News + Ideas

MGAC Inner Voices: Episode 25


MGAC Inner Voices is an interview format podcast where a diverse mix of employees are interviewed to share their perspective on challenges they have faced in the A/E/C industry as a result of their identity—including race, ethnicity, religion, age, gender, sexuality, ability, etc. By discussing the experiences of our staff, our hope is that their stories will have newfound and powerful resonance with the audience—both to comfort others in similar situations and to encourage those in positions of power to bring about positive, actionable changes to workplace environments for all A/E/C professionals, regardless of their identity.

Bryan Gamez (MGAC Project Manager, Los Angeles) talks with co-founders and Principals at Chromatic in Los Angeles—Lauren Dandridge, LC, IES and Nick Albert, MIES—about incorporating DEI principles from the ground up when building their business, the important but undervalued impact of lighting on communities, and channeling their expertise in lighting design to foster social change.


Bryan: Hi everyone, and welcome to "MGAC Inner Voices," a podcast digging into issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion, in the architecture, engineering, and construction industry. As always, I just wanna preface this podcast by letting everyone know that we're not experts in all things diversity, equity, and inclusion. We're just here to share our experiences, and how together we can create better outcomes for all of us in the AEC industry and beyond. I'm your host, Bryan Gamez, a project manager at MGAC, living in Los Angeles. And today I just have such a privilege of interviewing and talking to my previous professor at USC School of Architecture. She's an associate professor, Lauren Dandridge. I studied lighting with her, and it was just an amazing experience. And we also have her business partner, Nick Albert, who's also adjunct faculty at Otis College. The founders of Chromatic, this lighting design firm, based in Los Angeles. So, with that, before I get all sappy on you, I'd like to have Lauren and Nick introduce themselves.

Lauren: Oh, sure. A side note, I am trying so hard not to cry at how proud I am of you in this exact moment. My name is Lauren...

Bryan: Thank you.

Lauren: ...Dandridge. You're welcome. I am a lifelong lighting designer and lighting enthusiast. I went to school for theatrical lighting and made a pivot to architectural lighting a certain number of years ago, that doesn't need to be quantified. And in the last few years, really stretched myself outside of the box and my previous limits, and started Chromatic with Nick.

Nick: I'm Nick Albert. I've been in lighting design for a number of years as well. I have a background in architecture and interior design, and have had a few roles in the lighting design industry at the head of a couple of firms. And for two years now, almost three, Lauren and I have been on this adventure that is Chromatic lighting design.

Bryan: That's amazing. For everyone who's listening, it's been, you know, quite a few years since I've been an undergrad at USC Architecture, but I wouldn't be here today if I hadn't taken her classes and understood lighting the way that she had taught it. And so, I urge and encourage any students that are studying architecture now to take a lighting design class, because it does inform your environment and your space. And Nick, I am so happy to have you here as well. I wanna begin the conversation with how you guys founded Chromatic. You know, what led you to create this venture, and talk about what the core mission of Chromatic is.

Lauren: Okay. So, the question you just asked was about Chromatic, but I can't, like, start there because, as a professor, having a student come back, reach out to you, and talk about the importance you've played in their life, or even in a moment, it's just the ultimate validation. And I'm having a hard time keeping it together, because this week, Chromatic was able to bring on one of my other former students. And so, now I have multiple, you know, actually very early in my teaching career, students coming back into my life. It's such a joy and a pleasure. That's why I have all the feels. And especially my kids of color coming back and saying that that's important that they saw me, that they knew they had someone there, even if we didn't talk about it at the time.

Bryan: As a student at USC, it was a diverse campus, and we had a diverse group of students, but Lauren being also a minority, and she had these just beautiful dreads, and she wore them in class. And I just thought, "I'm so excited to be part of a culture that's inclusive here at USC." And I started to see that the architecture industry was not just going to be a homogeneous pool of men, right? White men. And so, this really instilled in me this feeling that I'm gonna be okay, and have resources that are gonna help you.

