Year-in-Review: 2020 Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion Town Halls

POSTED ON: January 13, 2021

The Cooper Union has been actively engaged in understanding and addressing diversity and inclusion for a number of years. In 2017, the Faculty-Student Senate produced a report, Some Aspects of Diversity at The Cooper Union, that provided an initial assessment revealing an adverse climate for women studying at the Cooper Union and suggesting a warrant for fundamental cultural change to proactively support women in all three schools. This report further recommended that a Diversity and Inclusion Task Force be convened to continue the original work. 

The Diversity and Inclusion Task Force broadened the scope beyond women, recognizing true diversity goes beyond the school’s compositional metrics to include shaping educational practices, culture, and a community that embraces the viewpoints, experiences, and perspectives of all of Cooper Union’s constituents. The Diversity and Inclusion Task Force delivered its final report, Summary of Findings and Recommendations, in December 2018. Also, in December of 2018, the Cooper Union Board of Trustees approved a series of Institutional Goals and Strategic Priorities which included “Increase compositional diversity and diversity of thought, background, and experiences.” In May of 2019, after a deliberative strategic planning process, the full-time faculty of the Albert Nerken School of Engineering unanimously approved the 2025 Strategic Plan, Sustaining a Legacy of Innovation, which included Diversity and Inclusion as both a Core Value and a Strategic Priority. In the Fall of 2020, faculty, students and staff met monthly to discuss Walter Isaacson’s Leonardo Da Vinci as part of the inaugural Dean’s Book Club. In this activity, the importance of diversity was viewed through the lens of innovation.

At the beginning of the Coronavirus outbreak and following the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmed Aubrey and Breonna Taylor protests erupted across the U.S. and spread around the world. Over the summer of 2020, the Albert Nerken School of Engineering responded by initiating a series of bi-weekly Improving Racial Equity Summer Series Town Halls and that subsequently transitioned to monthly Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Town Halls during the academic year. What follows is a description of these town halls.


First Improving Racial Equity Town Hall.

An open forum providing the opportunity for attendees to discuss their experiences and perspectives on the subject.


Summer Series Town Hall: Improving Racial Equity: Addressing Discriminatory Behavior.

This town hall focused primarily on discriminatory behavior in the classroom. Discussions focused on conflict resolution and how to address faculty, staff, and student discriminatory behavior.


Summer Series Town Hall: Improving Racial Equity: Addressing Discriminatory Behavior.

This town hall again focused on discriminatory behavior - specifically microaggressions, conflict resolution and the potential role of an ombudsperson. Several short readings were provided to help focus the discussion including background on microaggressions - all set-in academic environments and covering both faculty and student perspectives:


Summer Series Town Hall: Improving Racial Equity – Led by the Engineering Student Council (ESC) Administrative Chairs (Ad Chairs).

Today, we will present a few topics that we would like to discuss along with sharing resources where we can all become more aware of the problem at hand. While these Town Halls may seem as though they are focused on racism as it pertains to our institution, these are discussions that should ideally be reflected on and applied through every step of our lives. That being said, the first topic we will consider are our Core Values. What are our core values at the Cooper Union? What attitudes do we think are fundamental as Cooper students, faculty or personnel? Next topic, the Culture. Can it change… or will it change now that we are online? Will being online give us an opportunity to start over? This leads us into the next topic of Momentum vs. Inertia. The system we currently have has been around for a while, which makes change less desirable to the people who have been a part of it for longer. However, there are a number of dedicated people who would like to see change and do not mind the adversity. How would we make updates to an ongoing system while racking up support from more individuals and avoiding backlash? The final topic is Personal Reflection and Education. There are many resources available which explain racial inequality, white privilege, assumptions and where these stem from. Reading these gives us a lot of perspective. When we apply these to ourselves and to our life experiences, it can lead to a reflection and powerful understanding of the racial disparity that we are all currently living in.

(  and There are also questionnaires such as “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” (Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack) that help raise more awareness in terms for yourself. There are not only resources on a personal level, but there are also articles showing reflection on an institution wide basis (


Summer Series Town Hall: Improving Racial Equity – Led by the Engineering Student Council (ESC) Administrative Chairs (Ad Chairs).

