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In November 2014, Portland Community College’s (PCC) Board of Directors adopted a strategic plan to use critical race theory (CRT) as an approach to examine and dismantle systems of inequity. Since then, PCC educators and leaders have developed several CRT initiatives to further equity, inclusion, and institutional change.


In September 2017, PCC’s Office of Planning and Capital Construction issued a request for proposals for a new initiative: CRT in Institutional Facilities Planning. While studying applied CRT at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro and also serving as a CRT trainer for PCC faculty and staff, Amara H. Pérez submitted a proposal that was accepted. 


In her proposal Pérez brought forward two key strategies: CRT with spatial theory as an integrated theoretical and praxis-oriented lens and a student participatory action research project called Space Matters. Using a comprehensive outreach plan, including a short informational video and an online interest form, she recruited a cohort of 25 students of color from across the district to serve as collaborators and co-researchers.


Space Matters took place over two terms and served to inform a set of new practices at PCC including: new approaches to architecture selection processes, community engagement strategies, and inclusive design methods. CRT has now been used as a central strategy for community engagement in a range of district-wide planning and construction projects including: the PCC Rock Creek Library Renovation project, the Metro Workforce Training Center, and PCC's Facilities Planning Phase II. 


This initiative also became the focus of Pérez’s dissertation study.

Space Matters

Space Matters combined storytelling, critical dialogue, training, inquiry, and action. Winter term 2018, student participants were introduced to CRT, spatial theory, and socio-spatial inquiry and worked collaboratively to use theories to investigate relationships between race, space, and equity at PCC. Summer term 2018 our research team was invited by the college to conduct a critical race spatial analysis of several campus spaces. Student co-researchers worked individually and in small groups to “read” and study PCC spaces to investigate their own socio-spatial perceptions. To hear and learn from their peers, the cohort developed outreach plans and survey instruments.

As a research team we analyzed the findings that each project generated and assessed the outreach designs themselves as potential “blueprints” for inclusive planning and design. At the end of each inquiry project we presented insights and action-oriented recommendations to educational leaders, stakeholders, and the PCC community. 


Learn more about the winter and summer inquiry efforts. Consider our insights and recommendations for planning and design. Meet our research team. Check out the resources

      RESEARCH         TEAM

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Student Researcher

Fi Alagoz

My name is Fi Alagoz.  I identify as Black and Russian.  My major is Psychology and my goal is to become a therapist. I wanted to participate in Space Matters to help better educate myself on racial issues so I could then help with educating my fellow peers. 

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Student Researcher

Christina F. Ávila

Christina is currently pursuing a BA in Liberal Studies at Oregon State University. She hopes to pursue a career in urban planning with hopes to transform the field of planning and design by drawing from her queer-Chicana-intersecitonal-feminist perspective and lived experience. After graduating Space Matters in 2o18, Christina was hired at Hacker Architects in Portland, Oregon to serve as a critical race theory advisor and intern. She has co-presented this work at professional conferences and remains passionate about the strategic role of CRT in design and the production of space. Her hobbies include rollerblading, writing creative non-fiction, reading all the books, and hanging out with her two pets. 

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Student Researcher

Malia Forney

I moved to Portland seven months before Space Matters and my perspective on the world has completely changed. Portland has encouraged me to investigate the space around me, notice what is lacking, and to reclaim the space that belongs to me. I am now a sociology student at PCC and I hope to transfer to a historically black college or university after my stent in Portlandia. In my free time, I like to bike and reflect. I reflect through conversations with myself and challenging conversations with friends, family, and new prospects. I’m on a mission to be a happy and healthy black woman and to live my best life every single day!

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Student Researcher

Cory A. Gillette

My name is Cory Gillette, and my identity is subject to context; I primarily navigate the world as a black male. I do not have a declared major yet, but plan on double-majoring in Mathematics and Linguistics. My life-goals orient around my personal development and the alleviation of suffering to my highest capabilities. I joined Space Matters because it presented a fantastic opportunity to learn about working as a team with leaders while contributing to a cutting-edge field of knowledge.

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Student Researcher

Andrés Lemus

Andrés is Salvadorian-American and serves as a student leader in PCC's Rock Creek Multicultural Center. He wanted to participate in Space Matters to learn more about his community and how it has been impacted by racism. He believes an understanding of race and space will help him in his everyday life and help him educate other PCC students of color on campus. 

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Student Researcher

Luis "Luxo" A. López

My name is Luis Lopez, Aka. Luxo.  My major is Architectural Graphic & Design. My goal is to finish my two year associate, then transfer to a 4 year university to obtain my Bachelors and then go to a graduate school if life allows me. As a Latino I believe that spaces we occupy in the education system need to be improved and designers need to realize that we are also humans and that spaces can affect us in many ways. We are part of society, so we need a space were we feel that sense of belonging. I am really happy to have had the opportunity to help achieve this important research that will help for future generations.


Student Researcher

Keyana Lowe

I am an employed parent, student of color, low-income affiliate of the LGBTQ community. As such, I am a representative of these communities, and for those striving to better themselves and enrich their lives. I aspire to be a Physical Therapist and joined the Space Matters research team to build a stronger community between oppressed peoples. I want to help revolutionize how we apply Spatial Theory and Critical Race Theory into building, design and architecture for the inclusion and equity of ALL individuals.