Lauren: Thank you. There's not a version of thank you that's strong enough for that. So, Chromatic is, at this point, a love letter from me, this is how I view it, to the lighting industry, in creating a lighting design firm that I would've wanted to work at. Having the kind of people in charge that made me feel seen and validated, and just taking it one step further. So, in the summer of 2020, when things were getting a little dicey, we were in the middle of a pandemic, social uprising was happening regarding the murder of several Black individuals in the U.S. by police. And it just felt like lighting design and being at home in my house and donating money here and there, and all of the things that had been pertinent and important were just not enough. Luckily, Nick reached out, and we started having conversations about what that meant for us as individuals.

And at the time, I'd been super salty. I was like, "Lighting is stupid. It's not gonna help save Black people from getting shot. Like, I'm not a politician, I'm not a city official, I'm not a police officer. There's nothing I can do that will directly affect any of the things that are going on." And for me, it was super personal. I have two young Black men that I'm raising, and every day just felt like, "How do I prepare these guys for this kind of life and this kind of scrutiny and this kind of individual attention? And what can I do? Like, what can I really do?" Because donating $5 and $10 or even $100, even $1,000 doesn't seem impactful enough.

I remember Nick calling and us sort of just talking about how we have to use the tools that we were given and the tools that are at our disposal. And the strongest tool in our arsenal is our humanity. And after that, it's our position in an industry that may not directly affect someone's hand on a gun or on a weapon, but can help facilitate an environment that can make better choices, or maybe impact safety, or maybe impact someone's sense of security, or maybe impact someone's ability to see or feel comfortable. And instead of pushing it away as something that feels silly or not important, we leaned in and had a series of very long conversations about what equity in lighting design could actually lead to when looking at neighborhoods and cities and all different kinds of built environment spaces.

Nick: Yeah, I think, building on that, there was just a certain feeling of futility in that time. And I think that lighting design can be frustrating in any context. You know, it's difficult to explain, and it's difficult to execute sometimes, and it sometimes gets short shrift in the larger conversation of building a building. But add to that all of the sort of other emotional and really challenging things that we're thinking about, and at some point, it seems useless, or worthless in the larger context. When we did come together, and I have to say that all of the sort of maturation of ideas, and all of the ground that was fertile enough for these ideas to grow, came from Lauren's friendship, and came from her willingness to share and her ability to make me comfortable to share of myself as well.

And that coming together really became the soil that these ideas grew in. But there was this sort of core kernel of an idea, something that goes back to, you know, what my father and grandfather taught me, is that you take care of your corner of the shop first, right? When anything's too big or too complicated, you do what you can, where you have influence. And through all of this "How can we make a difference, and how can we do anything that matters" conversation, we kept coming back to this idea that we have a corner of the shop. Our corner of the world is lighting design. We're both experienced. We're both connected. We both have influence. We're both very good at it. It is a place where we have authority and ability, and that's where we should start. And that was really the idea of Chromatic, and that's really how it started. Lighting is a very human business. It's about the people in the space, rather than the space itself. And we saw that as an opportunity to bring some humanity into the way that it's done as well.

Bryan: I think that you guys are really hitting the nail on the head of how important the power of design is in all of our lived spaces. You know, is there any specific projects that have left a lasting impact on you? Your core mission is to bring humanity back to, or am I saying that right, to lighting design?

Lauren: The official line is "Giving light to the human experience." But regardless of the exact words, the important part is essentially acknowledgment. So, we're shining a light on a different perspective of the built environment, and making lighting inclusive in that conversation. Because right now, I think you can have a lot of conversations about sustainability. You can have a lot of conversations about... Even, like, trees have made it up into the conversation, right? Like, you go into neighborhoods, there's no trees in these conversations. It's still pretty rare for us to hear anyone talking about the different qualities of light in neighborhood. And I would say most people, to the antithesis of what you said, are not thinking about lighting. It's taken for granted, because it's just there.

We walk outside, the sun is amazing, and it's available. Of course, unless you live on the far ends of the planet, right? Like, it's just always there. And we expect lights to turn on when we walk into a space. We expect to be able to see. We expect to be able to read at night. Light is on our phone, we can turn on a flashlight. So, I think lighting, the conversation is about equity, and the built environment gets broken up into two things. And usually, when there's an issue, it's indicative of a budgetary and lack of education or insight on lighting quality, or it's a symptom of a larger infrastructural problem. So, lighting doesn't get applied into places where there's electrical or infrastructural delay or neglect. That's how we're choosing to address things.

