners are recognized for their essays that address how to further support achieving equity and diversity in the industry. They want to create diversity in the industry and invite others to do the same. This scholarship helps our students be the change they want to see, and to offer their insights on how to actionably affect change on an institutional and industry-wide level.

Our first place winner, Farhath Ahmed, Student IIDA from Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s essay, “Diversity from the Top,” explores the current inequalities we all see and know to exist in the design industry. While breaking down the actionable steps we need to take to enact and advocate for change.

Being a recipient of this award is very important to Farhath, “It signifies the importance of the design industry acknowledging diversity in design. It’s a wonderful initiative taken by IIDA and IA so that we can open up dialogue and start making changes to create a more equitable design industry”.

Our second place winner is Nadiri Wilson, Student IIDA, California State University Long Beach, and our honorees are Tiffany Hayes, Marymount University, Shandiin Lake, Student IIDA, Northern Arizona University, Sayidmurad Sayfullaev, Parsons School of Design, and Nilojan Jegatheeswaran, University of Waterloo, School of Architecture. You can read their full essays below.

Diversity from the Top

By: Farhath Ahmed, Student IIDA, Kwantlen Polytechnic University

The UN sustainable Goal #10 is to reduce inequalities, “…empower and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all, irrespective of age, sex, disability, race, ethnicity, origin, religion or economic or other status.” ("THE 17 GOALS | Sustainable Development", 2021). We understand that universally there are still inequalities amongst people and even in an age where people should be judged and promoted solely based on their merit and work - many times they are not. Research shows that a lifetime of experience and cultural history shape every one of us and our judgment of others. Sometimes that can be beneficial or detrimental to the environment we are in.

With the world's attention focused now more than ever on diversity, equity and inclusion of minority people, we are in a great time and position to address and advocate for change.

Actionable steps the design industry can take are to make initiatives towards diverse representation in design firms, starting from the top. If we want minority students to aspire and be successful in the field, they need to see someone who represents them in senior roles in firms, someone they can look up to and be inspired by their success. If students don’t see diversity in the future workplace and see that capable, senior and talented folks never make it to the top – they aren’t going to be as motivated to join an industry that doesn’t enable minority growth to the top levels.

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Farhath Ahmed, Student IIDA, Kwantlen Polytechnic University
Farhath Ahmed, Student IIDA, Kwantlen Polytechnic University

The design industry and firms need to address and understand that representation is not just a quota that needs to be filled. But meaningful hiring of people based on their talent and skills. Companies need to outline and clearly state their objectives of inclusion and tie it into their business strategies, and have values as a business. Having a diversity council that is actually diverse and not just top level executives but people who can positively contribute their own experiences and cultural fabric from juniors and seniors from diverse backgrounds, all genders, and communities. They need to enable these changes and policy makers with resources, access, and space to support and implement strategies.

Universities and design firms should seek feedback and opinion from minority groups to see how they are functioning and how well they are sustaining and what changes can be made. If no one is asking for opinions and changes – how will anyone know what needs to be done? Schools that want to attract and retain minority students should have good resources and support systems in place, prepared to support them from academic, culture and social or financial stand points.

The design industry can also facilitate partnerships between university students and design firms for minority students who can gain valuable experience and trade relations. Equity in the design industry, firms and universities are an ongoing process and created through dialogue which must be ongoing.

2022 IA Interior Architects Diversity in Design Scholarship

By: Nadiri Wilson, Student IIDA, California State University Long Beach

Diversity in the interior design and architecture industry, as well as in the education system is a sensitive topic for me. However, it is something I think about constantly. It was the first thing I noticed when I received the email containing the list of names who were accepted into the interior architecture program. Being the only black student in the graduating class of 2023 for the BFA interior design major is not as much of an honor that people may think it is. For the future, I wish for studio courses to have more African American and Latinx designers contributing to this industry. Having one black designer in a studio full of predominantly white and Asian designers does not make it diverse.

I believe that a significant factor of the small African American and Latinx statistic starts from early on. Programs designed to encourage and support the youth would have the biggest impact. Actionable steps would look like hosting events and workshops for high school students and young college students. Giving minorities the exposure early on, along with resources they need would make this profession more equitable. Representation and equity is crucial but the responsibility to make that happen should not be put on the minorities. The lack of diversity has been a challenge for me personally and professionally. It is rare to walk into a room full of interior architects and to actually see someone who looks like me. It can feel isolating, but at the same time, I believe that it has motivated me more.

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Nadiri Wilson, Student IIDA, California State University Long Beach
Nadiri Wilson, Student IIDA, California State University Long Beach

I would like to challenge the industry to step outside their comfort zone and be proactive about recruiting minorities into their programs. Design programs and firms need to be more committed to ensuring that there is diversity. By introducing it at a younger age, it lets minorities know that this is a real option for them if they wish to pursue it. Encouraging the youth will make this profession more realistic and achievable from their perspective. It was always hard for me to see architectural design as a real possibility. This is partly because the racial demographic was intimidating and discouraging. This was a career that seemed so far out of reach at first, but now I am amongst the 4 selected to represent California State University Long Beach in the 9th Annual Steelcase NEXT Student Design Competition for 2021. I feel fortunate enough to have professors who saw something in me that I did not see in myself, and who encouraged me to follow through in this BFA program. However, I know this is not the case for other students who look like me and who do not have the same resources as I do. Diversity in the design profession is 100% achievable. However, we are going to need to take those extra steps to not only bring more exposure to younger students, but to also ensure that they have the proper resources along the way throughout their journey of pursuing this career.

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