The program was launched in 2021 to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in the architecture field, which has historically been racially homogenous. SCI-Arc’s program awards full-tuition scholarships and mentorship opportunities to students entering the school from underrepresented backgrounds. The scholarships are one way to address the “quantifiable lack of representation of Black, Indigenous, and people of color within SCI-Arc’s student population and architecture at large.”
“This pledge signifies both a recognition of the work SCI-Arc has done thus far to increase representation and belonging in our community, as well as an acknowledgement that we have more work to do in that area, to support for further growth,” SCI-Arc Director Hernán Díaz Alonso shared in a press release.
This year marks the scholarship and mentorship program’s second year; its previous iteration saw scholarships awarded to 16 individuals. Under the program, past recipients who remain in good academic standing will continue to receive funding and support as they continue their educational journey and new recipients will be awarded. It is open to undergraduate, graduate, and postgraduate students.
Disney’s pledge ensures the longevity of the scholarship program.
“I am very grateful to be able to support this work, and very proud that SCI-Arc has made equity and inclusion scholarships a top priority,” Disney said. He is a filmmaker and part of the Disney family’s tradition of media production: He is the great-nephew of Walt Disney, who cofounded Disney Brothers Studio with his brother Roy almost a century ago.
“As a school of architectural thinking, and an important player in the civic life of Southern California, SCI-Arc has a responsibility to ensure that the broadest possible array of voices is represented among future generations of architects,” he added. “It is an honor to partner with this unique institution to help realize this beautiful vision.”
In recent years SCI-Arc has implemented a number of initiatives concentrated on diversity, equity, and inclusion. In 2020 the school released a statement titled Structural Actions to Promote Access, Inclusion, and Equity in Architecture and followed with the appointment of a Community Engagement Coordinator, new faculty hires, new voices in public programs, and an expansion to Liberal Arts curricula and titles in the Kappe Library collection. In 2021 it appointed its first Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, Zahida Sherman, who is working with the school and external partners such as SoCal NOMA.
This funding for the scholarship program arrives in the context of a recent controversy last March at the school which stemmed from a roundtable discussion on professional practice in the architecture industry. The talk brought on a school-wide and subsequent public conversation surrounding the academic culture at SCI-Arc that prompted an independent review and ultimately led to the resignation of then–undergraduate chair Tom Wiscombe and then–history and theory coordinator Marrikka Trotter.
SCI-Arc isn’t the only architecture school that has established funding for diversity and inclusion initiatives. In October, California College of the Arts received a donation totaling $4.7 million from Gensler, Amazon, Z SUPPLY Foundation, and an anonymous benefactor to fund three scholarship programs and establish the M. Arthur Gensler Jr. Center for Design Excellence, a new initiative that aims at encouraging diversity within the architecture industry. Similarly, across the pond, The Royal College of Art announced a full-tuition scholarship named in honor of the late Virgil Abloh which will be awarded to a low-income Black British student in RCA’s School of Design.