On Wednesday, Feb. 24, the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion held a virtual discussion on the re-appropriation in marginalized environments located in urban spaces led by Akira Drake Rodriguez, Ph.D, assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania's Weitzman School of Design.
The event took place via Zoom from noon to 1 p.m. where guests were treated to a presentation on inequality in built environments with Rodriguez taking questions from the audience as she went along.
Marginalized Spaces: An Open Discussion on Inequality in Our Built Environment is the first event of its kind for the "The Series," a set of conversations to promote engagement and underrepresented women in the architectural and urban planning field.
Rodriguez's objective for the discussion was to guide the Kean community in learning about the addressing of disenfranchised groups resolving the issues surrounding the intersection of inequality in built environments.
In addition to her work as an assistant professor, Akira is a scholar in urban studies where she conducts research on political science and community development to create equality in long-marginalized communities affected by defunding of public services, limited affordable housing options and the creation of laws promoting injustice in these places.
Currently, Rodriguez is working on a book titled Diverging Space for Deviants: The Politics of Atlanta's Public Housing through the University of Georgia Press that goes in-depth about politics in public housing and racism that caused clashes within the local governments in Atlanta.
When asked about how to bring down the barriers surrounding development in dilapidated communities, Rodriguez elaborated on what leads to people in power making decisions detrimental to rectifying the issues of marginalization.
"Whenever you get close to a movement of something that feels like it could be disruptive, it could be easily corrupted. There is a direct mind of you getting very big, very influential and suddenly you're part of the machine," said Rodriguez.
Akira kept her stance.
"We see this in public housing and in schools. Suddenly, the loudest activist becomes part of the administration - the person that is between the public and the power. To me that is what divergence is all about. We are never comfortable," mentioned Rodriguez.
Rodriguez brought up Newark later in the discussion to ponder on the logic behind defining what determines the "comeback" of an underrepresented area.
"Every two years the New York Times writes a story about how Newark is making a comeback," Rodriguez mentioned. "You have to unpack all those different words and find out what is being talked when a place is said that it's making a comeback. Why is that something to do? Who's responsibility is that comeback?"
The Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion supports a campus-wide agenda to develop and nurture a community promoting the acceptance of all values from students, faculty and other members of the Kean community through its programming. More information about the office can be found on Cougar Link.