Justice and Belonging at Weitzman: Beyond DEI

Our Commitments Beyond Diversity

The Stuart Weitzman School of Design at the University of Pennsylvania has a longstanding commitment to cultivating an environment that celebrates and promotes diversity, champions social equity, and is inclusive of all members of our community. Yet, over the past two years, we have shifted our focus from using our privilege for DEI to promoting a greater sense of justice by planning to make structural changes that ensure everyone in our community has access to equal opportunities and that everyone in our community knows that they belong.

While diversity is about representation (are there enough people from different backgrounds here?), inclusion is about action (what can we do to make people with different identities feel welcome?), and equity is about giving everyone access to the same opportunities (recognizing that some members of our community experience unfair advantages or barriers), creating a sense of belonging means that everyone in our community feels valued and is not afraid to ask questions or raises issues.

Launched after the transformative year of 2020, the Weitzman School Justice and Belonging (JxB) Initiative invites students, faculty, and staff from all over the world to become more aware of their power as learners, educators, and facilitators at an elite university to make design justice a central motivation for the Weitzman community as we navigate experiences with and systems of oppression, also known as caste. Caste acts as an often-unspoken structure for defining who is unwelcome versus welcome, and who has or is denied privileges.

At Weitzman, we are working to create a shared understanding of how to undo and unlearn the systems of caste through codesign with and curiosity about those who are ‘othered.’ We focus that codesign and curiosity work on our curriculum, community engagement, and culture with the goals of becoming a more culturally welcoming, socially accountable, and intellectually transformative place. We have organized these ambitious actions around five primary areas detailed in our annual reports to the University and beyond. We invite you to read our School-wide dashboards tracking our evolution and progress, linked below.

At Weitzman, we want to tell the world through our collective actions that we not only help reduce harm, but we are reimagining a diverse society that does not depend on harmful hierarchies to simply exist, especially in urban environments. Making that shared equitable world is our superpower as designers of many stripes and disciplines. As we continue to deepen these efforts, we aim to give plain and digestible actions as alternative ways to demonstrate belongingness. We look forward to working together in the coming years to continue building the foundation for this expansive vision and to increasing our commitment to real and lasting change. 

Towards Justice and Belongingness at Weitzman

In 1902, Julian Francis Abele became the first Black American to graduate from Penn, where architecture courses had been offered since 1868. Abele went on to an illustrious and influential career at the renowned Philadelphia firm founded by Horace Trumbauer, working on high-profile projects like the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Duke University’s West Campus. But in the century since Abele blazed a trail, African Americans have continued to be underrepresented at Weitzman – a predominantly White institution (PWI) in a predominantly Black city. Moreover, a similar trajectory could be charted for anyone whose gender/sexual, religious, ethnic, and/or economic background did not fit into the prototypical White, Anglocentric, land-owning male group that has dominated the architecture, landscape architecture, planning, and preservation professions for decades in the United States.

Shortly after his appointment in 2016, Dean and Paley Professor Fritz Steiner formed a Faculty Diversity Working Group to advise him on strategies to increase the diversity of the School’s faculty, staff, and student body; promote a more inclusive community; and foster a learning environment that encourages and celebrates difference. In 2017, the Dean convened a formal committee made up of faculty, students, and staff to carry forth the group’s recommendations and appointed the School’s first diversity coordinator. In 2019, as a complement to multiple full Dean’s Diversity fellowships for students whose backgrounds and experiences demonstrate the ability to contribute to increasing socioeconomic and multicultural diversity awareness at Weitzman, the School launched the Moelis Scholars Program, which supports students in the Master of City Planning program with a commitment to diversity who are interested in housing and community and economic development.

In 2020, the unrelenting violence against Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) across the U.S.—including the murder of George Floyd and other African Americans by police officers—prompted a redoubling of the School’s commitment to eradicating bigotry and racism in our community. The School also redoubled efforts to ensure that BIPOC graduates are not rare exceptions—and that, during their studies, each and every Weitzman student finds the School welcoming, supportive, and intellectually transformative.

In September of 2020, Dean Steiner charged each of the School’s departments and research centers with developing a comprehensive Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Plan. In October of 2020, Weitzman launched the Center for the Preservation of Civil Rights Sites to advance the understanding and sustainable conservation of heritage sites relating to African American struggles for equality, from before the passage of the 14th Amendment to the present day. In November, the School established the Julian Abele Fellowship in Architecture, to be given annually to a graduate architecture student or students. In the spring of 2021, Weitzman established the BIPOC Alumni Career Conversation Series to support current students as well as alumni. But more work is to be done.

