Racial Justice Commission: Mandating and Creating Greater Inclusivity within SEGD

Read Time: 4 minutes

In response to historical racial injustice and the renewed calls for change across all institutions, eight members of SEGD have formed the organization’s first-ever Racial Justice Commission. Their mission: to advance racial justice within SEGD and the field of Experiential Graphic Design by serving  as an advisory group and providing guidance to committees, chapters, and staff—all in support of more inclusivity and accountability within the organization. 

Contributor Franck Mercurio speaks with SEGD board members and RJC members Aki Carpenter and Davie Siegel to learn more.

On a very basic level, experiential designers connect people to place—and bring different individuals together—by creating experiences that are inherently inclusive. But is it enough to say, as experiential designers, “We’re inclusive and serve a diverse clientele”? More accountability is needed within SEGD and across the industry to ensure these objectives.

To help guarantee that SEGD is living up to its ideals, the SEGD Board created the organization’s first-ever Racial Justice Commission (RJC). Its stated purpose: to mandate inclusivity, to make commitments to action, and to be more accountable to ourselves. As such, the RJC serves as an advisory group, providing guidance to SEGD committees, chapters, and staff.

SEGD Board Members David Siegel (Designtex, New York), Kathy Fry (Mayer/Reed, Portland, OR) and Christina Lyons (FIT/SUNY, New York) formed a task force in the summer of 2020 which ultimately led to the creation of the RJC in September 2020.

“After the events of summer 2020—George Floyd’s murder and other events—the Board came together and said ‘What are we gonna do?’” says David in a recent interview. “Basically, as a response to these events, the organization needed to put together a commission to guide and create a truly integrated holistic change to the organization.”

The RJC began as a three-member task force, created by the SEGD Board in September 2020. Initially called the “Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Task Force,” or “DEI Task Force,” this group served as a starting point. Then, this past January (2021), leadership was handed to new SEGD Board Member Aki Carpenter (Ralph Appelbaum Associates, New York).

One of Aki’s first tasks: designate a new title for the committee to truly reflect its mission and importance within the organization.

“One of the first things I did when I took over as chair in January 2021 was to rename (the task force) the Racial Justice Commission, because specificity really matters and we need to be mindful of the words we choose to use,” says Aki. “I wanted to make sure that the Commission reflected the reason for the Commission. It was critical to me that we use the term ‘racial justice’ in the group’s name to truly reflect the mission.”

Secondly, Aki expanded the membership of the RJC beyond the SEGD Board.

“I think the conversation about who’s at the table doing this social justice work around racial inequity is a difficult subject,” says Aki. “And so, it’s important to think about the balance of voices at the table.”

The eight RJC members—three Board members and five individual members—represent a cross-section of SEGD. Some come from more corporate backgrounds, others from more educational backgrounds. Some are newer members, while others have been with SEGD for many years. The RJC members include:

  • Aki Carpenter, Chair (Principal + Director of Social Projects, RAA)
  • Alesia Hendley (Multimedia Journalist)
  • Darlene Van Uden (Design Director, Infinite Scale)
  • David Siegel (Director of Sales, Designtex)
  • Dayton Schroeter (Design Principal, SmithGroup)
  • Shayla Hufana (Senior Designer + Art Director, Boeing)
  • Waqas Jawaid (Partner, Isometric Studio)
  • Zach Kotel (Designer, DLR Group)

These eight members are now charged with tackling 10 different action items as laid out in the RJC’s “Goals + Strategies” document. The action items cover a variety of topics, including how to educate SEGD members about implicit bias and racist policies and to how to increase diversity and BIPOC participation within SEGD.

“Again, specificity matters, and we have metrics and actions tied to these goals,” says Carpenter. “I don’t want this to be a performative plan for SEGD, and so (specificity and metrics) are really a huge driver of how we think about these top ten (goals).”

For the full list of RJC’s Goals + Strategies, click here.

In addition to the Goals + Strategies document, the RJC is also reaching out to SEGD’s different chapters to let the greater membership know more about the initiative, with Aki herself presenting to the chapter chairs.

“We’re trying to find ways to make the Commission a representative group,” says David about involving more members within SEGD’s chapters. “So that’s where this grassroots effort to reach out at the chapter level comes in; getting people involved with supporting what we’ve identified as objectives will be critical to get the work done.”

So, what’s next for the RJC?

“In terms of next steps, the (SEGD) Board has approved an anti-racism training schedule and budget and selected a black-owned, women-owned consulting agency,” says Aki. “We are currently in conversations around the phases, scheduling, and how the anti-racism and anti-bias training will work across leadership. The RJC is also focused on the rest of the goals and the action plan for 2021-2022 — we have created sub-groups to perform research and begin sketching out implementation plans for each goal”

Bottom line: the members of the RJC are working to make SEGD much more accountable to its objective of being a truly diverse and inclusive organization. Want to learn more? Reach out to nadia@segd.org to learn how you can participate.