Latinx initiative hopes to boost diversity in faculty and research

Ariel Armony at podium


A new initiative spearheaded by the Office of the Provost and the University Center for International Studies aims to increase the number of faculty focused on issues in the Latinx community.

Vice Provost for Global Affairs Ariel Armony, with funding provided by Provost Ann Cudd, will begin a multi-year, cluster-hiring initiative to attract more faculty with academic expertise in topics concerning the broad, diverse Latinx community. 

There are two main goals for the Latinx cluster-hiring initiative, Armony said. The first is “that the University wants to send internally and externally a clear message of commitment, real commitment, to this agenda of diversity and inclusion. And second is, as a leading research University, we need to engage in the serious research and study of the issues that concern the Latinx population.”

Armony will chair a committee on the initiative with 17 others from various schools across Pitt, including John Stoner, executive director for academic affairs for UCIS.

The committee will make and review hiring recommendations, but the ultimate hiring decision will be left up to each department and school. The provost’s office will provide funding for these hires to help alleviate costs. Once the hires arrive, Stoner said, Pitt also will focus on retaining them.

A cluster-hiring strategy, which Stoner and Armony believe is best for this initiative, involves multiple hires around a specific initiative or theme.

“We can’t hire one scholar who works on Latinx studies and then say, ‘Let’s see how that goes; 10 years from now, maybe we’ll hire another one.’” Stoner said. “But for the commitment to be substantial enough to be successful, you have to commit to multiple hires.”

These scholars, ideally, would have diverse academic backgrounds beyond the humanities, including public health, medicine and information technology. And even though this initiative is associated with UCIS, this is very much a “domestic issue,” Armony said.

The term “Latinx” was deliberately used for this program, as opposed to Hispanic or Latino/Latina, Armony said. 

“What we have seen in recent years is the tendency to use the term Latinx to transcend first the traditional binary — so gender and sexual orientation; second, (it’s a) much more inclusive term because it refers to populations in the United States from the diasporas of Latin America and the Caribbean whose language and culture did not originate necessarily in Spain.”

There’s still ongoing debate about the term, Armony said, but it fits the “spirit” of the initiative, “that it’s really about inclusion and so … that ‘x’ is a signifier of the message we want to send.”

Cudd and Armony hope to add between 10 to 12 new faculty over several years, with the first search officially beginning in 2020-21. The search is not relegated to just people of Hispanic or Latinx descent.

Armony said this initiative will address recent demographic population changes in the U.S., where the Latinx population is increasing. And, he hopes it will help attract more Latinx students, diversifying the student body.

University-wide, 1,055 out of 24,944 undergraduate students and 155 out of 4,762 faculty identified as Hispanic/Latino in the 2019 University factbook.

In order to address the racial disparities, Armony said, the best place to start is with improving faculty diversity. 

“We are still lagging behind in terms of our percentage of students of Latinx background,” Armony said. “And we want to increase that. The same speaks for faculty and staff.”

Cudd said this initiative would help give Pitt’s Latinx students more potential mentors, teachers and role models. It would also provide more unique areas of study to the Pitt campus in general.

“The fact that the Latinx population is such a growing part of the demographic of the United States population, means it’s really imperative that we connect with this group,” Cudd said. 

Armony said this initiative is a welcome change in the Pitt community, where talk of diversity and inclusion doesn’t always end in institutional and personnel changes. 

He said he is proud that Cudd is throwing her full commitment behind this initiative.

“I think that a very important thing to highlight is that when we hear about diversity and inclusion, … — not just at the University — a lot is just talk,” Armony said. “This is action. This is concrete action. And that’s extraordinary.”

The full committee and their areas of discipline are as follows:

Ariel Armony (UCIS), Chair

Gary Hollibaugh (Graduate School of Public and International Affairs)

Sheila Velez-Martinez (Law)

Jasmine Gonzales Rose (Law)

Mary Ohmer (School of Social Work)

Sharon Alvarez (College of Business Administration)

Patricia Documet (Graduate School of Public Health)

Anna Arlotta Guerrero (School of Education)

Leigh Patel (School of Education)

Angie Cruz (Department of English)

Belkys Torres (UCIS)

Doreen Hernandez (Pitt Hispanic Latino Professional Association)

Mark Novales (Latinx Student Association)

Naudia Jonassaint (School of Medicine)

Kornelia Tancheva (University Library System)

Kristin Kanthak (Department of Political Science)

Michele Reid Vazquez (Department of Africana Studies)

John Stoner (UCIS)

Correction: An earlier version of the article said the cluster hire search would officially begin in the 2021-22 academic year. It has been updated to reflect that it will begin in the 2020-21 academic year.

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


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