By DONOVAN HARRELL
The University of Pittsburgh celebrated the Center on Race and Social Problems (CRSP) and Yolanda Covington-Ward, chair of the Africana Studies department, for their contributions to advancing Pitt’s diversity, equity and inclusion goals.
The University Prize for Strategic, Inclusive and Diverse Excellence or UPSIDE Award went to the CRSP, while Covington-Ward received the annual Equipoise Creating a Just Community Award.
Elayne Arrington, the first Black woman to graduate from Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering, was the keynote speaker for the virtual award ceremony.
Arrington, who worked as an aerospace engineer at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base’s Foreign Technology Division, talked about her experiences as a Black female student at Pitt in the 1950s.
She said there were similar international issues in her time when compared to now.
“Today, globally, there is the COVID-19 pandemic. Internationally, there are strained relations between the United States and Russia. Nationally, the struggle against racism continues, and we wonder if Black Lives Matter. But I can tell you that longevity has its advantages.” Arrington said.
She said that longevity helped her reshape her overall view of life.
“As I look at it all, from my view today, as an octogenarian, I can see that some things are processes rather than events,” Arrington said. “Some things do not happen quickly. Some things take time. Part of being old is being able to see the process unfold. I suppose that part of my Pitt legacy to you is being a pioneer in a process, something that eventually led to an awareness and a dialogue about women and minorities in engineering, STEM disciplines in general.”
Chancellor Patrick Gallagher thanked Arrington for sharing her experiences, then introduced the CRSP as the winner of the 2021 UPSIDE Award, which includes a $10,000 prize.
Jay Huguley, CRSP’s interim director, thanked Gallagher and Senior Vice Chancellor for Engagement Kathy Humphrey for their support and his colleagues in the center for their hard work.
“We greatly appreciate that this work is a priority for our University under your leadership,” Huguley said.
Huguley and Ming-Te Wang, a professor in the School of Education and research scientist at the Learning Research and Development Center, recently received a $500,000 grant from Heinz Endowments for their work on the Just Discipline Project. The project seeks to improve relationships between students, teachers and staff to reduce the need for exclusionary discipline in schools, such as suspensions.
Humphrey then introduced Covington-Ward as the winner of the 2021 Creating a Just Community Award.
Humphrey praised Covington-Ward for her many contributions to the University, including impactful leadership with the quick development of Pitt’s first anti-Black racism course last fall, following a summer of civil rights protests. There are plans underway to turn the course from a one-credit course to a three-credit one in the near future.
“We are grateful for the contributions of Yolanda Covington-Ward, for you have brought purpose to your work. Not only have you brought purpose, you have shared your gifts with us time and time again,” Humphrey said. “Your curiosity has worked in our favor. And your work has been so profound that it has encouraged many to continue to do this work. You are one of our heroes, because of the commitment that you have made.”
Covington-Ward thanked her many colleagues for their work on crafting the course materials. She then transitioned into a presentation where she dug deep into her family tree to show how racism impacted the lives of her ancestors.
She said that “learning about anti-Black racism is not just an exercise in abstraction.”
“Anti-Black white racism is weaved into the very fabric of our nation — from the era of enslavement to Jim Crow, to our modern-day continued fight for equality and justice,” Covington-Ward said.
She said that thanks to the creation of the course, “Pitt is now a leader, a bold leader in curriculum innovation, focused on making our campus more equitable, and educating our students about larger inequalities. Kudos to Pitt for taking this bold step.”
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at email@example.com or 412-383-9905.
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