Diversity & Inclusion

The Department of Landscape Architecture is a caring, tightly-knit community committed to valuing, respecting, and including people of every gender, ethnicity, race, skin color, age, nationality, religion, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, physical ability, neurodiversity, and political belief. We continue to strive each day to realize our founder Ezra Cornell’s ideal where “any person can find instruction in any study.” (1868)

While we view every landscape as an opportunity to create a healthier, more inspiring, beautiful, socially just, well-crafted, and ecologically responsive world, we also recognize that many deep, systematic, and lasting inequities in the built environment result from a range of discriminatory practices closely related to the field such as zoning, infrastructure planning, land use and transportation; we recognize the complex history of our profession in creating and upholding many of these harmful social structures. This is the case of redlining, for example, a series of racist policies, often directly encoded in Federal laws, in which banks refused to insure mortgages in and near African-American neighborhoods; today, many of these same neighborhoods remain blighted from a lack of street vegetation, resulting in increased surface temperatures that have severely impaired the health of residents. And even the most beloved parks are not immune: during the 19th century, the creation of Central Park in New York was made possible by displacing 1,600 individuals from the area including the residents of Seneca Village, a vibrant African-American community that had settled the area.

From prospective and current students to the recent graduate and the experienced practitioner, the Land is foundational to the aspirations of our discipline—its improvement among the most noble careers one can aspire to. Central to the activities of the landscape architect is a deep sensibility to, respect, and understanding of the practices and processes that have and continue to shape the land. It is not by ignoring, but rather by recognizing the complex and often painful histories of places that one can hope to truly and meaningfully shape them for the future: for non-Indigenous communities, for example, a land acknowledgment is a powerful way of showing respect and honoring the Indigenous Peoples of the land on which we work and live. Acknowledgment is a simple way of resisting the erasure of Indigenous histories and working towards honoring and inviting the truth.

Our Commitment to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Justice

The Department of Landscape Architecture is strongly committed to increasing and fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion across its community in a number of ways:

  • We recognize the power of design in challenging system oppression;
  • We recognize the complex history of our field in the systematic and lasting inequities in the built environment;
  • We recognize that design and creativity require vulnerability, which can only truly occur within an equitable and nurturing teaching environment;
  • We recognize that design is always enriched when diverse perspectives and stakeholders contribute;
  • We commit to bolstering diversity among our faculty, staff, and student body by increasing recruiting and funding opportunities;
  • We commit to reexamining our syllabi and introducing new courses to confront implicit bias in our curriculum to include a wider spectrum of perspectives, designers, and theorists in the field of landscape architecture;
  • We commit to expanding opportunities for reflection and discussion outside the classroom through a range of activities including lectures, town hall meetings and community engagement;

Recent Initiatives in the Department of Landscape Architecture

LA Reading Group: Confronting Unsettled Subjects

Led by Professor Duarte Santo, the LA Reading Group brought together students and faculty for a series of evening virtual sessions to discuss readings and topics including race, ethnicity, identity, gender, sexuality, class, and power. Each of the 11 sessions held over the academic year 2020-2021 was dedicated to a specific topic and worked independently from other meetings. Each session was grounded in a welcoming, inclusive, attentive approach toward each participant, their perspectives, and opinions.

Indigenous Topographies Studio

Ithaca and Cornell's campus are situated within a broad sweep of continental land that has been the home of the six-nation Haudenosaunee Confederacy for thousands of years. The colonial dispossession of these lands - inhabited by the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora people - is well documented. During the Fall 2020 semester, Professor Mitch Glass, a Lecturer with a dual appointment in Landscape Architecture and City and Regional Planning, led an undergraduate design studio titled Indigenous Topographies that focused on understanding, representing, and illuminating the pre-colonial character of the region's indigenous landscape, while speculating on future landscapes that reflect sovereign indigenous spaces and multicultural dimensions, across time and place. 

The studio was conducted as a series of distinct but related exercises, with the themes of “Origins”, “Inspirations”, "Art + Landscape", and “Futures” as conceptual prompts for research and design exploration.  For Glass, the work of the studio was not intended as commemorative or programmatic solutions to a conventional design brief, but rather as speculations to promote a conversation about tangible and intangible possibilities for indigenous futurities - imaginaries of physical place and time where indigenous people, indigenous land, and indigenous philosophies could be honored and recognized.

Intersectional Landscapes Seminar

Engaging with a range of fields including Art, Anthropology, Architecture, Urban and Landscape Studies, Cultural Studies, Ecology, Environmental Studies, Futures Studies, Geopolitics, Visual and Material Cultures, amongst others, this seminar led by Professor Duarte Santo explores the politics of space, ethics and justice in ways that account for contemporary intersectional approaches to the built environment.

Student-led LABash 2021 Conference

In 2019, Cornell University was selected to host the 50th edition of the LABash Student Conference. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the planned in-person conference was postponed to 2021. The 2021 edition of the conference was held virtually, allowing for a range of speakers globally to discuss the conference's theme, "Compacted Grounds", which delved into topics of equity, racial history, and community-driven design precedents.

Compacted Grounds

The 2021 theme for LABash is "Compacted Grounds". As landscape architecture students and professionals, we use this term to refer to a common site condition: substandard soils, requiring remediation to allow for new growth. But the term also suggests a rich, thickened, layered landscape history -- a history which has compounded upon itself, ultimately creating the site's current conditions. This descriptor is characteristic of many of the sites in which we work and many of the wicked problems which we tackle.

We want to challenge designers to critically view our field, to reflect upon how the issues wrought and molded by our past manifest themselves in today's academic and professional environments. And we challenge ourselves to propose optimistic, empathetic, pragmatic, and meaningful solutions -- to remediate and allow new growth to rise from our compacted grounds.

Many of the LABash 2021 lectures can be viewed on the Department YouTube channel.

University Resources

The Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives (OADI) at Cornell University serves as a centralized hub that provides academic and professional-development support and resources for undergraduate students who are traditionally underrepresented and/or underserved in higher education.

The Office of Inclusion and Student Engagement (OISE) is part of the Graduate School’s framework for providing an inclusive and holistic approach to graduate and postdoctoral scholar success. OISE supports scholar success through recruitment, diversity fellowships, mentoring, professional, leadership, and community development programming, and ongoing support.

The Intergroup Dialogue Project (IDP) is an academic initiative grounded in theory and practice that creates community across difference through critical dialogue.

The resource centers, advising units, and affinity groups that comprise the Office of Student and Campus Life focus on identity development, student support, and advocacy, and create opportunities for students to explore the intersectionality of identity development. As a unit in Student & Campus Life, the Office of the Dean of Students works to promote a cohesive campus community that brings people together across lines of difference and allows all students to benefit from the educational and cultural value of various identities.

The Office for Diversity and Inclusion in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences has compiled a list of resources for our community to inspire and facilitate honest, thoughtful dialogue around diversity and inclusion and to address the painful challenges we are facing as a nation. 

The Department of Inclusion and Belonging provides institutional leadership by promoting a learning, living, and working environment in which we encourage full participation of all members of the Cornell community. Using data collection and workforce analysis, we design and deliver innovative strategies to achieve inclusive excellence in our systems, structures, and culture.