By MARTY LEVINE
T. Elon Dancy II, new director of the Center for Urban Education in the School of Education, believes all educators should share the focus of his center: Studying relationships formed and maintained — or denied — in educational settings, and studying institutional priorities that keep people from educational opportunities and access.
“There are assumptions we make that I think need to be challenged and disrupted,” he says. “Education settings still do more to uphold inequity than to bridge equity.”
Dancy is also the Helen S. Faison Endowed Chair, which was endowed in honor of one of the first African-American teachers in Pittsburgh Public Schools, and the first woman and African American to be high school principal and deputy superintendent in the district.
“What this role symbolizes mattered deeply to me,” Dancy explains. “For me there was a personal connection; I am a fourth-generation professional teacher.”
He also is happy to join Pitt because “there is already an institutional commitment to urban education. Also, there’s a heavy expectation for community-based work. Here, I am meeting people every day who are interested in the questions of urban education.”
Dancy was most recently professor and associate dean for Community Engagement and Academic Inclusion in the Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education at the University of Oklahoma. An education sociologist, he is widely published, including six books and monographs, most recently “Black Male Collegians: Increasing Access, Retention, and Persistence in Higher Education” (2014), and “Black Colleges across the Diaspora: Global Perspectives on Race and Stratification in Postsecondary Education” (2017).
Now he will lead an organization, he says, that “has an expert faculty who are doing really interesting thinking and provocative scholarship. The center has a positive reputation in the country (and) partnerships already existing with funders and nonprofit organizations. The center not only has a local reputation but a national reputation.”
He points to CUE’s lecture series and summer education forums that bring scholars here from around the nation and connect the center with local teachers as well.
Dancy’s first priority, he says, will be “deepening relationships with local partnerships and galvanizing resources” on campus and off. He says he plans to work with faith-based organizations and community partners, state legislators and the city’s urban planning office, as well as such Pitt units as the Center for Race and Social Problems in the School of Social Work, the Africana studies department in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences.
Overall, Dancy says, Pitt made a good impression on him from his first visit — for his job interview: “It was urban in its esthetic; I could tell that it was interested in serving students in the city. I thought that Pitt was strategically located to do lots of good work in this community. It’s also in a position to bridge communities.”
Marty Levine is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-758-4859.