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Lecture: Sharon Egretta Sutton, "When Ivory Towers Were Black: Lessons in Re-imagining Universities and Communities"

September 26, 2017 at 6:00 pm

Lecture: Sharon Egretta Sutton, “When Ivory Towers Were Black: Lessons in Re-imagining Universities and Communities”

Sharon Egretta Sutton: “When Ivory Towers Were Black” from Taubman College on Vimeo.

Dr. Sharon Egretta Sutton, FAIA discusses her most recent book, When Ivory Towers were Black: A Story about Race in America’s Cities and Universities. She shares how she and an unparalleled cohort of ethnic minority students got a free Ivy League education during the late 1960s and early1970s, when the Black Power Movement was at its zenith.

Sutton felt compelled to write the book by the persistent whiteness of schools in today’s universities in fields like architecture and landscape architecture. She had grown weary of the panacea for increasing cultural diversity that practically everyone touts, which is creating a “pipeline” into the university that exposes children to career possibilities at an early age.

Because she and many of her colleagues had been doing precisely that for almost half a century without changing the status quo, Sutton had come to view the pipeline theory as a ruse that diverted attention from the here and now to an ever elusive future. Increasingly intrigued by the memory of her experience as a student at Columbia University’s School of Architecture, she set out to unravel what was likely the nation’s boldest effort to recruit and retain ethnic minority architecture students.

Over a ten-year period, Sutton discovered that Columbia’s success was due to revolutionary students re-imagining a curriculum that just happened to align with the ethnic minority recruits’ commitment to improve living conditions in disenfranchised communities. Instead of creating a pipeline that would produce diversity in a far-off future, revolutionaries in the School of Architecture re-imagined a pipe that attracted and supported a diverse student body in the here and now.

In her lecture, Sutton describes the institutional context of this student-led transformation and tells how quickly it unraveled as white lash against black progress grew, just as is occurring today. After revealing both the immediate and long-term outcomes of what she refers to as Columbia’s  “arc of insurgency,” Sutton ends by issuing a call to Michigan students to re-imagine a pipe for their own institution.

Dr. Sutton is an activist educator and scholar who promotes inclusivity in the cultural makeup of the city-making professions and in the populations they serve, and also advocates the use of participatory planning and design strategies in low-income and minority communities. Her scholarship explores America’s continuing struggle for spatial and educational equity, and documents young people’s leadership role in advancing that struggle.

Dr. Sutton holds five academic degrees—in music, architecture, philosophy, and psychology—and has studied in independent graphic art studios internationally. A registered architect, she was the first African American woman to become a full professor of architecture  in an accredited degree program and the second African American woman elevated to fellowship in the American Institute of Architects (AIA).

In addition to receiving the AIA Whitney M. Young Jr. Award and the Medal of Honor from both the AIA New York and AIA Seattle chapters, Dr. Sutton is distinguished professor of the Association of Collegiate Schools of Architecture and an inductee into the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame. Formerly,  she was a Kellogg National Fellow, a Danforth Fellow, and president of the National Architectural Accrediting Board. She is currently is professor emerita of architecture, urban design, and social work at the University of Washington and professor at large in New York City.

Generously co-sponsored by the University of Michigan Department of Afroamerican and African Studies.

The U-M Chapter of NOMAS will be outside the auditorium from 5 – 6pm before the lecture, in the hallway outside the Art & Architecture Auditorium, selling discounted copies of Dr. Sutton’s book. Cash or checks made payable to The University of Michigan will be accepted. 


September 26, 2017
6:00 pm