In the summer of 2021, the School’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion work was re-conceived in terms of Justice and Belonging and the Dean appointed Matt Miller, PhD, as the School’s first director of Justice and Belonging Initiatives (JxB). A post-doctoral fellow in the Department of City and Regional Planning, Dr. Matt has begun helping to create a culture at Weitzman in which all students, faculty members, and staff members feel valued. His charge also includes the development and implementation of new JxB initiatives and professional development programs, supporting and strengthening the School’s recruitment efforts, and establishing annual goals and action steps.

Weitzman maintains its abiding commitment to recruiting the most talented, creative, and diverse students, faculty, and staff to join our community. Through assertive outreach and partnerships with minority serving institutions, Weitzman has continued to increase the percentage of BIPOC faculty members and students.

In affirming justice and belongingness, Weitzman is committed to becoming more culturally welcoming, socially accountable, and intellectually transformative by:

  • Educating current students, faculty, and staff about harmful biases that exist within our community while celebrating the School’s growing diversity;
  • Addressing structural barriers to empowerment within the School for current BIPOC, first-generation, and international students while recruiting more under-represented students;
  • Reviewing and restructuring our curriculum around justice and increasing interactive programming focused on belongingness while hiring more faculty and staff innovating within these interests.

We believe these strategic areas will take us beyond the necessary foundational focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion to “co-design” an elsewhere that is up to the challenges that remain with us individually and institutionally.

Archive of Messages from the Dean

Subject: Matt Miller, Weitzman’s New Director of Justice and Belonging Initiatives
May 3, 2021

Dear students and colleagues,

I am excited to announce that Matt Miller, PhD, a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of City and Regional Planning, will serve as the Weitzman School’s first Director of Justice and Belonging (JxB).

Conversations with many of you over the last year made it abundantly clear that our diversity, equity, and inclusion work needed to be coordinated by one individual with a deep commitment to and understanding of the Weitzman and Penn community, a sensitivity to the structural barriers affecting students, faculty, and staff who identify with marginalized communities, and direct and ongoing access to me and the senior leadership of the School. The role also calls for someone with a vision for how to infuse a greater sense of “Belongingness and Justice” for all members of the community into the School’s mission, vision, policies, procedures, and practices.

We could not have been more fortunate than we were in engaging Matt for the role, which creates a focal point for work that has been undertaken at all levels of the School to make Weitzman more welcoming, socially accountable, and intellectually transformative for current and former students, faculty and staff members. This is the first such position in the School’s history, and it is long overdue.

Matt came to Penn in the fall of 2018, after completing his PhD in Urban Planning and Development at USC. He has held positions at the Environmental Protection Agency, the City of Stockton, and the City of Los Angeles Economic and Workforce Development Department. In addition to teaching and writing, over the past year he has worked closely with Lisa Servon, the Kevin and Erica Penn Presidential Professor and chair of city and regional planning, to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in the department. His intellectual interests include African diasporic heritage, visual communication, and the spatial politics of public space, and he is working on a book re-imagining urban design through geographies of Black commerce, culture, and creativity in the United States.

Over the coming months, Matt will work with many of you to plan and implement new Justice and Belonging initiatives and professional development programs, support and strengthen the School’s recruitment efforts, help identify and retool aspects of our operations that have impeded past progress, and establish annual goals and action steps. We’ll be looking at everything from our policies and procedures to the long-term opportunities we have to contribute to designing justice in the neighborhoods Weitzman shapes and impacts. Matt will also be working with Karyn Tufarolo, Weitzman’s JxB (formerly DEI) Coordinator, to introduce programming to strengthen the culture of inclusion and engagement at Weitzman, including seminars, events, onboarding, and alumni engagement. You will find updates on this work on our website  (https://www.design.upenn.edu/dei/about); the way you receive updates will also evolve in the year ahead to better reflect our goals and process. 

Matt’s appointment represents an important step forward in our efforts to create a culture at Weitzman in which all students, faculty members, and staff members are valued. If we are to succeed, we will all need to be engaged in ways that we may not have been previously. In the process, our individual habits and long-standing beliefs may be challenged. But I remain confident in our capacity to support and retain a student body, faculty, and staff who are representative of the multiple communities and publics with which we collaborate and work. 

Fritz Steiner
Dean and Paley Professor
Co-Executive Director, The Ian L. McHarg Center: Urbanism + Ecology
University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design


Subject: Our Commitment to Anti-Racism Work and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Action 
August 3, 2020

The University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design unequivocally condemns the police brutality and anti-Black violence that led to the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, and dozens of other Black, Indigenous and People of Color before them.

