We sat down with associates Megan Carriere, AIA, NCARB, and Erin Flaherty, AIA, to learn more about their first year as co-chairs of the Association for Learning Environment New England Chapter’s Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) Committee. Their group’s mission is to ensure that all A4LE members and their communities are provided with the opportunity to participate and share the tools and knowledge necessary to understand the importance, value, and benefits of a diverse and equitable environment. Megan and Erin reflect on the past year and are planning with their group what’s to come for the JEDI committee this year.
Q: Why did you originally want to be involved in the A4LE New England Chapter JEDI program?
M: Regan [Shields Ives] was the president of the A4LE New England Chapter, she is now the past-president, and she brought Erin and me into the chapter. She approached us about joining the JEDI Committee. On our first call they were looking for volunteers to help lead the committee and we raised our hands. It seemed like an exciting opportunity on a personal and professional level to dig into these topics that are important and significantly impact the work we do.
E: Yes, exactly. The short answer would be for personal growth. Being part of this committee, and more 0specifically being a co-chair, encourages you to do the work so you can lead with confidence. It is forcing me to actively work on myself.
Q: How is it going being a co-chair on the JEDI New England committee?
M: We’ve had a lot of conversations and spoke with great people that are already doing this work across the country. Many have mentioned to us that this initiative takes time. So, it has been an adjustment as a co-chair to get comfortable with the fact that it will take some time to establish this group and see the impact it will have. We now understand that we must be patient and intentional, even when it feels like sometimes it’s not happening at the pace we want. We are learning to trust the process.
E: Right and it’s not a linear process. The A4LE New England Chapter’s JEDI committee started this past year. As a group we have big aspirations, but everybody has their jobs and other commitments so, when only meeting once a month, you can only move so fast. We met with the Pacific Northwest Chapter, and they really got through to us that we must slow down, take baby steps, and create space for the conversations and the knowledge sharing. Overall, it’s going well. We are excited for the new year.
"We met with Justin Schapp who is the Chief Equity and Diversity Officer in the Salamanca, New York school district. He made it clear to us that you can’t just dive into what your implicit biases are, you must start with understanding the history of the biases."
-- Erin Flaherty
Q: What have you learned being on the JEDI New England committee?
E: As a group, the first year was very focused on planning what’s to come. We had to set the foundation to move forward. We are looking to plan more events and we want to create spaces for important conversations. Personally, it has also been helpful in learning how to lead others and delegate responsibilities throughout the group.
M: A big focus of the group has been thinking about things from a different perspective and not just from designer’s point of view - how does the community think about things? One thing that stuck out to me when in our conversation with the Pacific Northwest group, was about a session they held with students. They found trust was a factored into participation. A large group of people in a room made it intimidating for the students to be vulnerable. So, we’ve discussed how to encourage trust. It’s difficult because we see a problem and we want to help solve it, but it’s much more complex than that and really requires intentionally listening and learning first.
E: One thing we really leaned into was implicit biases. We met with Justin Schapp who is the Chief Equity and Diversity Officer in the Salamanca, New York school district. He made it clear to us that you can’t just dive into what your implicit biases are, you must start with understanding the history of the biases. For example, here in Boston, we need to start with the history of Boston because that’s where the root of the implicit bias lives for the communities we’re serving. In other terms, you must first understand why you are seeing it through this specific lens you are and then you can do the work to change your lens. I thought it made a lot of sense.
M: Exactly. I feel like we are learning how to learn.
"We all want to design with intention. It really is about gaining resources so that you know in the future there was more intention being put upfront in the process with key stakeholders – the students, teachers, staff, and parents/guardians."
-- Megan Carriere
Q: What are your goals on the committee? Individual or team?
M: We want to open our group up to anyone who wants to learn. There are many people who are passionate about both learning environments and justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion so we want to have larger events. We also want to have time carved out in our monthly meetings for info sharing to foster a collaborative environment. It could be about what’s going on in the community, new research someone has done, books, articles, videos, or audio clips that have been impactful, anything! We hope these will also be conversation starters for us.
E: Our chapter has been developing something called The Places Project. We will be looking for students to take a video of a place that either makes them feel comfortable or uncomfortable and explain why. We hope to see it completed this year.
M: Yes! I would love to gain a better understanding, so I know that I am making someone feel comfortable in their learning environment. We all want to design with intention. It really is about gaining resources so that you know in the future there was more intention being put upfront in the process with key stakeholders – the students, teachers, staff, and parents/guardians.
E: Like Megan was saying, we really want to boost info sharing within our group and have that extend to our firms and larger community. We want our group’s reach to extend so it is more than just designers having conversations. These can be sensitive topics so we need to figure out how can we make our discussions informative. At the A4LE conference I went to in October, it was a prominent topic of discussion. There is a lot of conversation around equality vs. equity and we want to be a part of it.
If you’d like to learn more about the A4LE New England Chapter JEDI Committee, click here.