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Thread: Being a minority in the planning/LA field a big advantage?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Being a minority in the planning/LA field a big advantage?

    I have been thinking about his for awhile, but does being an ethnic minority (I am hispanic) have an advantage in these two field? I know these fields are actually not that diverse (compared to others). I question this because out of my graduating class at school for Geography, I am the only minority (and my school is very diverse). Everyone else is white. From what I have seen too, the Urban Planning, and L.A. world is not that diverse either (correct me if I am wrong).

    This came up because UPenn's Design school (PennDesign), keeps bugging me with brochures, emails, and they called me once. Funny thing is I have never ever contacted them, or have ever had an interest in their school (For two reasons 1. So darn expensive 2. I doubt I would ever get in, it is ivy leauge). I am curious as to how they found out, and why an ivy leauge school keeps contacting me. Usually the better the school, the less they will have to "put themselves out there".

    So in terms of acceptances of school does me being a minority for grad school in L.A. or Urban Planning have a huge affect? How about for the work world, will I experience the same? Is it a benefit, a disadvantage, or does it really not matter in these fields?

  2. #2
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    I would say the advantage lies in whether you have certain skill sets beneficial for reaching a particular ethnic group. For example, here in Texas someone with bilingual Spanish skills would be very highly valued and often receives a salary increase or gets preference for job selection. It's not your ethnicity that is important; it's your ability to communicate with a certain ethnicity.

    Around here, I would not call planning a "whitey" field. Most of the departments around here are fairly representative of the citizens. For example, our city is about 35% hispanic by Census definition. About 33% of our planners are hispanic. It's not by design--it just kind of happened that way.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    Yeah I am actually trilingual, English, Spanish, Italian

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    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by lucifer View post
    Yeah I am actually trilingual, English, Spanish, Italian
    You're set then. Especially, with the Spanish here in Chicagoland. Though, too bad that Italian isn't Chinese, then you'd be really set.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

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  5. #5
    Cyburbian
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    ^^^I know or Polish! If I knew Polish or Chinese that would be such a great assesst in Chicago.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    You are right that planning is, generally speaking, not a terribly diverse field in terms of ethnicity. I think for this reason, some schools actively seek students from more varied backgrounds as a way to usher in a new era informed by a wider range of perspectives.

    Here in UNM's Planning program, they are very concerned with how one's world perspective (as informed by culture and ethnicity, among other things) impacts the way we interact with the environment (built and natural) as well as each other and, ultimately, the way it informs how community-based planning should be structured. From their website:

    "Community-based planning, first and foremost, is about the making of social movements. It is about a collective commitment to
    social justice. Community is the crucible in which we create social change." - Prof. Claudia Isaac

    One of the most progressive and community-based planning programs in the country, the CRP program educates students to plan and advocate for sustainable communities and ecosystems. We emphasize planning within diverse human communities, and promote participatory processes that respond to community identities and social justice needs.
    Another motivation on the part of schools may be that there is money out there to help them recruit and also to attract financial assistance for their students. Penn, being as expensive as it is, has a hard time finding anyone who can afford tuition and students who have access to assistance may be attractive to them (I went to Penn for undergrad and grad school, but not for planning. I only recently got my planning MCRP here in New Mexico).

    I think one of the unfortunate side-effects of this is that students can sometimes be expected to act as constant representatives and spokespeople for their community and I think that can be an uncomfortable position to constantly be in. Its the old "as a <insert ethnic identity here> how do you feel about such and such?" phenomenon. Just because someone has a particular background does not necessarily mean they want to champion the cause of "their people." Its really ok to just want to be a transportation or natural resource planner. I think this dynamic, though, takes place more in schools that have strong community development components as part of their planning curriculum. And of course, if one DOES want to champion the cause of the under-represented, that is also a good thing (I just find it potentially insulting to people when that is assumed).

    All that being said, I think multi-lingualism is a tremendous asset to have. Spanish, in particular, would be directly applicable in almost any major city in the country. Regardless, I think that knowing more than one language also helps give one a flexible and creative mind because of the ways words and grammar shape perception. If you are multi-lingual AND have good grades, I would say you are in a very good position both to be admitted and perhaps also find scholarships to pay for school.

    I also do think that having more people from a wider diversity of backgrounds does make us a better lot as we do bring our own cultural assumptions and knowledge with us wherever we go. The more reflective the workplace is of society in general, the better we, as planners, can understand the needs of the communities we serve. IMO...

    Good Luck!
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  7. #7
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    On a recent trip to Iowa I happened to catch a commercial on the TV in my hotel....

    A young (white) guy comes in the door.

    His wife (baby in her arms) asks him, with a hint of deperation in her voice, "Honey, did you get the job?"

    He answers dejectedly. "No. They were only hiring foreigners...."

    Yes, that's right. Those foreign workers are all coming over here to take jobs from real Americans and drive down wages.

    It was probably one of the most disgusting things I have seen on TV. That's what you have to deal with in many parts of this country, though. Applying for a job with one of these places would possibly subject you to some discrimination. Working as a consultant in one of these places might also be a challenge. Refreshingly, though, I have found that the educated part of the population, and the management or ownership of the businesses in these areas do not harbor the same prejudice.

    As a consultant I will tell you that our firm, or for that matter, any of our usual competitors, could care less about the ethnicity of people we hire. If having someone who was not caucasian on the team meant that we did not get a particular project, we would not want that client.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  8. #8
    Cyburbia Administrator Dan's avatar
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    I know we've discussed the issue of diversity in the planning profession quite a bit in the past. I found that in school (undergraduate and graduate), planning programs are usually quite diverse. However, there seems to be some self-filtration; whites and Asians heading into current planning, comprehensive planning, transportation planning, environmental planning and urban design, while blacks steer towards housing and community development. In my graduate program, the urban planning and architecture students were almost exclusively white and Asian, while the urban studies students were almost entirely black, Hispanic and mixed race.

