By DONOVAN HARRELL
Pitt’s new Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion Clyde Wilson Pickett gave his first public remarks during the first session of the 2020 Diversity Forum.
The fifth annual Diversity Forum: “Advancing Social Justice: A Call to Action,” was held virtually from July 28 to 30.
Despite the pandemic forcing it to move online, the forum was the Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s largest yet with more than 12,000 participants from across the world tuning in to participate in more than 60 programs and workshops.
Pickett joined the University in early July, as Pitt strengthens its commitment to becoming a more diverse institution for Black faculty, staff and students.
The protests following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police have forced institutions across America to acknowledge the prevalence of systemic racism and re-examine their treatment of Black people.
Pitt has begun making personnel and institutional changes in response to the protests and increased pressure from frustrated Black faculty, staff and students.
Pickett said at the July 28 panel, “A Call to Activism: Witnessing Globally, Responding Locally,” that he was excited to join Pitt during this time.
“My colleagues and Pitt have taken … the early steps in the very difficult work toward leading an anti-racist institution,” Pickett said. “The road ahead must be forged with direct, and indeed, transparent commitment and action.”
Pickett said the Diversity Forum provided a platform for members of the Pitt community and beyond to share their research and wisdom on social justice. It also provided an opportunity for people to strategize to take concrete action toward social justice.
Pickett said he will prioritize acknowledging historical issues, advancing institutional changes, amplifying the voices of activists and scholars engaged in social justice work, and promoting introspection across the University about how it invests in activism and anti-racist initiatives.
Intergenerational trauma for Black people can be found throughout American institutions, especially higher education, he said.
Pickett said it’s important for universities like Pitt to amplify the generational experiences of people impacted by racism.
“And we have to witness that and amplify that experience and talk about what that means for each of us,” Pickett said.
Pickett, who most recently was chief diversity officer for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities System, said he was a part of a “transformational experience” living in Minneapolis, where a police officer dug his knee into Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes.
He said he had an opportunity to be a part of the community response to demanding change in the city. It’s important for people in leadership roles to experience and share experiences like these with others, he said.
“Our experiences are interwoven together,” Pickett said. “And as institutions of higher education, who serve those students, who are the home of the individuals who work in that struggle and experience that struggle, we have a responsibility to pay attention and to bring attention to their experiences and to witness them.”
The burden of advancing social justice doesn’t only fall on the shoulders of activists. It’s up to universities to implement policy changes and examine the role higher education plays in advancing equity.
“Certainly, as we think about affordability of higher education and access to higher education, we have a responsibility to be introspective and think about our role as educators, our role as community members to promulgate education to be the great equalizer in terms of providing access,” Pickett said. “That interrogation is connected to activism.”
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-383-9905.
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