We recognize that these tragic events are just the latest, most high-profile incidents in our nation’s long history of institutionalized racism. We also recognize our profound obligation as a school to support diversity, equity, and inclusion in the Weitzman community and the professions we help sustain. We acknowledge the direct link between anti-Black racism and violence, and affirm our commitment to promoting design justice as part of our institutional mission to advance the public good. We call on all of our students, faculty, staff, and alumni – particularly those with privilege – to reflect on our own contributions to perpetuating racial inequality and how we can actively support the Black community as well as the other minority communities who make up our School.

There is much work to be done in addressing structural inequality and routing out racism and, as an institution, we have an obligation to take concrete steps towards that goal. Responding to centuries of injustice is not an intellectual exercise. If we are to make progress, we must commit ourselves, individually and collectively, to eliminate the harmful biases within our community. The Weitzman School is committed to taking action and to regularly monitoring and documenting our progress across our operations in the following five areas.

Recruitment of Faculty, Staff, and Students

  • Recruit, retain, and support more Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) faculty and staff members, including tenure track faculty and faculty and staff in leadership positions.
  • Recruit, retain, and support more BIPOC students.
  • Implement initiatives to increase the pipeline of BIPOC students pursuing the art, design, planning, and preservation professions.

Creating a More Inclusive Community – Training and Programming

  • Conduct anti-racism and diversity and inclusion training for faculty, staff, and students on an ongoing basis.
  • Provide training to all students in how to engage with BIPOC sites and communities in a respectful, meaningful way, as part of design studios, research or consulting projects – adopting the mindset and practice of partner and collaborator, rather than visitor.
  • Implement programming to make the Weitzman community more inclusive and to ensure that all students, faculty, and staff members are valued and feel heard.

Knowledge Production/Preparing Students/Advancing the Professions

  • Review and restructure the curricula in each of the School’s departments to ensure a diverse representation of voices and perspectives, including BIPOC voices.
  • Increase the diversity of studio critics, jurors, and other academic participants in the School.
  • Ensure that the School’s research agenda includes work by, and for, BIPOC and other marginalized communities.
  • Increase public awareness of how the architecture, fine art, landscape architecture, planning, and preservation professions have contributed to racial injustice and formulate a framework for promoting racial equity.

Financial Support

  • Establish an emergency fund to help students with financial need or who encounter unanticipated financial emergencies, and increase transparency related to out-of-pocket costs.
  • Continue to raise funds to support student fellowships and help decrease student debt.

Infrastructure, Transparency, and Reporting

  • Ensure that Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) work is more prominent in and more fully integrated into the School and each department/program, and review relevant data and accountability measures regularly to monitor the School’s progress.
  • Increase transparency related to selection criteria for awards and student employment.

We intend for this list to evolve as we grow in our work. We invite feedback, and we commit to reporting on our efforts and progress at least annually.  Each of us has a role, and we pledge our commitment to continuous work to be antiracist in our thinking and in our doing.

Fritz Steiner
Dean and Paley Professor
Co-Executive Director, The Ian L. McHarg Center: Urbanism + Ecology
University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design


Subject: Mourning George Floyd
May 31, 2020

Dear Weitzman Community,

Life under quarantine has challenged all of us to look beyond ourselves to prevent the suffering of others, yet today we confront such widespread pain that I am struggling to say anything that will make a meaningful difference. But words are important as we gather our strength to move forward with purpose.

I am appalled by the senseless death of George Floyd, who last week joined the far-too-long list of other African Americans killed by the very people charged to protect us, and I know many of you are hurting.

In George Floyd’s death, we’re witnesses, yet again, to the destructive bias, unequal treatment, and unchecked violence that have taken root in our society, and the deep wounds created by systemic racism. Every day, Black men, women and children are unfairly targeted and treated unequally because of their race—an experience, I am saddened to say, that is not foreign to many members of our community, who have themselves been victims of bias and racism. To the Black members of the Weitzman community, I offer my profound condolences. I want to acknowledge your experiences, your frustration, and your anger, and to express my heartfelt support. 

Moving forward, let us redouble our commitment to building a more just and healthy world. Let us recognize that we rise and fall together, and that we all have a responsibility to eradicate hatred, bigotry, and racism in our communities. Let us protect each other and the planet that sustains us. Let us design and plan more equitable places. Let us preserve Civil Rights sites and other places significant to African American heritage. Let us make art that reveals the truth about our weaknesses and our possibilities. Let us ask each day: what good may we do?

Fritz Steiner
Dean and Paley Professor
Co-Executive Director, The Ian L. McHarg Center: Urbanism + Ecology
University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design

Summer 2020 Message from Inclusion in Design

June 2, 2020

Dear Weitzman Community,

The members of Inclusion in Design have been deeply saddened by recent murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, among countless others. We are angered by the pervasive racism and bigotry in this country that actively oppress the black community. 