Nick: You know, I think that there is real power in the things which are simple and ubiquitous, right? And lighting is one of those things. When we think about the built environment, be it our homes, our businesses, our streets, lighting is always present. It is always there, to connect people to their environment, in a very direct way. We can't even perceive of the environment without the light. And it's everywhere. So, in that, there's this real sort of power to understand the larger context of what's going on. Light is a way of showing, very real way of showing value, and where there is or isn't value, built into the systems that we're experiencing.

Bryan: I wanna ask a question, because I think a lot of people who may listen to this podcast might have taken lighting for granted in where they grew up, right? What have you seen, or have there been areas of the country or areas of cities that you see that inequity in lighting, in terms of infrastructure? And talk about how potentially that impacts lives. Say, a kid that's growing up in Compton or South Gate, which is heavily Latino, of how that quality of life is different from a kid growing up in the Pacific Palisades. Same city, I don't know, 20 miles apart, but just such different qualities of life.

Nick: It's a really interesting question, and I think that it's complicated because lighting is never the sole source of inequity. Lighting is most often the thing on top, but that's also why it's valuable to help understand these larger inequities. And it's also never applied, absent a lot of other decisions that affect that society. So, I think that infrastructure in general has a long history of being applied unfairly and inequitably. Communities of color, disadvantaged communities, poor communities have always borne the burden of that, and are made to, through thousands of decisions over hundreds of years, have a lesser total quality of life in their built environment, versus folks who are privileged and folks who are of means. And that can be along racial lines, socioeconomic lines, and lighting is always a part of that, right?

So, you can imagine that there is a cost to either living in a neighborhood where your buildings are so close to the street, and the street lights are so tall, and they're so bright, because it's a busy street, that that light is shining in your bedroom window for your entire life, and you never have full sleep cycles, you never have full, restorative sleep. You could imagine that being a challenge. You could imagine growing up in a place where you've never had the chance to see the stars, and not having the ability to dream about what it might be to visit those stars, or to study those stars, or to think about things at a bigger scale than yourself. You know, the flip side, you could live in a place that doesn't feel safe, and you could feel that the lighting is a part of that.

But in each of those conditions, the lighting is really a symptom of a lot of other things. So, I think that lighting gets tied into these discussions. I think safety is probably the most prevalent one. There's this idea that more light is always more safety, but that doesn't always follow through. There's a long history of using light as a method of surveillance or of policing. You know, it goes back to lantern laws, where Black folks were made to carry lanterns at night by law, not for their own safety, but so that other people felt safe. So, that's using light as a weapon, right? Against a Black body. That's using light in the idea of safety, in a way that doesn't connect to the person the light affects. And you'll hear it pretty commonly now, too. I mean, people say, "Our neighborhood needs to be safer. We need more lights." That's very rarely the only answer. And in fact, more lights can have a health cost, they can have an environmental cost, they can have all of these other costs. But it's one of those really challenging issues where systemic racism, systemic inequity, across hundreds of years, that's just built into the fabric of our society, confuses these ideas, and confuses these topics, and mixes things up so that even to folks for whom more light would cost them something, they believe somehow that more light is the answer.

And so, I think that when we start to pull these things apart, we have to think more holistically, and we have to look at all of the different ways that light does intersect life, and all of the ways that it intersects the built environment, and how those things can be made better.

Lauren: Before we move on from that, I wanted to give two very specific examples of what you're talking about. So, one of them takes place in the Rio Grande Valley, in Southern Texas. There's a large Latino, mostly Mexican community there that has been protesting and looking for, essentially, street lighting for their neighborhood. And they don't have any political voice in the system because they are not a jurisdiction that belongs in the government. They're not a constituency that has representation in the local government. As such, the government more or less does not recognize any sort of large utility needs for them. Now, I believe they do have running water and electricity, etc., but, from a municipal standpoint, there's no street lighting there. So, they're essentially asking to literally be seen, and have light installed in their neighborhoods. So, that's an example of how that's not actually a lighting issue. That's a policy and recognition issue, that light is being used as, you know, part of the neglect of this community.

The second example, which is equally egregious, but in a completely different way, it's too much light, is the Bill de Blasio policy of omnipresence in New York, which started in 2016, and then really went into effect in 2021, outside of several, I think it was anywhere between 12 and 16, I can't remember the exact number, housing communities. When I was growing up, you called them projects. There were high-density housing. There were these very large, diesel-run floodlights placed outside of these communities, to the point where it is so bright outside of these places, it looks like the sun. Like, it looks like, if you took a photo, it could be daytime.

