Mar 17, 2023 By Jessica Jones
2023 Diversity in Design Winners
IA Interior Architects scholarship recipients represent diverse voices and new perspectives and address efforts for an equitable and sustainable future
By Jessica Jones Mar 17, 2023
Published in

IA Interior Architects and IIDA are proud to announce the 2023 Diversity in Design Scholarship Awardees. These awardees showcase what it means to approach design from a diverse perspective. Each awardee incorporates their own different experiences, voices and ideas to create a more inclusive future of design. We support these students in their educational pursuits with one $5,000 scholarship, one $3,000 scholarship, and four $500 scholarships. Our student winners come from all different backgrounds, but all have one goal, to support achieving equity and diversity in the industry. Their insights open our eyes to the actionable change that can be made on an institutional and industry level.

Our first and second place winners are Bella Oliver, University of Hawaii at Manoa, and Sidnia Garcia, Student IIDA, Thomas Jefferson University. First place awarded one $5,000 scholarship and second place awarded one $3,000 scholarship.

Our honorees are Aliyah Murph, College of Design, Art, Architecture, and Planning, Shurouq AlJammal, Student IIDA New York School of Interior Design, Calvin Ma, UCLA, and Susan Hsin, Student IIDA, Colorado State University. Read our winner’s essays below as well as a few thoughts from our honorees on what this scholarship means to them for their future.

Oliver’s essay titled, “Equity is Sustainability,” tackles the importance of EDI and sustainability efforts in the industry. Taking into account what equitable sustainability in design looks like and how as designers we can support communities of color who don't have access to a sustainable environment.

“Receiving this award gives me the financial support and motivation to pursue my dream of creating sustainable, equitable designs.”- Bella Oliver


Equity is Sustainability

By: Bella Oliver, Student IIDA

From the impact of climate change to the health of our communities and the people who live in them, Sustainability and DEI are critical to the design industry. However, these terms often have loose definitions. In high school, I saw city benches uprooted and replaced with ‘new, higher-tech, sustainable’ benches. In reality, the old benches that once served as someone's bed were purposely replaced with anti-homeless designs. Justified as a sustainability effort, it created a violation of both, especially DEI because most people who are experiencing homelessness, are also Black or people of color and that disparity is only increasing.

Why? Many communities of color are being pushed out of their historic homes through gentrification. As an intern at Hoque Global, a Dallas-based real estate development firm, I learned the careful thought behind each company decision. As a Black, bi-racial woman, I was often the only person of color in the room. I saw firsthand how even highly-skilled, well-intentioned people could not replace the inclusion of diverse lived experience required to create equitable design. And inequitable design is simply not sustainable. So what does ‘equitable sustainability’ in design look like? It looks like people having access to sustainable design in their everyday life, inclusive of income and identity. An example of this is using high quality materials and designs to create housing that is well insulated, energy saving, and built for longevity.

As a designer, my main objective would be to create a space that describes the beauty and physics of our world and an obtainable reality. Through my ACE (Architecture Construction and Engineering) project designing a sustainable building along a river, I learned how architects make the CHOICE to follow fundamentals. When we come in with the intent to respect the existing space, we create a mutual bond between the people we're working for, the institution, and the qualities that give the place a spirit. That's why I want to go into environmental design, to help build healthy designs for equitable human living and go beyond 'building neutral' sustainability.

I got a glimpse into what this could look like during the three years that I attended Camp Uprise, a week-long training camp for youth climate activists. I got to connect directly to undeveloped land, learned from environmental activists and experts from different identities and parts of the country. It helped me understand that justice is critical because if we can’t acknowledge or mend what we’ve already done to stolen land, displacing communities, greenwashing, etc. We can't address the current problem or imagine something different.

With this, one of the main elements that need to be analyzed and thought about is the overall composition of the design and the interaction of the selected and interaction between materials being used. The usage of materials creates the "feel" support and sustainability of the project. When thinking of what goes into projects we need to understand that these structures simply aren't built to be built, but to actively help and improve society.

Garcia’s essay titled, “The Best Thing the World Has Are the Many Worlds the World Has,” explores the depths of equity and inclusion through a lens of sustainability and diversity. Not only do our ideas around diversity and equity have to change in the industry but we also have to find ways to change the predicaments of our environments for the better.

“It’s an award of unparalleled value for me as an individual and for the extended community of students from diverse backgrounds. IIDA and IA’s effort through this scholarship is reinforcing the treasure found in embracing the many little worlds our world has: the act of transparently opening up the conversation to exchange perspectives and challenge our implicit biases. Thus, designing a more equitable, inclusive, and colorful future for all.” - Sidnia Garcia, Student IIDA.


The Best Thing the World Has Are the Many Worlds the World Has

By: Sidnia Garcia, Student IIDA

Diversity is not a destination. It is the utmost nature of humanity to have differences. Equity and inclusion are the measures to use diversity to promote transformational change, such as a sustainable future. DEI represents our most significant social challenge yet greatest strength to build a sustainable future and the best foundation for future generations to move forward. True sustainability can only be achieved through enriching diverse perspectives where unique experiences provide insight that ensembles empathy-driven solutions.

Growing up in Nicaragua and transitioning toward building a career in the U.S. have shaped the value I place on DEI. Life in a developing country resembled looking out into the world from a glass bubble. I perceived it as the vastest place, with so many colors and novelty…and so out of my reach. Yet, at our scale, I witnessed genuine circumstantial ingenuity and the perspective of one of the smallest worlds that this world contains. Transitioning into pursuing higher education in the U.S. gave me the contrast to understand the scales of the world. It colored my voice into an identifiable name for the good and the bad. But more than anything, being welcomed into participating in conversations where this unique worldview could be influential for decision-making empowered me. Here lies the truest value of inclusion.

When you enthusiastically pass someone a microphone to use their voice, or amplify it, you empower them. You give them the confidence to use their experiences and resignify them into something better. Inclusion and Equity build self-conviction to share ideas that challenge unconscious biases without retaliation. The more recognizable these biases become in sustainability efforts, the easiest it is to remove them from solutions that build the foundation for future generations and the steadiest the empathy-driven decisions. Equitable access to resources where this voice can be nourished is essential to building a more sustainable future because diversity isn’t changing.

The world will continue to be as colorful as it has always been, but our environmental conditions will have to change. A person like me can provide insight into, for example, the capacity of a small Bolivian village to incorporate rainwater harvesting systems on all the rooftops. Because I have been to them, or I have met them, or I have heard of them. In a more personal, almost empirical way, insights such as these provide a second layer of humanity and empathy. And there are so many people like me right now who will become the next generation tomorrow and will have the same ability to inform decisions based on their unique life experiences.

Due to extensive globalization and the world events, we have shared as humanity, the next generation will have an intuitive and acute awareness of the world's diversity and its value. It’s our job to orient them towards embracing this new worldview and channeling their instinct to implement measures where a better world is built, one where each of the many small worlds the world has is accounted for.

Learn more about the IA Interior Architects Diversity in Design Scholarship here

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