    Why was that? A WAG: most people become a planner because they have a vision for improving the built environment, and making their communities better places to live. However, in the eyes of whites in general, that means curbing urban sprawl, reducing traffic congestion, improving aesthetics, creating/preserving a sense of place, farmland and open space preservation, and so on, while for blacks and Hispanics -- at least those with roots in the inner city -- it means lowering poverty, increasing job opportunities, providing safe/affordable housing, and environmental justice.

    The one place where I encountered Hispanic planners in large numbers is New Mexico and Texas. I would imagine that throughout most of the Southwest, there are a higher-than-average number of Hispanic planners outside of the CDC/housing/advocacy roles.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by lucifer View post
    So in terms of acceptances of school does me being a minority for grad school in L.A. or Urban Planning have a huge affect? How about for the work world, will I experience the same? Is it a benefit, a disadvantage, or does it really not matter in these fields?
    Being a latino minority in the field, and working in the predominately hispanic state of California, it has been a big advantage to me to be Latino since i understand and speak Spanish, as well as being looked to at Workshops as the go to person between the immigrant community and explaining how the actions of a plan will effect them. I don't know how many grad schools still use race as a factor in admissions (in califronia, race has been forbidden to be used as a factor in admissions in any public university due to prop 215) but if it is used elsewhere, use it to your advantage. One would like to think that we view each other as persons, rather than looking at the color of your skin, so focus on being a good planner and using your language skills as another tool in your portfolio because ultimately i can care less about what your skin color is in a interview and more about how you can contribute to our planning team at the office.
    Men do dumb $hit... it is what they do to correct the problem that counts.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    IMO, constituents play a major role in the need for diversity, whether they be residents or clients. Most, but not all, of my firm's clients are middle to upper middle class, predominantly white communities or developers that work for them. Diversity is never frowned upon, but it's just not a huge selling point in the firm's line of work. Clients are more concerned with the firm's portfolio, training and certification than race or ethnicity. I can read, write, and speak Spanish (although very slowly) but have yet to use that skill in this office.

  11. #11
    Being Latino, I can tell you most people say they value diversity but do nothing to promote it, and a few people will hate you. Once in a very long while, maybe every 3-5 years, you will catch a break because of it.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Plus Zoning Goddess's avatar
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    Unless you are seeking a position in a little teeny town in podunk, anywhere, usa, please, this would not be an issue. I worked in planning in THE SOUTH for over 20 years and there were never any "minority issues". The most qualified planner gets the job. Period. Women, white, African-American, Hispanic geez one of our divisions hired a guy who spoke French and very little English for crissakes. Especially in a state like Florida, we value diversity. You speak Spanish; great!! Vietnamese? You're our new best friend. But of course you still have to interview well.

    Once you have the job... there's the problem. You can't account for the public. I am under 5 feet tall and let me tell you, I got ignored by so many "bubba's" in meetings I wanted to scream, strangle them, etc. There are people in the south (and presumably in the rest of the country) who just plain refuse to talk to women in a professional capacity).

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Gotta Speakup View post
    most people say they value diversity but do nothing to promote it
    Most folks have no idea how to promote diversity or genuinely value it. Their blindspots are not intentional. And it seems to matter little what their skin color or whatever is: Get enough of any "type" of people together, and a group-think starts forming. Anything outside of that group-think has a hard time being heard at all. If you have some idea of how to effectively combat the group-think, it can be a recipe for pissing off a whole lot of people. If you don't know how to effectively combat it, tossing out your "different" ideas will most likely just fall on deaf ears and if you ask people about it later, they may not even remember that you said X because they had no context for trying to really comprehend it.

  14. #14
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    In response to your query "I am curious as to how they found out, and why an ivy league school keeps contacting me. Usually the better the school, the less they will have to 'put themselves out there'": if you took the GREs, that's how Penn's GSD found you - via the GRE search service, which graduate programs may purchase access to and then run queries based upon desired search criteria.

    That may explain how the Penn GSD found you, and why they are pushing so hard to recruit you.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian
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    I haven't taken the GRE's yet though. I don't plan to go to Grad school until 2009.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    As a consultant I will tell you that our firm, or for that matter, any of our usual competitors, could care less about the ethnicity of people we hire. If having someone who was not caucasian on the team meant that we did not get a particular project, we would not want that client.
    Having worked with Cardinal at that firm I will agree. On the flip side, of 230 employees, we had 1 asian, 1 african american, 1 (known) lesbain, and 1 (known) gay. They did, however, have several prominent white females

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally posted by lucifer View post
    I haven't taken the GRE's yet though. I don't plan to go to Grad school until 2009.
    Are you a Who's Who or some other national honor society? Those are some other ways graduate programs get names for prospective graduate students.

  18. #18
    I think it depends. I got my job in two weeks in this nation wide firm doing landscape architecture work, part of the reason is the firm needs a Chinese to do their China project, period! It is not discrimination, it is just the benefit. If I am a white person, per the human resources word, the normal hiring process is about 3 to 5 months. But someone here is right, after you got hired, everyone is about treated same, your work speaks for you.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian
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    I'm Asian myself and haven't seen any huge advantage from my minority status.
    There is an upside in terms of getting minority scholarships like the HUD one, which will help you out.

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