Student Researcher

Derrick James McDonald

Derrick McDonald is a student, researcher, and designer currently working at Hacker Architects and pursuing a B.S. in Architecture at Portland State University. He has co-facilitated a workshop exploring the challenges of engaging CRT in campus planning at the 2020 Society of Campus and University Planners (SCUP) conference, presented work on race and space as a student leader in the Space Matters cohort at the 2019 Critical Race Studies in Education Association (CRSEA) Conference, 2019 SCUP Conference, and 2019 Student Success and Retention Conference. Derrick is driven by a strong commitment to justice and a belief in the possibilities of "a world of many worlds." When not working to understand and unravel the complex nature of white supremacy, he enjoys stories and storytelling, traveling, and riding his 1986 Honda Shadow.

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Student Researcher

Aideé Medel Díaz

Aideé Medel Díaz is Mexican and first generation college student working towards a business management and human resource degree at Portland State University. Her goals are to create a social business of her own alongside helping her family create business ventures of their own. She is passionate about helping her community thrive through volunteering and being civically engaged. She has been part of the Immigrant Solidarity Project and the Cultural Coalition of Washington County.  After participating in Space Matters, Aideé was hired by PCC to develop and coordinate a CRT community engagement project with students of color to support the renovation of a campus library. Aideé enjoys exploring mother nature, being around her loved ones, and escaping through music. 

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Student Researcher

Ngoc Nguyen

Ngoc Nguyen (she/her) attends Reed College, where she majors in International and Comparative Policy Studies. She holds Space Matters very close to her heart, since it provides a powerful tool for her to better understand how racial and spatial injustice play out in a college setting. As a first-generation, low-income student of color who speaks limited English, she realizes educational equity isn't just about getting a degree, but also finding an open, inclusive, and supportive community. Outside of class, you can find her hunting down the best Bun bo Hue in Portland, eating durian crepes, or pretending to exercise. 

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Student Researcher

Brenda Prestegui

My name is Brenda Prestegui. My major is accounting and my goal is to finish college.  My people are funny, Mexicans, Chicanos, Educated, Bilingual, Different Ethnicity and hard workers.  I wanted to participate in the project because I wanted to see it different and wanted to have our voice heard in space matters. I think that being a minority we deserve to have a space were it feels like we belong. 

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Student Researcher

Gerson Rodríguez Razo

My name is Gerson, and I'm a first generation college student. I am pursuing a psychology major and want to apply my academic and life education to better the lives of others. I joined the Space Matters project to learn more about Critical Race Theory, and for the opportunity to work alongside other students of color.

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Project Coordinator 

Amara H. Pérez

I am a long time community organizer, social justice educator, participatory action researcher, and critical strategist. Drawing from critical race spatial theory, I study-to-transform the role of planning, design, and built environments in (re)producing social inequities. Working closely with students of color as co-researchers for over 25 years has resulted in local community and institutional change. Space Matters was part of my dissertation which examined the relationship between race, campus space, and education equity.


Student Researcher

César Santiago Pérez

My name is Cesar Santiago.  I identify as male and Latino.  My major is Graphic Design.  I am he who loves all, when in the mood. I like art/design and I enjoy photography. One of my goals is to be a mentor to students who want to learn about Design/Art. I’m a sucker for sour gummy worms and I like to look at the design and structures of bridges. I am trilingual and currently learning a 4th one. I like Stranger Things and The Walking Dead. Years ago I discovered the meaning of life but I forgot to write it down. I wanted to join Space Matters because not only could I grow my leadership skills but also help others like minorities become aware of CRT and their space around them.

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Student Researcher

Mohamed Sheikh

“You can’t make footprints in the sands of time by sitting in your butt. And who wants to leave butt prints in the sands of time” (Bob Moawad). I am going to leave my footprints and they’re gonna be giant! My identities include Somali, engineer, and Muslim. My major is Mechanical Engineer. My goal is to obtain my masters in mechanical engineering and work with NASA. I am interested in this project because when I moved to Portland last year and started PCC, I struggled connecting with the campus. There was a lot I was unaware of and places that felt unwelcoming to me. I want to make sure that I and the current/future students of PCC never feel this way. 

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Student Researcher

Delia Torres-Enciso

I am a first generation Mexican-American Born and raised in Salem, OR. I enlisted into the Army reserves at the young age of 17, where I served 6 years and left with the rank of Sergeant. I moved to Portland after graduating from The National Personal Training Institute to become a personal trainer. After being a trainer for a year I decide to change my career goals and am now pursing a bachelors degree to become a journalist.


Student Researcher

Erika Villanueva

My name is Erika Villanueva, my people are first generation students, hardworking, and family oriented. I am still undecided on a major but hope to pursue a career where I can help my community. My goal is to be able to help my community in every way possible to make a better place not just for us but also for future generations.  I wanted to participate in Space Matters because I had never thought about space affecting certain outcomes, but the more I thought about it the more I realized it does. I wanted to learn how it affected a place where I spend so much time, like PCC.

Research Team


For questions or more information about the project contact Amara H. Pérez at or Christina Ávila at

Website design by Christina Ávila.

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