The fight for equity, inclusivity, and justice is not just about equality, but also the survival and prosperity of black and brown communities in the United States. It is horrible that the black community is constantly targeted and are openly abused and murdered while merely existing. Ultimately, the fight for equality and equity doesn't end at survival, it ends when the systems of oppression that perpetuates law enforcement's abuse of power (or the police state), poverty and disparity are abolished.

The members of Inclusion in Design are committed to supporting students of color at Weitzman and support the current protests occurring in Philadelphia and throughout the country. We firmly stand with the black community at Weitzman and throughout the country against police brutality, social and economic violence, and racism.

Inclusion in Design would like to ask the Weitzman faculty, students, and staff to reflect on the perpetual violence directed especially at the African-American community during this time and develop transformative actions we can both support and initiate within our professional fields that directly support our neighbors. Our professions, ranging from policy and advocacy to design, demands that we believe Black stories and work radically to repair these ills.  We have a responsibility as students of color, as allies, and as professionals to dismantle the institutions propagating these injustices.

Please feel free to reach out at inclusionindesign@gmail.com with any concerns or suggestions that can help support this movement.

Peace and Strength,
IiD [Inclusion in Design is a student-led group that seeks to foster an environment in which students of color, marginalized identities, and allies can thrive.]

If you feel compelled to donate, below are a list of a few organizations that need our support.

Places to Donate:
Philadelphia Community Bail Fund
National Bailout Fund
Reclaim the Block
Youth Art & Self Empowerment Project
Philly for R.E.A.L. Justice

Black & Brown Workers Cooperative

Diversity/Equity/Inclusion Committee

“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we seek.” –President Barack Obama

Shortly after his appointment in the summer of 2016, Dean Steiner formed a Faculty Diversity Work Group (DWG) to advise him on strategies to (1) increase the diversity of the School’s faculty, staff, and student body; (2) promote a more inclusive community; (3) and foster a learning environment that encourages and celebrates difference. In June 2017, the DWG presented the Dean with a report with recommendations to continue these efforts. In September 2017 the Dean convened a formal Diversity Committee with faculty, staff, and student representation to implement recommendations. In October 2017, Associate Director for Faculty Affairs, Karyn Tufarolo, was named the Weitzman School Diversity Coordinator. This position, working closely with all member of the committee, organizes events, coordinates trainings and discussions on diversity-related issues, updates the diversity section of the school’s website, and reports on the Weitzman School’s progress toward goals outlined in the school’s Faculty Diversity Plan. Activities have included: faculty discussions regarding resources within course content and supporting inclusive classrroms, student diversity town halls, students of color meet-n-greeet, events highlighting elective offerings addressing specific topics of diversity, a conversation about gender-inclusivity in the academic environment, implicit bias workshops, a dialogues across difference workshop, discussions on micoraggressions in the workplace, and more. In Fall 2019, the committee renamed themselves as the Diversity/Equity/Inclusion Committee to better reflect the scope of these ongoing efforts.


Postdoctoral Fellowships for Academic Diversity

The Weitzman School is pleased to work with the Provost's Office in support of the Penn Postdoctoral Fellowships for Academic Diversity Program. This is a competitive program whose goal is to increase the diversity of the community of scholars devoted to academic research at the University of Pennsylvania. We seek to attract promising researchers and educators from different backgrounds, races, ethnic groups, and other diverse populations whose life experience, research experience and employment background will contribute significantly to their academic missions. We are pleased to currently host Matt Miller as our Postdoctoral Fellow in City and Regional Planning for a three-year term, and to recognize that current lecturer, Akira Drake Rodriguez, joined the Department of City and Regional Planning via this Provost initiative.

Penn Planning Equity Initiative & Moelis Scholars Program

The Penn Planning Equity Initiative is an effort throughout the Department of City and Regional Planning to address equity topics.

Inequality is higher and more widespread today than when first documented a hundred years ago.Inequality undercuts global economic performance and impacts the social cohesion and the well-being of tens of millions of people around the world.

The Penn Planning Equity Initiative has three components

  • Redefining planning research and practice: capacity-building;
  • Promoting action research and its application;understanding and addressing inequality; and
  • Stimulating public dialogue: disseminating new knowledge
    Together, these complementary activities fortify the University of Pennsylvania Stuart Weitzman School of Design’s leadership in this area, making it the “go to place” on issues of urban inequality in Philadelphia and across the globe.

