Diversifying Interior Design

I remember when I got accepted into The University of Texas Architecture program, this one white guy in my high school saying to a mutual friend “how did she get into that school?” (I heard about this pretty quickly as news travelled fast in my school). I thought why wouldn’t I get into that program? I was an all honors classes, A student who was involved in everything… how does that not qualify me worthy of UT’s acceptance? As his question began to fester in my mind, I knew that his underlying question was not how did I get in, but more so how did this black girl get into this program over me?

Fast forward years later, and this question is one that is still in the back of my mind because it implies that a woman of color is not good enough to be a part of this exclusive “architecture club.” I ended up going to Interior Architecture School in North Carolina for a year and then was accepted into LSU’s Interior Design program when I decided to transfer to be closer to home. In these programs combined I can count the students of color on one hand and the teachers of color…well that number is zero. This led to years of enduring really underhanded condescending commentary from professors when it came to time for crits and forget about trying to push an idea that appealed to the minority demographic, those ideas were automatically shut down.

So why do I want to continue in this field? I have had two amazing mentors throughout my journey so far in this industry, both of whom I lost to cancer way too soon. It’s a question they both asked me and it’s a question that I constantly grapple with myself. Working in Interior Design, especially hospitality, I am almost always the only woman of color in the room. New York City, although a diverse place, is still extremely segmented in business and the workplace. It is a tiresome weight to know that people already discount me before knowing me, that when I go on interviews without fail someone will say “my you are so articulate” (insert internal eye roll), and that people will say to me “did you smile and bat your eyes to get through that class? (This time visible eye roll) It’s a weight I carry knowing that the notion of a black designer is still foreign to many.

 

I know my story and like anyone, I am harder on myself than any outsider could ever be. I know that I continue in this field, because I want to be a visible black woman in the industry. I want for other kids in high school to know that there are other avenues for the creative kid to explore outside of media and engineering. I want them to know that there are people of color pressing their face against the glass, striving to make an imprint in this industry in hopes that when you eventually get into the room you will not feel so alone. My mentors encouraged me to press the issue of diversity in design, they encouraged me to not let myself get pigeon-holed into one sub sector of design, but to push my way to the front. I want to be that person for some other little black girl with an interest in architecture, and color, and interiors to know that Interior Design is a viable option to pursue and I hope that when you get into the workplace your parents won’t have to wistfully ask you on your first day… So are there any other black people?