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May 17, 2007

Udin addresses diversity issues

As the final influence on students before they move into the workforce, faculty have a chance to affect how those future managers treat minorities and women, Sala Udin told an audience at Pitt’s annual faculty diversity seminar.

In his keynote address to diversity seminar fellows, Udin said: “You are producing the next generation of the country’s organization and business managers who will have the power to recruit minorities and women or not recruit them. To hire them or not to hire them. To promote or not promote. And without your intervention, they will make those decisions based upon ignorance, myth and the stereotypes they learned from their families, from their communities, from their churches, from their schools. You are the last stop before they enter the workplace.”

Udin emphasized that their task as educators encompasses more than merely integrating tidbits of diversity-related information into the students’ learning.

“They really need a vast knowledge base of their history and the current conditions of women and Americans of color,” he said. “They’ve got to know more than just statistics: Ancient historical linkages to Africa or to the Aztecs or to the Ming dynasty or to the historical contribution of women like Cleopatra and many, many others, or current social, cultural and political conditions that link to biology, chemistry, physics or more certainly the more obvious linkages to sociology, history, business, economics, et cetera.”

Udin, a former Pittsburgh city councilman, is an adjunct instructor at Pitt’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs and president and CEO of Pittsburgh’s Coro Center for Civic Leadership.

The annual two-week diversity seminar, sponsored by the Provost’s office in conjunction with the Center for Instructional Development and Distance Education, guides a select group of faculty members in the redesign of courses to be more inclusive of race and gender. This year’s session began May 7.

Leaving to sociologists, historians and psychiatrists the question of why racism and male chauvinism persist, Udin told the group of about 30 current and past diversity seminar fellows, “Our task here is to understand the challenges we face today and tomorrow to navigate the troubled waters of centuries-old resistance to the notion of equality and opportunity” for women and people of color in America.

In addition, Udin told faculty in his May 8 speech, “Don’t limit yourself to dropping diversity nuggets into the University curriculum. Take diversity with you when you leave and apply it to your life and to your profession. The challenge of tomorrow is to help schools and corporations see that diversity inclusion is not just doing the right thing, as Spike Lee would say, but it would help unleash the full potential of the whole organization, enabling the organization to become more competitive, more successful.”

A diverse curriculum benefits everyone, Udin said. Women and minorities are encouraged to be better learners when they are acknowledged and included in a diverse curriculum. “White males are beneficiaries of this enlightenment as well,” he said. “We need them to counter the stereotypes and misinformation of their American upbringing. If white males are multi-culturally educated, they will be supportive of diversity when they leave here and enter the workforce.”

A flaw in some diversity programs is that they may exclude white males from the conversation, or attack or blame them, Udin said. “How will they ever become advocates or champions by being excluded or attacked?” he asked.

Diversity programs must focus not merely on the numbers of minorities or women in management throughout an organization, but also on the quality of the relationships within that organization, he said, adding that diversity training must be mandatory for all, especially managers.

The commitment of an organization’s management is key, Udin said, noting that the commitment to diversity as a business strategy must be reflected in compensation policies and decisions.

In addition, “Organizations serious about diversity will be sure to have diversity reflected in the choice of suppliers,” including purchasing and contracts from minority- and women-owned companies, Udin said. An organization is even further enriched, he said, if diversity is expanded to include gay and lesbian communities and people with disabilities.

Udin said Pitt’s size makes it useful as a laboratory for diversity training. “It’s a large enough and complex enough institution in terms of its student body, employees, its purchasing power and its governance,” he said. “If [students] learn to study diversity here at the University, they will be more open, willing and capable when they enter the workforce,” he said.

Udin noted that there are essentially two Pittsburghs: one that is recognized as the “most livable city” and another in which there are high numbers of unemployed young men recruited daily into drug trafficking and the violence of the streets.

Udin noted that he would like to see Pitt’s public health school take up the issues of homicide and violence as public health issues and for the Congressional Black Caucus to prioritize the issues. “It’s still not at the top of the agenda,” he said.

Udin told faculty members, “There’s a lot we can do no matter what course we are teaching. We want to send our students out to be decent human beings no matter their major or their field of study. No matter what the name of the class is, I don’t see why we can’t have a conversation among people who are preparing to go out into the world — to understand what is going on in the society and to not have blinders on and see the whole city, and not just part of it.”

—Kimberly K. Barlow

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