June 6, 2022

Alumni Group Advocates to Advance Equity Work at AAP

Alumni group helps create channels of philanthropy intended to directly support the experience and growth of students of underrepresented backgrounds and strengthen the work of the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning's (AAP) Office of Diversity + Inclusion.

AAP Communications

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Bill Staffeld / AAP

In late spring 2020, in the wake of George Floyd's death and against a backdrop of growing solidarity with calls for racial justice across the U.S. and around the world, approximately 50 members of AAP's alumni came together to discuss issues of equity and inclusion with AAP Dean J. Meejin Yoon. As key contributors to a renewed college-wide conversation around anti-racism and belonging, the alums shared unique insight and ideas informed by their collective experience as students of color at AAP. This cohort of alumni who graduated in the 1990s and 2000s, have been colloquially dubbed the OMEA Alumni Group (OMEA alums), as a nod to the former Office of Minority Educational Affairs. Their candid dialog helped to form and develop plans for immediate and sustainable action. In addition to their critical contributions to the ongoing conversation at AAP, OMEA alums and other supporters recently gifted $100,000 to the college to advance programming for historically underrepresented students throughout their time at Cornell.

The OMEA Alumni group all state that they "benefited immeasurably" from the later disbanded Office of Minority Educational Affairs while AAP students. In their discussions with the Dean, OMEA alumni emphasized the importance of a dedicated, well-supported office and staff to ensure that AAP students from historically underrepresented backgrounds receive the support needed for academic and professional success from enrollment to graduation and beyond.

"We had a great network of support both directly and indirectly," they noted. Beginning in the1980s, more than half a dozen people held the AAP Director of Minority Educational Affairs position, with Professor Emeritus Henry Richardson, Dr. Ray Dalton, and Leon Lawrence, leaving a particularly indelible impact on the lives of the OMEA alums making this initial donation. Others including Tom Fowler, Jackie Foy Reed, Reginald Ryder, and Sly Mata held the role and contributed greatly to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts at the college. In 2011, the position was folded into a newly created AAP Advising Office (now AAP Student Services). The reorganization brought AAP student services functions under one umbrella, reducing the visibility and efficacy historically had by the dedicated office and director position. Emphasizing the importance of an accessible and robust support system for students of color and underrepresented backgrounds, OMEA alums have worked in partnership with college leadership to re-center the office at AAP.

Alongside helping to reestablish a dedicated office, now called the Office of Diversity + Inclusion, and participating in a national search for its inaugural director, Latesha Fussell, OMEA alumni considered how best to secure this vital resource for the long term. Ultimately, a subset of members within the group and additional donors came together to gift $100K in March 2022 to support in perpetuity resources for the "Office of Diversity + Inclusion within AAP (or any successor office within the college), or programs and initiatives that advance diversity, equity, and inclusion within the college."

"Future Cornellians deserve the same level of support we received, and we felt it worth the investment to pay it forward," explained the OMEA members speaking on behalf of the many who helped coordinate efforts.

"Meaningful and substantive change in our college and communities is a story of collective action,” said Dean Yoon, reflecting on the power of this collaborative work. "Our alumni, students, faculty, staff, parents, and friends all play a critical role in building a culture and community that embrace difference, equity, and excellence. Our OMEA Alumni Group has served as a key partner and voice as we shape our immediate future and build for lasting impact."

Inspired by AAP's commitment to tangible change and impact, OMEA anticipates renewed energy and engagement among alumni to join them in supporting this essential work. Gifts can be made online directly to the AAP Advancing Diversity and Inclusion Fund.

"This fund will build upon OMEA's legacy and support learning around social and racial justice," shares Fussell. "I am excited about the creative and innovative ways that OMEA's support will allow our office to raise critical consciousness around diversity, equity, inclusion, (DEI) and belonging and am thankful to our alumni for inciting change through an equity lens. Their efforts allow us to keep DEI and belonging at the core of how we see and interact with each other, within our college and beyond."


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