The sort of more insidious part of it isn't that they've flood-lit these people into not having a nighttime environment. It's also not that they've given them noise pollution by having a diesel-run generator outside of their bedrooms all night. And it's not that they have no filter blocking that light from coming into their bedrooms and things. It's that these humans don't feel like they have a choice, and will just accept it as part of their environment, because it just is. The worst part about that is because anytime you introduce something new that makes people feel conspicuous, and this is my opinion, is that it will alter human behavior. So, there is a drop in very specific index crimes that they are correlating to the presence of these huge lights, that's now being touted as a success, so they're looking at ways that they can replicate this across cities, because it's very inexpensive, it doesn't cost any human power, right? Like, human bodies don't have to be there, etc. And that's a financial win for the city to mitigate certain behaviors and decrease very specific crimes.

But again, there is no information on the cost of this. There is no information, physical, and human, and quality-of-life life costs. We know how much the diesel generator costs. We know how much the lights cost. And they run from sundown to sunup. So, there's no relief for the residents there. So, those are two very, very specific examples of how decisions that are not about light or quality of light are using light to affect, you know, humans and behavior, or, actually, the absence of light, and then too much light.

Bryan: And I'm happy that you're sharing that, because I don't think that a lot of listeners think about the impact of these policies. I'm just shocked here thinking that this is 2021.

Lauren: Yeah. It was an article in the New Yorker, that was published in 2021. And then one of the former residents actually made, like, a little five or six-minute documentary about it. And she interviews some people that live there, and she said they feel like they live on the moon, because the color temperature is really, really cool. It's so incredibly intense and bright. Like, when you look at the photos of it, the streetlight looks so dark in comparison to the brightness of the floodlights, that every lighting person who sees it is just horrified, because it is the antithesis of everything we've worked towards.

Bryan: Do you know if there were any design professionals that were involved or, you know, informed this design decision? I think this sounds like there's a lack of a design team.

Nick: I think that's really important, because these are the kind of things that happen absent design. And I think one of the things that I really wanna put a point on, and I think this goes back to the "how do we help?" bigger question, design, as a process, design as a way of thinking, is particularly well-suited at using some amount of expertise to explain context and consequence. And this was a decision that was a policing decision, the one that we're talking about, the omnipresence. This was a policy and policing decision that was made absent any sort of design review, or design discussion. Because who thinks about lighting, and who makes those correlations? And that's where I think the design community can be particularly effective in helping move the needle on all of these issues of inclusivity and equity, in all of our spaces, because we have those expertise and we have that ability to interrogate the process, we have that ability to sort of name the consequence or the context that allow negative impacts to happen, right?

And I think that, you know, to the extent that somebody just said, "Of course having more lights will reduce crime. Easy." And it's easy to make that, right, more light, less crime. That sounds very logical. And in fact, may also be true, in a context. It may also be true, right? But who's to say that you couldn't have taken the same number of lumens, the same amount of light, measured light, and installed instead beautiful, pedestrian-scale fixtures that made people feel better about the space, made the space feel like a better space, or a more inclusive space. And now you have more people congregating, and now you have more people outdoors at night, also possibly seeing a decrease in crime. Increasing the value, saying, "This place is important to us as a society," could have had the same effect, and that would've been a design decision.

So, I think that that's where it's really important to think about these things related to all of the context and all of the decisions. One of the questions you asked was, what do our clients think about this? I think that's what's really interesting, is that we have the ability to explain context and consequence that nobody has thought about, right? That in most cases, people are like, "All right, I didn't even think about that aspect of this," right? It could be silly things. Like, in lighting design, it's always, like, "I didn't think about if I put that dark counter in the kitchen, that it was gonna reflect back up the lights, right?" There's always those simple understanding of what we're doing, and explaining its relevance and its consequence, and how we together can get around it.

That's one of the things that's been really rewarding, I think, about trying to keep our mission at the core of what we're doing. And it's very analogous to how you practice lighting design anyway. And we're just adding this other level in, right? We're adding this humanity layer onto what we're talking about, and this equity thinking into everything that we can do and every place that we put lights. And that, I think, is really exciting for people, and I think people understand that they see that there's value to it, and that there's a power in being really intentional about how you do your work.

