Diversity Forum just the beginning, new vice chancellor says


The Office of Diversity and Inclusion plans keep its momentum going after the success of 2020 Diversity Forum by emphasizing equity and anti-racism.

The 2020 forum, which moved to a virtual platform because of the pandemic, was the office’s largest forum yet — attracting roughly 12,000 viewers from across the world.

Clyde Wilson Pickett, the new vice chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion, said the forum was a strong start for the fall semester. 

It provided an opportunity for Pitt to connect with a broader audience and showcase the work being done at the University, he said. Pickett attributed the success to the hard work of his colleagues, adding that there is more to come.

“We think that this is only the beginning,” Wilson said.

Ron Idoko, the diversity and multi-cultural program manager for ODI, said survey responses to the forum’s sessions were “incredibly positive.”

Most participants said the featured sessions had an impact on their work and provided them with the tools they needed to advance social justice work in their communities.

Throughout the sessions, speakers encouraged participants to move beyond only having conversations about race to take more concrete actions.

Pickett said that after learning some tools from the forum, it’s important for participants to remember that the work “is a continuum” and that “we’re all in different places in this journey.”

Having serious discussions about moving the work forward is a great first step, Pickett said, adding that the Office of Diversity and Inclusion will soon introduce additional opportunities through training for the Pitt community to learn, exchange ideas and progress social justice and equity.

One of these is a new “Diversity Consciousness” series. The series is a training module that will “provide an opportunity for colleagues to explore their own consciousness and to continue to expand.” It will use an anti-racist lens, framework and methodology, he added.

So far, Pickett said he’s happy with the University’s commitments to making Pitt a more inclusive University. 

The introduction of a one-credit mandatory course for first-year students on anti-Black racism during the fall semester is a strong indicator of the seriousness of the University’s commitment, he said.

“It’s not enough to make a commitment and say that, publicly, you’re going to be an anti-racist organization or that you’re going to promote anti-racism,” Pickett said. “You have to actually talk and sit down and have conversations and commit to examining the climate and I think that that’s something that we’ve committed to doing.”

This course was created after a summer of protests following the death of George Floyd after a Minneapolis police officer dug his knee into his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Pickett, who was based in Minneapolis at the time, had an opportunity to participate firsthand in some of the protests and community cleanup efforts. He described it as a “transformational experience”

The protests spurred a national conversation about systemic injustices and anti-Black racism, throughout the country. This provides Pitt a chance to look inward and examine its cultural flexibility, dexterity, competency and awareness, he added.

It’s unrealistic to expect major changes to happen immediately, he said, adding that Pitt has to make an ongoing commitment with periods of review as it works to engage and expand its efforts towards inclusivity.

Pickett said it’s also important to remember that ODI will continue to expand its support for other marginalized groups, not just Pitt’s Black community.

“One of the things we need to understand is because we’re committing our time to examining anti-racism or anti-Black racism, it doesn’t mean that we’re not committed to addressing other things,” Pickett said. “I think that we have to be very clear about that, that our willingness to pay specific attention right now to anti-racism and anti-Black racism is a commitment to also addressing the broader areas that we need to address as a University community.”

Moving forward, Pickett said his main priority is to sit down and listen to the Pitt community, which can be a little difficult since the University is still in a mostly virtual posture. In the future, he said he’ll host virtual listening sessions and meet with various stakeholders.

He’ll also focus on expanding the awareness of the work being done in his office and emphasize the importance of equity and a strategic equity agenda.  

This entails creating space for people to be their “authentic selves” in an inclusive environment to ensure more equitable outcomes in retention, recruitment and policy, he said.

Another key part of moving this agenda forward is making sure that there are conversations about accountability. This means being open to honest, candid feedback in areas that need improvement, he said.

Overall, he said he’s excited to be in his role and is thankful for the work his colleagues and his predecessor, Pam Connelly, put in place.

“I … want to continue to expand and advance our work collectively, certainly, as a learning community,” Pickett said. “I think it is amongst the finest in the country.”

The office recently announced a slew of events that will take place during the fall. These include:

2020 UPSIDE Award announcement: The University is looking for nominations for the 2020 University Prize for Strategic, Inclusive and Diverse Excellence (“UPSIDE”). This year’s award will be $10,000. Nominations must be submitted on or before Oct. 7 via the 2020 UPSIDE award nomination online submission form. Email diversity@pitt.edu for more information.
Network for Inclusion, 11 a.m.-noon Sept. 9: Pickett will speak more about his goals and additional resources to advance work in diversity, equity and inclusion. Register here.

Hispanic Heritage Month, Sept. 15–Oct. 15: A University-wide committee, chaired by Gina Garcia and the Latino Student Association, has started a directory of Hispanic Heritage Month 2020 activities. These activities will focus on cultural, educational and social advocacy in the Latinx community. Email Garcia at ggarcia@pitt.edu for more information.

Supporting Transgender and Non-Binary Community Members workshop, Sept. 18: The Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation will present the virtual workshop. Introductory training will take place from 2:30 to 4 p.m. Small virtual sessions well be held afterward. Register here. Contact Carrie Benson at carrie.benson@pitt.edu for more information

This Is Not “Normal”: Allyship and Advocacy in the Age of COVID-19 town hall series: The office will continue the virtual town hall series in started in May into the fall semester, including:

  • Violence on the Rise: The Troubled Relationship between COVID-19 and Domestic Violence, noon-1:30 p.m. Sept. 9. Register here.
  • Education in a Time of COVID: Safety, Access and Equity, noon-1:30 p.m. Sept. 23. Register here.

Digital accessibility workshops: The office will host a series of workshops explaining the Universities’ Electronic and Information Technology Accessibility Policy and Procedure. The available workshops can be found on the University Calendar. For more information, contact Angie Bedford-Jack at abedfordjack@pitt.edu.

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


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