Indigenous Women Are Creating New Conversations at Yale Architecture School

Charelle Brown, Anjelica Gallegos, and Summer Sutton on the Yale campus.
Photo: Michael A. Hernandez

Published July 25, 2019

Current students are reframing architecture’s mission and launching a thoughtful exhibition on Native Americans’ influence

Editor’s Note; This article was first published by ADPRO. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Rising Yale senior Charelle Brown grew up in public housing on the Kewa Pueblo near Santa Fe, New Mexico. She lived with her mom and grandparents in a standard-issue, single-family HUD house with cinder block walls and small, boxy rooms. Brown could also walk to another dwelling in the pueblo—an adobe “village home” with curves and an open floor plan—that her family had built, rebuilt, and shared over many generations. “I always watched my aunties replaster the house in the village,” Brown says. “It was so intimate—a space where I could connect with all the women before me just by touching the walls.” By age 16, Brown was already reflecting on the difference between the two homes, and how design has the power to support or hinder traditions like family meals or art making. After excelling at a drafting class in high school, she set her sights on one of the top architecture schools in the world. “I was obsessed. I changed my phone wallpaper to the Yale bell tower. I was doing anything I could to get into spaces people like me haven’t been in,” Brown says.

To her amazement, when she got to Yale, Brown wasn’t the only indigenous woman in the architecture program. Anjelica Gallegos, a Jicarilla Apache woman from Santa Ana Pueblo, was pursuing a graduate degree, and Summer Sutton, a PhD candidate from the Lumbee Tribe who had taught at the Rhode Island School of Design, was there researching the ways Native practices could deepen architectural education.

This is a unique moment in Yale’s history—three Native American women in three different architectural degree programs at the same time. Brown, Gallegos, and Sutton all feel a responsibility to support each other and to create as large an impact as they can. In 2018, they founded a group called Indigenous Scholars of Architecture, Planning and Design (ISAPD) and started a Facebook page to build a community that would reach beyond the campus and address how dramatically underrepresented Native people have been in the industry as a whole. (It wasn’t until 1994 that Tamara Eagle Bull became the first Native American woman to be licensed as an architect in the United States.) “We’ve been planting seeds throughout our time here to create a more inclusive atmosphere for the indigenous perspective to be taken seriously and even made part of the curriculum,” says Gallegos.

ISAPD’s forthcoming exhibit features installations crafted from natural materials like leather, horsehair, and pine needles.
Photo: Summer Sutton

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