The Moelis Scholars Program provides financial and other support to students in the field of urban planning, particularly those who intend to pursue careers in public/private development or community and economic development. Consideration is given to the applicant's socioeconomic and educational background, status as a member of an under-represented minority group, and commitment to ensuring diverse voices in the field so as to enhance the excellence of the program and its mission. 

Archive of Past Events

Below are some of our past events promoting discussions relating to diversity, equity, and inclusion:

Fall 2020 (Note: Penn's commitment to health and safety during the global pandemic means that in-person events are not possible in fall 2020. Fall 2020 events were held online.)

  • Faculty Workshop: Discourse Across Difference - (Aug 6 +17, 2020) - Includes a short overview of the literature on patterns of latent bias in our academic life, educational and climate implications, and ways to support students and colleagues as we grapple with the inequities of our culture. While not exclusively about race-based patterns of discrimination, it includes strategies for teaching and talking about and across race, including classroom scenarios to consider.
  • Weitzman New Student Orientation  - (Aug 28, 2020) - New student orientation includes sesisons on "International Student Orientation to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging," "Engaging Design and Designing Engagement," and "Broadening Your Perspectives: Implicit Bias, Privilege, and Microaggressions."
  • Weitzman Students of Color: Meet-n-Greet (Date TBA) - The DEI Committee presents a welcome to our students of color (new and returning) with an opportunity to mingle and get to know each other. We ask students to RSVP to tufarolo@design.upenn.edu.
  • Weitzman LGBQT Students: Meet-n-Greet (Date TBA) - The DEI Committee presents a welcome to our students of color (new and returning) with an opportunity to mingle and get to know each other. We ask students to RSVP to tufarolo@design.upenn.edu.
  • Development and Alumni Relations presents: Activism in Practice: A Conversation with two of the founders of Women in Design (1999-2000) (Sept 29 2020)
  • Esra Akcan: Right-to-Heal: Architecture and Transitional Justice  (Oct 5 2020) Akcan’s research on modern and contemporary architecture and urbanism foregrounds the intertwined histories of Europe and West Asia, and offers new ways to understand architecture’s global movement, as well as its complicit or constitutive role in global, social and environmental justice. 
  • Monument Lab Town Hall: Shaping the Past Symposium (Oct 8-9) - This project facilitates a transnational exchange program bringing artists and activists together in dialogue to highlight ongoing critical memory interventions in sites and spaces in North America and Germany.
  • Brent Leggs | Out of Culture and Preservation, a Racial and Economic Justice Movement
  • Dr. Destiny Thomas | In Search of Our Mother's Urbanism: A Womanist Call for Spatial Reparations (Oct 12 2020) Dr. Destiny Thomas is the founder and CEO of Thrivance Group, a multi-regional, socially responsible firm that works to make public spaces and public services safe, healthy and accessible, especially for Black, Indigenous, and transgender people, and those with disabilities. 
  • Diana Fernandez and Einat Rosenkrantz | Heterogeneous Futures (Oct 15 2020) - Lectures focusing on landscape and urban planning designs from work done by Sasaki Associates. Authors talk about social and spacial equity and the meaning of community engagement
  • Andrea Roberts | The Freedom Colony Repertoire: Promising Approaches to Bridging and Bonding Social Capital between Urban and Rural Black Meccas (Oct 21 2020) The author engageis in an ethnographic study of rural freedom colonies (settlements Black Texans founded 1865-1930). Results indicate that, for African Americans, embodying urban-rural liminality is an existential space of opportunity and ingenuity.
  • Activ-ISM series - As part of raising consciousness about design justice, the Department of Landscape Architecture devoted the fall 2020 seven-part lecture series (Activ-ISM) to talks regarding activist practices and community engagement.
  • Annie Jean-Baptiste, Google’s head of Product Inclusion (Date TBA) - Jean-Baptiste will discuss her work and her new book, Buiding for Everyone.
  • Sophie Hochhäusl: Memories of the Resistance: The Defiant Life of a Female Architect, 1938-1945 (Nov 2, 2020)
  • Future + Current- Black Lunch Table (Nov 12 2020)- Black Lunch Table’s (BLT) primary aim is the production of discursive sites, wherein artists and local community members engage in dialogue on a variety of critical issues. Black Lunch Table will guide us in a Wikipedia Edit-a-thon to highlight and elevate the representation of Black artists on Wikimedia

Spring 2020 (During the spring 2020 term, Penn took steps to protect the health and well-being of our community in response to the global coronavirus outbreak. Eliminating large gatherings meant that many events were cancelled.)

Fall 2019

Spring 2019

Fall 2018

Spring 2018

Fall 2017