Late Registration: How Kanye West Ended Up At Harvard This Past Weekend

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By: / November 19, 2013

The public has been exposed to many sides of Kanye West: the drunken, speech-stealer; the broken-hearted, ranter and more recently, the eloquent, design stanatic. The third reared its smiley head this past weekend at the Harvard Graduate School of Design to speak with a tight group of grad students from the African American Student Union (AASU). With some of his closest confidants from his creative agency DONDA (i.e. Virgil Abloh) and his fiancé Kim Kardashian by his side, West was like a sugar-feening toddler in a candy store, giddy to speak about anything but his music, President Obama and the confederate flag.

“I really do believe that the world can be saved through design, and everything needs to actually be ‘architected,'” West said, according to Archinect. “And this is the reason why even some of the first DONDA employees were architects that started designing t-shirts instead of buildings.”

Though not an Ivy League graduate (he graduated from Chicago’s Polaris High School in Oak Lawn), the Yeezus rapper was able to tickle the minds of future architects, a.k.a. the besties he’s always wanted. (He even made like Oprah and gifted the entire office with tickets to his Yeezus show that night in Boston.)

For those hovering over Ticketmaster.com waiting to cop front rowers for a possible DONDA design lecture series, AASU’s Co-President Tessa Kanene said there was no whisper made of it. “Kanye made absolutely no mention of taking this to other schools,” she tells VIBE. “This was a private meeting set up directly from our student-led African American Student Union through a personal contact and was never relayed to us as part of the Donda Design Lecture Series.”

Bummers aside, VIBE consulted with several of members of the AASU to discuss how ‘Ye’s visit was no scheme of grand design. —As Told To Adelle Platon

Sumaia Alamoudi: I was working at my desk on the 5th tray (highest floor) when I heard a commotion and headed down to see a herd of students forming on the mezzanine. Only a few of GSD’s AASU members knew Kanye was coming. The general student body did not expect to have such an eventful Sunday night in studio.

Tessa Kaneene: The Harvard Graduate School of Design’s African American Student Union wrote a personal letter to Kanye West through a group contact in response to a series of interviews that Kanye had delivered referencing his growing interest in design, and his expanse of the race as an artist in the United States. He came for a closed, private meeting where we had a 2-hour conversation. The video was when he went to our entire workspace, what we call the trades, and he’s sitting on a desk, addressing an entire school of 300 people that were working.

KL: The studio visit was really quick, but I basically just explained the studio premises and showed him the models [designed by] me and my classmates. He was quiet and nodded a lot, and seemed really interested and engaged in our process of discovery and experimentation through the making of physical models. His presence completely shook up the GSD and his energy was so infectious!

Fred Thwainy: I was most struck by how genuine both Kanye and Kim seemed to be. Kanye had a permanent smile that was very contagious throughout his visit and they did not seemed bothered by the growing crowd. It was also satisfying to have someone with such cultural influence be excited about the work we do.

Kayla Lim (gave Kanye West the studio tour): His speech made me feel like design is important. As architects, we often feel under appreciated; we aren’t artists and we aren’t technicians but live somewhere in between those two worlds. I believe the world can be saved through design, and it’s great to know that Kanye, a man with a powerful and influential voice feels the same way.

TK: It was strictly about the empowerment of design for underrepresented minorities in design. It was sparked by a very startling fact that has empowered our group. This is our second year being re-activated as a group and we are developed on the premise that right now in the United States only 1% of licensed architects are African Americans. We find this to be a huge concern when 13% of the population is African American. In terms of accessibility to education, appreciation in the field and the opportunity to have a license in architecture, we feel there’s a big gap, both in representation, respect and celebration, and [want to] form a platform for diverse designers to reach the success of someone of Harvard University or someone of Kanye West’s [status].

SA: I appreciate Kanye acknowledging that such change may not be best enacted by those who can not genuinely empathize with the current state of affairs. As a designer, I do believe that design has the potential to alter the future, if not in one grand sweep but many small thoughtful advances in our everyday reality. Many of us would not have spent the better part of our 20s invested in the education of an under appreciated profession otherwise. I was pleased to learn that Kanye understands the commitment it takes to truly understand and hopefully master the principles of effective design.

TK: It was quite a magical collaboration between two very distinct groups that have dealt with many similar issues and that have been able to create a voice, and now, this idea to really spread campaigns, to change the face of design, and to use design in revolutionary ways to change the world. And that’s why Kanye came here, because that mission he’s on is so powerful that he has no choice but to respond.

Photo Credit: Instagram