Bryan: And I think that you guys are doing, you know, as you guys talk about your firm and your mission, I think that this is going to illuminate so many people, in terms of how lighting design really plays a key role in our lives, right? I don't want anyone to really underestimate the power of lighting. And, you know, I kind of wanna pivot the conversation now, because we've talked about DEI in terms of, like, at a larger scale. But can you talk about how your firm has approached DEI culture? How does that impact your office, your projects, and then, ultimately, the people?

Lauren: Yeah. So, now that we're in a position, very thankfully, to have people come and work with us, I would never say anybody works for me, because Lord knows businesses only run because of employees, and the people who help, is that Nick and I are humans first. Like, I very much believe that. And I'll go a step further and say, you know, I'm a working mom, and it's really hard to balance all the responsibilities of what that means on any given day. And there's days I look at Nick and I'm like, "I don't know how you deal with this," meaning me. Because I'm running a kid to a doctor's appointment, running a kid over here. I am teaching, and also trying to be my best self, whatever that means on any given day. And the space that he and I have created for each other to be able to do that is what we're trying to then multiply out for the people who want to be a part of this firm. So, you know, person X, they're having surgery on Monday, you know, is it okay? You don't even have to ask. Yes. Life is happening. You have a parent who's sick and you need to take a week off because you have responsibilities to something outside of this project we have? Yeah. Of course. You're sick, and you feel like you're gonna cough up a lung, for sure, please don't come here. We don't and, you know, we don't want your lung on the desk, and we also, like...

Bryan: We really don't. We don't.

Lauren: All of those things are very altruistic and beautiful when you don't run a business, and you can judge other companies for not functioning that way. But let me tell you, running the business that way is a task, especially when you've never run a business before. So, in a way, like, the good news is that this is the foundation of our company and who we are, and we are using that to hopefully bring others in and have them be a part of the stability of that. So, if, you know, Joe needs to take a week off, it's like a zone formation in basketball, right? The whole team shifts, to move, to cover that side of the court. And then when Lisa needs to go over there, the whole zone shifts over to accommodate that. And that's the goal.

Bryan: Do you have any recommendations for design firms that are struggling to create that inclusive culture? This is an ongoing conversation, right? At every firm, right now.

Lauren: Is it, though?

Bryan: I mean, that's true. That's a true point.

Lauren: I mean, realistically, I mean, I think those of us in these conversations, in some ways, it's a little bit of an echo chamber, right? Like, those of us who care about diversity, equity, and inclusion are speaking to other people who also care about diversity, equity, and inclusion. And Nick and I are really trying to make it something that is, it's not in your face, it's just not hidden, right? Our whole interest is not hiding the fact that we are very pro-inclusivity, and making it so that people who don't feel like they have a stake in the conversation about inclusivity can join in.

Nick: I think it's really important to understand the value of putting these things front and center, like Lauren's talking about, to understand the value of doing these things in a deliberate way. I'll go back to the intro that you gave, and I think the thing that warms my heart and shows the value, you mentioned how important it was to even just see Lauren, to just see her, as a professor, teaching you this thing, in this field, so that you understood that there was possibility beyond what you expected, right? And when I think about how we can make a difference in a thousand little ways a day, our first decision was to go into business together. Lauren is the owner of a lighting design firm. That now changes the entire paradigm of what's possible, period.

People see that. That is important. That is the first decision we made. And because of that, people who look like Lauren do not, just statistically, right now, own lighting design firms. That's just a fact. That's the way it is. And so, we have changed, with that single decision... Has the ability, right? Like, as you said so beautifully in the beginning, it just lets you know that there is a possible future. And I think that that's a large part of it. We live in a really tough time right now, and it's disheartening. And it's unfortunate, since recent rulings on affirmative action, what we're starting to see is all of the folks and all of the companies and all of the entities for whom equity was just the thing of the moment, was more fashion than foundational. And I think that it's really disheartening to see that tide receding a little bit, what felt like a lot of really positive momentum. But that makes it more important, right?

