Committee wants to move quickly to create required Black studies course


The University Senate’s Educational Policies committee plans to move quickly in coming up with a way for Pitt to implement Black studies into Pitt students’ first-year experiences.

Committee members said at the July 20 meeting that they’d prefer to implement some form of a Black studies course as soon as possible.

Senate Council President Chris Bonneau said he doesn’t want the process to become “mired” in committees. And committee co-chairs Bonnie Falcone and John Stoner agreed, adding that the timing of such a course is critical. 

But Bonneau said he’s optimistic that there will be plenty of support across the Pitt community to get something figured out.

“And my hunch is that given the support we’ve seen from faculty, students, administration, everything else, this is not going to be the heaviest lift in terms of doing the research and in figuring out what we want to see.”

Sydney Massenberg, a recent Pitt graduate, first brought the proposal to shared governance when she created a petition, which has gathered more than 7,000 signatures, and sent a letter to Chancellor Patrick Gallagher, Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner, Provost Ann Cudd and Bonneau explaining the importance making a first-year Black studies course a graduation requirement.

Since then, several members of the Faculty Assembly have thrown their support behind Massenberg.

In terms of implementation, a few ideas have been thrown around. One idea being discussed is the creation of a one-credit Black studies course for first-year students across Pitt’s Oakland campus.

Bonneau suggested that the University offers a “menu” of courses in Black studies for first-year students, which could strengthen student engagement with the material.

Other members suggested that a first-year Black studies course be created by each school so that it would be more tailored to specific disciplines. Another idea suggested would involve faculty incorporating Black studies into the courses already taken by first-year students.

Committee members said there are still some logistical concerns to work out.

It’s unclear if a mandatory first-year Black studies course would work for the regional campuses, Stoner said, because of “structural limitations.”

Falcone said she’d prefer for the course to be robust, allowing students to take “the deeper dive and to really expand their learning experience.”

She added that she was concerned that if a one-credit course is created, people may decide the work is done and not flesh it out more.  

“The one-credit course could be viewed as sufficient,” Falcone said. “And then the intended goals would not be met.” 

Stoner said that it’s critical to figure out who would teach the courses and to avoid overwhelming the Africana Studies department with a sudden influx of first-year students.

“If all of the courses were in Africana Studies and all of a sudden, 4,000 students a year are taking those classes, that’s obviously going to be a particular burden on that department,” Stoner said. 

Stoner suggested that the committee quickly form a joint working group that would take a look at the potential options and logistical details to come up with a plan sometime in the fall or early spring semesters.

Senate Council officers recently issued a directive to each standing committee to develop action plans over the fall semester to address social justice, equity and inclusion within each committee’s area of focus. These plans are due by the end of the fall semester, and a plenary on the subjects is being planned for the spring 2021 semester

Classroom capacity issues

Joe McCarthy, vice provost for undergraduate studies, said that there is a “dramatic reduction” in the Oakland campus’s classroom capacity — with the University operating at 20 to 30 percent of its normal capacity.

Nevertheless, the Registrar’s Office is working hard to get classes placed, and assignments are expected to be released in a week or two.

McCarthy said he’s also working with Pitt IT to expand the “passing period” time between classes using the same space.

This is challenging, McCarthy said, because roughly 50 percent of classes offered in the fall are following non-standard schedules. Staff would have to manually adjust the start times of nearly half of the more than 6,000 classes, he said. McCarthy said he’s working with Pitt IT to find a way to streamline this process.

Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-383-9905.


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