ABOUT THE PROJECT
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 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.