And we don't have a silver bullet for how to make DEIR work, but one of the things that I think is really important is to understand context, right? And to try to simplify things. It's like what we talk about with our lighting design, is trying to use that one thing to illuminate all of the other problems that may need to be discussed, right? And one of the things that we go back to a lot, I personally go back to all the time, are the equal pay days in this country. And you can look them up, but the days on which a person of another demographic makes the same amount of money as a White man did at the end of the year, right? So, statistically speaking, in our economy right now, if I stop earning money on December 31st, as a White man, it takes Lauren, and I don't know what the date is this year, they change a little bit every year, but it would take somebody like Lauren, statistically, until August to make the same amount of money.

Lauren: Yeah, it was at the very end of July this year.

Nick: And I think it's important to personalize these things. So, it would take a Latina until September-something to make the same amount of money statistically that I would make on December 31st. So, to me, there isn't equity, you know, until those things are aligned. But again, there's no one thing. It's not just raising pay. It's what Lauren was talking about. It's the burden of family care falls to women in our society, unequally to men. So, how does our company address the space to have a family, in a way that doesn't take women out of the workplace, that doesn't decrease their earnings over time, that doesn't devalue their experience?

I mean, how can we look creatively at the experience of motherhood as a positive on your CV? Like, why is that off of people's CVs, right? Like, that should be part of the experience that gives people the advantage, right? And so, we try to think about it from that standpoint. There is no one thing, I think. And I think that that's where it gets really confusing. I mean, too often, in rhetoric, at least, it's reduced to "throw money at it." There's always these things about, "I'm gonna hire an unqualified minority just so that I can fill a, check a box." But it's not looking holistically at how our companies can support all of us. And so, again, in our small way, we try to keep that idea at the center of everything, and we don't have all the answers, and I wish we did. Maybe one day we'll write the book on this. But, you know, I think that, for the folks that I would assume are listening to this podcast, the cool thing is it is a design problem. We know where the outcome can go. We're all creative about changing the systems and the things that are in place, and how we get down that road in a different way. And it can be solved. Like, these things can be made better.

Bryan: I think it's critical that we continue having these conversations, so that we do get to that outcome we see in 10 years', 20 years' time. These conversations are now so important to the entire design community, with people like yourselves, your firm, that are creating that better change and outcome for all of us. I think what you guys are doing is amazing. Lauren, like I said, when I was in school, there was just a glimmer of hope, right? Little Bryan, you know, I was still coming into my own. I had just come out recently, and to see someone like you, who was such an ally, it really provided me a sense of belonging. And I want students out there to know there's gonna be ups and downs, but it's firms like Chromatic, principals like Lauren, Nick, and professors like yourselves, that are gonna be able to create that inclusive culture. Any final thoughts as we wrap up this conversation?

Lauren: I would like to say, particularly to students, that, don't underestimate your impact the other way. The truth is, at a moment of vulnerability, that when I was teaching your class, I was still really young. I mean, I'm still really young now, but I think you were in, like, the first or second year I was teaching. I was still in my 20s. And I felt a huge amount of imposter syndrome. All the other professors are far more experienced in teaching, far more experienced in years. I mean, I knew what I was talking about. I had never taught a lecture-style class of 120 students. You know, like, I came into that very green and very nervous all the time.

Bryan: I never knew that, Lauren. You never gave that impression off.

Lauren: Thank you. Well, because when it's time to show up, you have to show up, no matter what the situation is. So, for every student that left that large lecture class and decided to take the lighting design class, which is an elective, like, that's a win. That means I've crossed a divide somehow, and it made a connection and someone's interested in what I'm talking about. And I think to hear all of the things that you're saying, it touches my heart in such a way. And to also then put back on students that you can be impactful in your professors' lives, particularly ones that don't have to teach, right? Like, I was teaching because I love lighting.

I mean, I still love lighting and I still love teaching, and I love talking about it. I love seeing the awakening that happens in people's faces. And that is a joy that I can't get from anywhere else. And to just see that grow, I would hope that students recognize their part in the professor's journey in the class as well. Like, it's not one-sided. I think if students knew how much they could impact professors, they would probably not hide from us so much. Like, I start every class saying, like, "It's okay. Come and talk to me. I swear I'm not gonna be mad. I'm here to help you learn. We'll figure this out." And then, you know, like, right at finals, they're like, "I didn't know." And I'm like, "But wait a minute. Why didn't, you know? Like, I said it."