This town hall focused again on the readings from the last session and we used break-out rooms for some targeted and personal discussion towards the reading. Following the break-out sessions, the attendees returned to the main room to work on tangible steps forward. The questions posed at the beginning of the session for discussion in the break-out rooms were:

  • Having gone through the Privilege Points questionnaire, how do you feel that privilege potentially affects classroom dynamics?
  • Reading through the University of Maryland resources, what type of language or lessons should you teach to broach difficult and uncomfortable topics within our respective fields or propagated by our respective fields?
  • Reading through the NCR article on white privilege, how does incomplete or non-contextual education foster complacency?
  • All of the articles/resource lists run through lists on how privilege can be different for various people, how it intersects, and how it has been perpetuated. What are some quick ways you found in the articles that you will use to dispel or at least confront privilege in your classrooms and departments?

( and are also questionnaires such as “Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” (Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack) that help raise more awareness in terms for yourself. There are not only resources on a personal level, but there are also articles showing reflection on an institution wide basis (


SOE Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Town Hall – Led by the Engineering Student Council (ESC) Administrative Chairs (Ad Chairs).

The topic for this town hall was diversity and its effect on innovation. As engineers, innovation is at the root of our profession. Along with this, the function of teams is also a fundamental aspect of this career path. Keeping this in mind, we will continue our first discussion point regarding Cooper’s education. Our school strives to output innovative engineers into the world, but this all starts with their education. A diverse team means diverse perspectives and approaches to a problem. At Cooper, we are lucky to have some degree of a diverse student body, but sometimes full advantage of this is not taken. How can we foster a community that encourages people with diverse backgrounds to speak out?

To inform this discussion, we have selected a Ted Talk by Rocio Lorenzo entitled: “How Diversity Makes Teams More Innovative." It is linked here:


SOE Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Town Hall – led by Adriana Farmiga, Associate Dean of the School of Art.

Words and their definitions are important; their shared understanding allow for a better dialogue. After the calls for racial and social awakening in the late spring of this past year, members of the president’s cabinet embarked on a project to outline a course of learning and action around issues of intersectional justice. Associate Deans Nada Ayad and Adriana Farmiga compiled a working glossary, to help better educate ourselves and our colleagues around this discourse. Associate Dean Farmiga provided an overview of the project and facilitated conversations in a collaborative and engaged way with members of our community, to deepen our comprehension of the glossary of terms and their intentionality.


SOE Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Town Hall – Guest speaker: Lynn Conway, “The Disappeared: Beyond Winning and Losing”

Abstract: When “others” (such as women and people of color) make innovative contributions in scientific and technical fields, they often “disappear” from later history and their contributions are ascribed elsewhere. This is seldom deliberate—rather, it’s a result of the accumulation of advantage by those who are expected to innovate. This lecture chronicles an example of such a disappearance and introduces the Conway Effect to elucidate the disappearance process.

Lynn Conway is an internationally recognized advocate for transgender rights who led a revolution in microchip design. Her contributions led to the development of a unified structural methodology that demystified the silicon chip design process and triggered the very-large scale integration (VLSI) revolution in Silicon Valley in the later 1970s – advances that are credited with making cell phones and laptops possible. But, as she described, credit for these contributions waned over the years before completely disappearing by 2009.

Lynn offered several articles as suggested readings:

  • Founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859, The Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art offers education in art, architecture and engineering, as well as courses in the humanities and social sciences.

  • “My feelings, my desires, my hopes, embrace humanity throughout the world,” Peter Cooper proclaimed in a speech in 1853. He looked forward to a time when, “knowledge shall cover the earth as waters cover the great deep.”

  • From its beginnings, Cooper Union was a unique institution, dedicated to founder Peter Cooper's proposition that education is the key not only to personal prosperity but to civic virtue and harmony.

  • Peter Cooper wanted his graduates to acquire the technical mastery and entrepreneurial skills, enrich their intellects and spark their creativity, and develop a sense of social justice that would translate into action.