For the past three years, the Association of Collegiate Schools of Planning’s (ACSP) diversity organization has hosted a workshop geared towards students of color who are interested in pursuing doctoral studies in planning and related fields. Levels of diversity in planning institutions are dismally low. In order to transform planning discourse, it is essential to change the demographics and perspectives of planning students. I participated in the 2015 workshop, which was hosted by the College of Architecture of the University of Oklahoma, and Texas A&M in Norman, Oklahoma.
During the program, we spoke with a variety of doctoral students and planning professionals, including members of the Oklahoma City community, who are working to build inclusive spaces for a growing Hispanic population, among others. We met with Dr. Laura Harjo of the University of New Mexico, who spoke about her work with indigenous women who are the disproportionate victims of rape and murder. She uses sacred place mapping to tell the stories of these women, and to assess how planning can help them feel safer in their communities. More information about her of work can be found here. In another inspiring example, Dr. Cecilia Giusti told us her story of moving to Texas from Peru with her husband. She arrived knowing that the odds for academic work were stacked against her. Her husband was already employed and she was not, and she found herself discriminated against because of her accent. Despite this, she encouraged each of us to pursue our dreams against all odds. She warned us not to let the fear of not fitting in keep us from speaking up, because it is vital that our voices are heard.
We also shared our own experiences and found common ground. Our group bonded quickly over our love for planning, over the microaggressions experienced in our departments, and over often being the only minority person in the room. These stories were not greeted with sadness, but with sighs of recognition and laughter borne of relief. It was as if we all breathed in together and exhaled “I’m not the only one!” When we were together, our word was no longer expected to represent an entire race. Instead, we could speak as individuals. It was a relief to finally be among so many others who understood this part of my lived experience.
I left Oklahoma with an overflowing heart. It is deeply encouraging to know that my dreams are valid. I am inspired by, and full of love for, my new friends. I am excited for the years to come. I left Oklahoma knowing that I absolutely must pursue a PhD – for my own sake, for my family, and for my heritage. My story is their story. My strength, their strength. My victories, their victories. There’s no nobler reason to continue my education.
About the Author: Ashley Bush was born in East Point, Georgia, just south of the Atlanta city limits. She received a bachelor’s degree in Building Construction from Georgia Tech in 2012. It was during her study abroad trip to Barcelona that her love for city planning was born. After working for a year in the construction field, Ashley set her sights on graduate school. She is currently in her second year of the UNC Department of City and Regional Planning’s masters program, where she focuses on transportation planning. Ashley plans to complete her masters project on inclusionary transportation and sidewalk infrastructure. She plans to matriculate into the PhD program in the fall of 2017.