PennDesign News

Posted October 28, 2015

New Leadership at DiverseDesign

An Interview with Maya Thomas (MHP'16)

On Sunday, November 1, the PennDesign student organization DiverseDesign hosts its tenth annual Demystifying Design Professions: Prospectives on Diversity program in conjunction with PennDesign’s November 2 Fall Open House. The goal of this event is to expose prospective graduate students to a range of design and art professions, to clarify the graduate application process, and to offer networking opportunities with current graduate students.

Here Maya Thomas (MHP ’16), co-president of DiverseDesign, talks about DiverseDesign’s role in the School, upcoming programs, and ways in which current and prospective students can become involved:

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

A: I’m a Los Angeles native, and studied History as an undergraduate at Hampton University. I’m in my second year studying Historic Preservation with a Conservation Science focus. Conservation is a way to both repair and interpret places of significant history. I think my past studying history and teaching art in museums has led to this career path. This is the most direct approach to saving historic fabric and I’m excited about the possibility of bringing stories that traditionally have not been a part of the national historical narrative to the forefront.

Q: How has DiverseDesign shaped your time at PennDesign? How did you come to be in this role? 

A: It has brought me outside the confines of my HSPV studio space and introduced me to a larger interdisciplinary cohort of concerned artists, designers, planners, etc.  I think of it as a broader studio where issues like violence, justice and design are tackled from a perspective that is welcoming and supportive.  I view my current role as Co-president as a way to collaborate.   

Q: What is DiverseDesign all about?

A: DiverseDesign was formed through the initial consolidation of the Black Student Design group. The leadership decided it was best to be more diverse and opened up the group to a broader range of the student body.  With that history, DiverseDesign is about inclusivity and supporting minority students here who sometimes are represented by a single-digit numbers in a crowd of hundreds.  

Q: What are your overall impressions of the state of diversity at Penn and in Philadelphia at large?

A: Penn and Philadelphia are two very different things. I am African American.  I walk around Penn and I am one of few. I walk around Philadelphia and I am one of many.

Q: What are some of the less-visible aspects of DiverseDesign that you want to bring to the forefront in your role as co-president this year?

A: We have nodes!!! They are a way for students to take a leadership role within the organization to implement their ideas or create community under the DiverseDesign banner.  This gives them a platform and a path to action.  

Q: How can current or prospective PennDesign students become involved?

A: Meetings are generally on Wednesday nights at 7:00pm in the Morgan Building [205 South 34th Street]. Come check us out! Or like our Facebook page and you should get updates.

Q: DiverseDesign hosted a widely acclaimed program last spring entitled JUSTICE + SPACE. Can you tell us a little bit more about that event?

A: This event was a sincere dialogue about how the design field can and should address issues of justice. Framed within the context of intimate space, personal space, social space and public space professors, students and the community spent a day talking with each other about design issues within these contexts.  Among the issues that came up were public housing design, imminent domain, riots, redlining, the school to jail pipeline, and the broken windows policing policy. It was so informative because the dialogue was very personal for many of the participants.  It was a really great event!

Q: What’s next for DiverseDesign? Can you tell us about some projects on the horizon?

A: We are currently working on Space + Justice Part Two (working title), concerns about a more diverse faculty, and setting up community days to meet and work with the community groups on needed design projects.

Q: Will you offer us a quick preview of what to expect at your November 1 event and who should attend?

A: If anything I have just mentioned in the above paragraphs sounds of interest to you, you should come on Nov. 1st!  DD is hosting and we are looking forward to discussions about our respective fields and career goals.  I think Penn is one of the only design schools that offers a program like this.  Take advantage! I’m looking forward to the charrette!