By DONOVAN HARRELL
The Office of Diversity and Inclusion kicked off its rebranding of Pitt Affinity Groups into Pitt Communities with its first open house.
On Sept. 24, Pitt faculty and staff had the chance to meet the leaders of each of Pitt’s six communities, who set up information booths in the Assembly Room of the William Pitt Union. Leaders also promoted the communities during a panel session.
Pitt Communities include the Chinese Affinity Group, Equipoise (the African-American/black community), the Hispanic and Latino Professional Association, Pitt Queer Professionals, the Women’s Affinity Group and the Veterans Affinity Group.
And the office plans to expand Pitt Communities with two potential new groups currently gathering members — one for Muslims and one for people with disabilities.
Pam Connelly, vice chancellor of diversity and inclusion, said Pitt’s affinity groups were renamed to Pitt Communities to better capture the spirit and goals of the program.
Connelly said these communities give people, especially people from underrepresented groups, a place for networking, training and community outreach.
“These groups together help emphasize the roles of each individual within them to create a safe, productive and visible spaces for faculty and staff,” Connelly said. “And they create spaces where we can come together under shared interests or identities, to foster professional and social networking opportunities to promote inclusion and equity initiatives and to create that system of support that one gets through a committed through a community.”
This is certainly true for Belkys Torres, executive director of Global Engagement for the University Center for International Studies and co-chair for the Hispanic and Latino Professional Association.
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, a fact that Torres is well-aware off.
Torres, who’s been a part of the community group for three years, said it gives underrepresented members of Pitt’s population, like Hispanics or Latinos, a louder voice on campus and provides social support.
The community, like the others, hosts a variety of workshops and programs. For example, last spring, the Hispanic and Latino community hosted a workshop on imposter syndrome. Some members of underrepresented groups develop feelings of alienation in their workspaces, or feelings that they haven’t “earned” the positions they’re in.
“And what the literature teaches us is this happens more and more with underrepresented populations and with women,” Torres said. “And so it was an interesting exercise that allowed us to really get to a place of dialogue.”
For Raymond Davis, a member of Pitt Queer Professionals and major gift officer with the division of Philanthropic and Alumni Engagement, the community was a way for him to connect with like-minded people.
This was especially helpful since he didn’t know anyone in Pittsburgh when he first arrived four years ago. He found out about the group through a coworker.
“I was like, ‘All right, I’ve got to make friends,’ ” he said. “Once you sort of get a chance to get engaged with an affinity group, you start meeting so many people and make friends that you ... can hang out with or do things (with) or go to lunch with or talk about issues or struggles.”
E.J. Milarski-Veenis, a financial analyst in the Office of the Chancellor who co-chairs the Women’s Affinity Group, echoed Davis during the panel session, adding that it can be easy for Pitt staff and faculty to feel distant from their peers. These groups offer a chance for people to get out of their silos.
“I think one of the best benefits, or the most impactful benefit I can think of, is that when you take ‘diversity and inclusion,’ it's the ‘inclusion’ part of it,” Milarski-Veenis said. “I think probably for all groups, when you get back to the office, it's very easy to feel alone with certain topics and certain concerns. And getting the groups together is that real sense of community and it's that real sense of inclusivity.”
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-383-9905.