Having a space to engage in respectful dialogue is paramount to “amplifying the diverse voices in our profession,” says Amir Azadeh, Ontario Association of Architects (OAA) vice-president of communications.
And that space is a new virtual forum called OAA.chat, he states.
The digital platform is the newest part of the OAA’s multi-channel communication strategy and aims to strengthen its digital presence.
“This project was conceived at an opportune time as the OAA had been looking for effective ways to increase membership engagement and facilitate an open and transparent two-way dialogue with our members,” says Azadeh, who is also an architect at Diamond Schmitt Architects in Toronto.
“Creating spaces of inclusion are incredibly important where voices that often go unheard can have a seat at the table and raise issues of concern from the field and from their lived experience. It is also our hope that this platform will…facilitate connections and conversations among members that may not otherwise communicate with each other or have access to one another.”
Available to OAA members, council and staff, it is not available to the public yet.
In addition to being a forum for dialogue, it is also a way for OAA committee members — volunteers from across Ontario — to connect virtually in what Azadeh says is a familiar format “that hearkens back to the virtual bulletin boards from the earlier days of the web.”
In my 10 years as a member of the architecture community, I can count the number of Black colleagues and professors (zero) on one hand,
— OAA.chat Participant
The forum is already generating feedback on issues that are at the forefront in society, such as responses on the Equity, Diversity and Inclusivity channel of the chat.
It’s the most-viewed thread on the platform, Azadeh noted, adding, “we received some incredibly insightful feedback from our members who took the time to share their thoughts on how we can improve as a regulatory organization that oversees our profession, and as the profession of architecture as a whole.”
Some of those thoughts include the following.
“I am one of the few Black members of your organization,” says one chat participant.
“I can’t put an exact number on how few of us there are, as no efforts have been made to collect Ontario-specific data, but I can confidently back my claim through observation: In my 10 years as a member of the architecture community, I can count the number of Black colleagues and professors (zero) on one hand.”
Another OAA participant says, “The profession of architecture in Ontario is white white white. Throughout my undergraduate and graduate studies I can count on one hand the number of Black professors that I encountered; the number of Black students I graduated with was equally appalling. Now in my workplace, at OAA events, and in the industry at large, there is not enough Black representation. Non-Black folks can’t keep counting on the one, maybe two, Black folks in the room to speak up, and ask for change. The OAA’s time for sending out empty emails promising change without any action items is over.”
In June, the OAA published a statement condemning anti-Black discrimination and all forms of racism in response to the racist acts happening in Canada and the U.S.
The OAA executive and council are working on these areas but recognize there is still a long way to go, Azadeh told the Daily Commercial News.
Although it was in the planning stages for a while, even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, OAA.chat was officially launched in March and continues to grow as more members sign up.
“With the community more isolated than ever while working from home, the OAA.chat allowed us to come together and discuss COVID-19 digital workplace strategies and resources, right away,” Azadeh said.
The platform has multiple levels of access built-in with dedicated digital working spaces for members of the executive council, the OAA council, OAA committees and the members along with staff from the OAA, Azadeh explained.
“A great technical benefit is that OAA.chat also serves as a digital repository of important documents and an archive of conversation threads that could be useful to future committee members as the committee make-up changes over time,” he noted.
“In the meantime, we hope that creating an inclusive space for dialogue can encourage participation by everyone and will help in a small way to elevate unheard voices and concerns in our profession.
“I believe that its success depends on the active participation of our knowledgeable and passionate members who choose to lead conversations and champion issues of importance to our profession by exchanging ideas and sharing resources.”
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