The University of Virginia’s School of Architecture launched a search for an associate dean for justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (AD JEDI) in September 2021. A newly created role, the AD JEDI is a key member of Dean Malo A. Hutson’s executive team and provides strategic leadership to frame and guide tangible systems change within the school, while participating in broader efforts of institutional transformation across the university. Today the School of Architecture announces the appointment of C.L. Bohannon, PhD, ALSA, as its first Associate Dean for Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion, effective July 25, 2022. He joins the faculty as Associate Professor in the Landscape Architecture Department.
“C.L.’s experience working collaboratively with communities to envision transformative futures, together with his extraordinary empathy, curiosity, and intelligence, make him ideally positioned to guide and inspire us in the next steps of our shared work to build and sustain a culture of justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion,” said Sheila Crane, Associate Professor of Architectural History, co-chair of the school’s Inclusion and Equity Committee, and co-chair of the AD JEDI search committee.
Bohannon is currently an Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture and Interim Director in the School of Architecture + Design, housed in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies, at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. He is also Director of the Community Engagement Lab and a faculty principal since 2018 at the Leadership and Social Change Residential College at Virginia Tech, living and working alongside students. Bohannon is a nationally recognized scholar and educator in the areas of community-engaged design and pedagogy, social and environmental justice, and African American landscapes, especially in the American South.
“It is clear that there is a deep institutional commitment to diversity and equity as a principle of leadership and excellence at UVA. The University, and the A-School, is actively engaged in the often-painful work of self-reflection that is required to cultivate intentional and purposeful growth through education and engagement,” said Bohannon. “I am enthusiastic to collaborate with faculty, students, staff, and communities across the Commonwealth as we contend with long-standing socio-environmental inequalities. I believe that as creative practitioners, we have the necessary critical and creative tools to redress harms that have come from design and planning and that we can work with congruent integrity and practice. Together we will build upon the beauty and possibilities of diversity to cultivate just, equitable, and inclusive futures.”
Bohannon’s research and pedagogy are closely connected and examine the asymmetrical power relationships and systems that produce social and environmental inequities in marginalized communities, or he describes it, “the uneven geographies” that result in, among others, health disparities, gentrification, forced migration and displacement. During his 18 years of teaching experience which includes appointments at Florida A&M University and Virginia Tech, he has introduced design students to these inequities and developed a pedagogy and praxis for redress through the interdisciplinary study of community. This approach, defined as “R3” — “Real People, Real Problems, Real Projects,” incorporates deep learning through, in part, methods of community mapping and storytelling that build leadership skills for effective service and citizenship.
As Founder and Director of the Community Engagement Lab, which he will continue to lead and grow at the University of Virginia’s School of Architecture, Bohannon brings with him his longstanding placed-based experience working with communities throughout the Southwest Virginia region of Appalachia, focused on food insecurity, community histories and narratives, and urban vacancy. As part of this work, he has crafted a model for “community engagement as a leaderful practice” that is guided by a democratic and inclusive approach to design and leadership practice driven by many people enacting change together and including the intentional acknowledgement of all who contribute to improving communities.
“We are thrilled to have C.L. join the school’s leadership team in this critically important new role,” said Barbara Brown Wilson, Associate Professor of Urban and Environmental Planning, Faculty Director of the university’s Equity Center, and co-chair of the search committee. “His presence as a scholar, educator, community-engaged designer, and change-maker will positively impact every facet of the school.”
Through many leadership roles, Bohannon has actively worked to deepen diversity and increase the visibility of landscape architecture and the built environment professions among minority populations. He described, “I feel strongly that designers of color should be intimately involved in creating vibrant spaces for living, thriving, and flourishing.” Bohannon is co-chair of the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Track and is a faculty advisor and mentor for the Deans’ Equity and Inclusion Initiative, founded to nurture a diverse population of emerging scholars contributing to the pursuit of equity and inclusion in the built environment. He has been invited to speak regularly across the nation on community engagement and social change, activism and landscape, and JEDI in the design professions.
Chair of the Landscape Architecture Department Bradley Cantrell shared, “C.L.’s development of relationships with communities and networks across Virginia is vital as we incorporate his experience in community-engaged design within our foundation curriculum in landscape architecture. He will be an important part of the leadership in the department, and I look forward to his thoughtful and intellectual approach to reshaping the future of landscape architectural education.”
In recognition of his teaching and research excellence he has been the recipient of numerous honors including a national “Excellence in Service Learning” award by the Council of Educators in Landscape Architecture, and an “Excellence in Outreach” award and a “Courageous Leadership Favorite Faculty Award” by Virginia Tech. He was named a faculty fellow by the Global Forum for Urban and Regional Resilience.
Bohannon received a Bachelor of Landscape Architecture in 2002 from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. In 2004 he received a Master of Landscape Architecture, followed by a PhD in Architecture and Design Research in 2014, both from Virginia Tech. He is currently co-PI on the “Historic Context Study of African American Outdoor Recreation” project funded by the Organization of American Historians and the National Park Service, and is co-editing the forthcoming anthology entitled African American Landscapes Since Jim Crow: Narrative, Place and Memory.
“C.L brings a depth and breadth of experience and scholarly accomplishment that is truly exceptional. He has demonstrated how justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion can be modeled in our teaching, our research, and our practices — through actions. He lives these values and has both visionary capacity and deep understanding to help guide us in this important leadership role,” said Malo A. Hutson, Dean of the UVA School of Architecture. “I’m grateful to our search co-chairs Sheila Crane and Barbara Brown Wilson, and the entire search committee, for their extraordinary efforts in working to bring him here. It is an honor to welcome C.L. to the University of Virginia community, and I look forward to working with him, alongside our faculty, staff, students, and alumni, to enact positive, transformative change towards our mission of equity and justice across all our endeavors, as a school, in our disciplines, and in our work with communities within and beyond the university.”