Bryan: Classic.

Lauren: I would just say that. Seeing students come from the beginning to where you are now, it is a level of validation that is impossible to receive anywhere else, other than hopefully raising my children to be good human beings.

Bryan: Thank you, Lauren.

Lauren: You're welcome. And it's much deserved. And that, these kinds of conversations, where you talk about equity, where you talk about really uncomfortable stuff, racism, sexism, homophobia, like, all of these things, you have to have them. Even if you think there's no such thing as racism. Even if you think there's no such thing as sexism. Even if you think there's no such thing as the gender pay gap, all of those things, you still have to have the conversations. It doesn't matter how many facts you think there are or how many facts you're willing to ignore, or how many facts you think aren't true. Like, you have to have the conversations, because, by not having the conversations, it becomes exclusionary, and then it becomes defensiveness, and then it becomes pushing back, and then it becomes angry.

And when you have the conversations, it is of course uncomfortable. I don't wanna spend my days talking about being a Black woman, or my locks or my hair, or why I may be looked at one way or another thing. I don't want to. I mean, it's just a thing that is a part of who I am, and I'm happy to have that be something that is me. But I would love to spend my days talking about lighting design. I would love to not talk about how infrastructure is applied inequitably. I would love to just talk about beautiful cove lighting, or grazing techniques, or the way my students make me proud when I see them excelling. I would love to talk about that. But the fact of the matter is, is that by not having these conversations, they've become so delicate and so uncomfortable that people's reactions become...they shut down.

And one of the professors at USC, a sociology professor, Manuel Pastor, said that these conversations are like working out and going to the gym. If you haven't been to the gym in a really long time, and you go and you hit the gym really hard, it hurts, and it's uncomfortable, and it has a lasting impact. Like, you're sore the next day, and you're just fatigued. But if you do it again, right, a couple days later, your body remembers it. It will have that physical memory. And these conversations are like that. Like, Nick and I talked about, like, race and gender, and all of these things at the very beginning, because we have to practice what we preach, right? We can't be out here talking about all of this stuff when he and I have weird conversations or can't talk about it.

And one of my most proud things now is having Nick refer to me as a Black woman, right? Like, it took us a long time to get past the, "Well, I think of all of these other things before I just ascribe to you as being, like, a Black woman." I was like, "Well, why? That's what I am." Like, it's not demeaning to me to recognize who I am. And so, my very long final comment are don't be afraid to have the conversation. Come to the conversation open, even if you think it's not applicable, even if you think it's not important, even if you think it's silly or has no place, wherever you are, come to the conversation regardless.

Bryan: Nick, your final thoughts?

Nick: I think building on that, I would just say that I think what happens a lot is fear. I will speak now as a White man in this context, that I think there's a lot of fear that increased diversity, or increased inclusivity, decreases my future outcomes, right? So, I think that there is a real fear in the conversation that it's a zero-sum game, and that to lift some people up brings other people down. But I really don't think that that's true. I think that if you look at it objectively, more voices is never bad. More ideas, more people included, lift us all together.

And I think that we have to get comfortable with the discomfort. We have to get comfortable asking the questions and being a part of an equitable solution. Like, an equitable solution can't just be uncomfortable for half the folks who are involved. It has to be uncomfortable for everybody. It can't just be questions asked of half the folks involved. It has to be questions asked of everybody, and putting the "we" back in it, and how do we really do this together? And I think that kind of two-way allyship is often overlooked. There is no person who has a role in this world that is so small that they can't make a difference. Anything you're doing, in this industry or out of this industry, or who you know, or who you talk to, can make a difference, as long as you try. That's what it's really all about.

Bryan: And I want everyone who's listening to always believe in themselves. I think that's something that I had to overcome. Understanding who I was as a person, and then gaining that confidence, you can, as Nick said, really make a difference. You know, I think that I'm making a difference now by having these conversations. Small, but we're having the conversations. Nick and Lauren, it's been such a pleasure. I am so happy that you guys came on and agreed to do this. So, I thank you again. Everyone who's listening, I really appreciate it, and I hope you check in for our next podcast next month.

Lauren: Thanks, Bryan.

Nick: Thanks so much. What a treat.

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