Listening to Ferguson

Sam Fox course 'Community Building II' examines landscape of north St. Louis city and county

Washington University students marching on campus last August, in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown. (Credit: James Byard/WUSTL Photo)

Listening is a talent but also a skill. It can be trained, encouraged and modeled. It can be taught.

“People seem to think that going into a community to listen and learn, rather than just proposing and executing a project, is something novel,” said Bob Hansman, associate professor of architecture in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts. “We all have different backgrounds and biases, but how can we address volatile problems if we don’t share a common knowledge base, or even a language for it?”

This spring, Hansman will serve as adviser and guide for a class called “Community Building II: Ferguson.” Led by Andrew Raimist, lecturer in architecture, the course will address the complex economic, political and racial landscape of north St. Louis city and county.

“Our approach is to grapple with legitimate, thoughtful ways of making positive change while investigating the intersecting, compounding roles of social and economic inequities, racial disparities, white flight, public safety, housing and economic development,” Raimist said. “We’ll be learning how to listen, how to understand and how to address conflicting voices.”

“Community Building II” builds on the Sam Fox School’s “Community Building/Building Community” course, which Hansman developed more than a decade ago and has co-taught with Raimist for the last four years.

“’Community Building’ has long been a transformational experience for students from across the University,” said Liz Kramer, assistant director of community-based design and sustainability in the Sam Fox School. “As both individuals and future professionals, it is important that they understand how the perspectives, methods and practices of art and design can affect local communities and conditions on the ground — for either good or ill.”

Though this latest iteration centers on Ferguson, which came to international attention following the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown last August, Hansman emphasizes that the issues there are hardly unique.

“This is a tragedy,” Hansman said, “both the tragedy in Ferguson, and the tragedy that we’ve taken a pass on these things for so long. There are Fergusons all over St. Louis.”

“Community Building II” is open to all Washington U. undergraduates. For more information, contact Andrew Raimist at

* Editor’s Note: This section, a late addition to the semester’s course offerings, was cancelled due to low enrollment. Organizers hope to offer it again in the near future.