Editor's Note: The following is a letter from students of the Spitzer School of Architecture at the City College of New York, sent to Architectural Record on October 8, 2020, in response to the news of Dean Lesley Lokko's resignation from the institution.
To the editors:
We write, as current M.Arch students at the Spitzer School of Architecture at the City College of New York, regarding Lesley Lokko’s recent statement about her resignation as Dean. In the effort to supplement her statement and avoid an incomplete account of the situation, we feel obligated to speak on behalf of Spitzer—the Spitzer that isn’t Dean Lokko, the administration, or the faculty, but is still affected by her publicized characterization of our school. We mean of course the students, their academic reputations, and their future livelihoods. To be clear, we stand in solidarity with Dean Lokko against racism and racial prejudice in any of its manifestations. We had not been made aware of her negative experience concerning race within our school until the publication of her statement in AR, and cannot speak to her experience with faculty. Spitzer students do not condone racist behavior and we give her our full support. We are not refuting her personal experience with racism at the school but are simply relaying our encounter with her as an administrator.
When the Dean arrived this past January, we were excited by her qualifications and charged by her ideas of change. We are now concerned that her decision compromises what we see as a worthwhile project to rework and better the architecture school of the City University of New York—one of the most diverse public schools in the country. We understand that she faced complications in the implementation of her vision before its full realization. However, we are disappointed that she chose to abandon that project and those who stood to benefit from it, leaving us in a more precarious state than the challenges we already face—those of online learning during the COVID pandemic.
Dean Lokko mentions that she faced resistance implementing her “vision” of change at the school. But that was not simply due to the “inflexibility of U.S. academic structures,” taking that to mean CUNY bureaucracy. Indeed, many students in the graduate program initially questioned her decision to implement a Unit System, simply because there had been no adequate explanation of the particulars of the new curriculum. These questions were raised in order to provide clarity of the new course of study and to allow for more student dialogue in the transition. Yet, after a meeting between the graduate students and the Dean on September 25, a meeting we students felt was productive, we were hopeful of a collaborative approach to enhancing Spitzer’s curriculum while accounting for the ambitions and realities of CUNY students. Unfortunately, these hopes proved unfounded. Then and now, we believe that Dean Lokko’s vision should have better incorporated the needs and desires of its students. Dean Lokko’s vision of a radical, inclusive, and participatory educational experience was ultimately undermined (at least in part) by her inability to acknowledge the concerns and dreams of her very own students.
However, as Dean Lokko outlined to us in her resignation letter—which is markedly different in tone from the press release she gave to Architectural Record—she lists health, family, and other personal issues as reasons for her decision. We only wish her the best and fully acknowledge the extreme nature of these times. Without a doubt, she has been struggling as much as we students have been at Spitzer due to the effects of the COVID pandemic. In that regard, we fully respect her decision to focus more closely on herself, her health, and her family.
We are a community of multiple voices, by no means a community characterized by the traditional perspectives of the white and the male. We are proud of Spitzer—not only as a public institution, but also as a site of upward mobility, as an exemplar of diversity among American universities, and as a place of quality education that wants to embrace radical change in curricular structure. We, as Spitzer students, commit to fostering an environment of educational excellence and inclusivity, not only for ourselves, but also for future generations.
Giuliana Vaccarino Gearty, M.Arch ‘22
Catherine M. Brizo Saravia, M.Arch ‘22
Matthew Hanson, M.Arch ‘22
Coleman Downing, M.Arch ‘22
Poorvi Gupta, M.Arch ‘22
Daniel Barsky, M.Arch ‘22
Nicholas Piltoff, M.Arch ‘22
Anna Roymisher, M.Arch ‘22
Florence Méthot, M.Arch ‘21
Melek Kilinc, MS.Arch ‘22
Harry Teitelman, M.Arch ‘23
Hito Rodriguez, M.Arch ‘22
Victor Gorlach, M.Arch ‘22
Reinaldo Alvarado, M.Arch ‘22
Deirdre Nolan, M.Arch ‘22
Abigail Kaage, M.Arch ‘22