By SUSAN JONES
Earlier today, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher issued a call to hold our leaders accountable in the face of racial injustice and vowed that “our University must become a better, more equitable place, and we can do more.”
Already two new forums have been scheduled in the aftermath of the death of an unarmed black man George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25 and other recent deaths of unarmed black civilians.
From noon to 1:30 p.m. June 3, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion has added an emergency session to its “This is Not Normal” town hall series. “I Can't Breathe: From Agony to Activism” will address the troubled history between race and justice, with a focus on the recent tragedy in Minnesota, and outline tangible actions the community can take to achieve justice and equity. The program will feature a panel of community activists, educators, mental health experts and public servants. Register here for the Zoom session. Kathy Humphrey will be providing opening remarks and Paula Davis, assistant vice chancellor for Health Sciences Diversity, and Ron Idoko, diversity and multi-cultural program manager, will moderate. Other panelists include: Jamil Bey, president and CEO, UrbanKind Institute; Jay Darr, director, University Counseling Center; Valerie Kinloch, dean, School of Education; and Majestic Lane, chief equity officer, City of Pittsburgh
At noon June 10, Pitt’s Center for Race and Social Problems, part of the School of Social Work, will host a talk on “Race, Police and Unarmed Civilian Deaths: What Can Be Done?” Law professor David Harris, an expert on police behavior, law enforcement and race, will be joined by James Huguley, the center’s interim director, and John Wallace Jr., senior research fellow. Register here for the online session.
From July 28 to 30, the University will hold a previously scheduled Diversity Forum on “Advancing Social Justice: A Call to Action.” The forum will focus on outlining the key concepts for social justice education and implementation of inclusive policies and practices. Ibram X. Kendi, author of “How to be an Anti-Racist,” will be speaking at the forum. Register here.
The chancellor in his statement said, “This is a time for demonstrating solidarity with our African-American community. To the University of Pittsburgh’s African-American students, faculty, staff and alumni: We stand with you in demanding better and are committed to working with you to make meaningful changes. …
“In this moment of raw grief and anger, we must plot a path forward. We must find ways to build bridges, listen and empathize — even when it is uncomfortable. And we must demand better of our leaders, holding them accountable by voting and pushing to reform the laws and institutions of our democracy. Working together, we have enormous power to realize change.”
Gallagher said he is putting the new five-year strategic Plan for Pitt on hold to “give us time to incorporate specific strategies to strengthen our commitments to racial equity and justice. … To jumpstart this work, we are scheduling and planning a number of opportunities to convene virtually so that we can share ideas, experiences and expertise related to eliminating racism and injustice near and far.”
The Office of Diversity and Inclusion also offered help to anyone in need. Any Pitt community member in need of services or support — or who would like to report concerns of bias — can do so by contacting:
Pitt Police Department Oakland campus: 412-624-2121
Leaders from throughout the University spoke out over the past few days as protesters marched in cities nationwide and some gatherings turned violent.
Provost Ann Cudd (see full statement here): “When protests wane, it will be important to continue to intensify our critical understanding of the roots of racism, violence, and oppression. Just as our biomedical researchers are rushing to find a vaccine for the novel coronavirus, our social scientists and humanist scholars must continue their work to further our understanding, sharpen our critique, and offer solutions to longstanding racism, white supremacy, and police misconduct.”
Betsy Farmer, dean of the School of Social Work (see full statement here): “This week, all of this frustration, anger, and sense of repeated horrors have come to a head in Minneapolis, as we watch and re-watch police officers kill George Floyd. There is a sense of hopelessness, and feeling of helplessness, and, particularly for people of color, a sense of danger in everyday living. …
“Many of us are overwhelmed and consumed by these feelings and these experiences. And we should be -- this is not the world we want to live in, and this is not the world that we can tolerate or support! …
“We need each other now — it is exhausting to wrestle with all that is going on and not being able to support each other. I look forward to the chance to be together, to hear what our collective selves can do, and to find comfort and inspiration in each other! And, if you are unable to attend but are looking for ways to connect -- I welcome you to reach out -- to me, to each other, to faculty and staff. Or visit our website that will house a growing list of resources. Our school is a community, and we need to be part of a caring, engaged, empowered, and determined community right now.”
Valerie Kinloch, dean of the School of Education (see full statement here): “I cannot say it in any other way: My heart is heavy and my soul is stirred. I am traumatized, I am sad, and I am angry. Here we are, again, bearing witness to the workings of systemic oppression, racism and racial injustice, anti-Blackness, and white supremacy in this country. We need only look at any chapter in American history to understand that the legacy of violence, inequality, and inequity directed at, and endured by, Black people and Black Communities has continued into our current moment. If we sit by in silence and inaction, then we are complicit in shaping a future that directly mirrors our nation’s horrific past and present conditions. …
“I ask you to join me in intervening. To begin, I am commissioning a three-year working group titled, “The PittEd Justice Collective.” My office will partner with Dr. T. Elon Dancy and our colleagues in the Center for Urban Education as well as with our new school-wide Equity and Justice committee. Our partnership will curate a series of justice initiatives with and for students, staff, faculty, alumni, families, youth, and district and community partners. Together, we will deeply explore how our current moment is situated within a history of struggle and survival, organizing and resistance, and how we can work toward a future that is equitable, engaging, and justice-directed.”
Among other things, the new PittEd Justice Collective will:
Disseminate, discuss and design interdisciplinary studies on justice
Host justice-focused lunch and learns and other justice programming
Collaborate with Pitt Education faculty and school districts on justice teaching, with an explicit focus on pedagogies, practices, and assessments
Design and propose a justice-defined scope of study for students
Collaborate with staff members on justice-based professional development opportunities
Initiate a Youth for Justice Dean’s Advisory Committee
Make recommendations for justice for public education, higher education, and society
Design a justice fellows program for faculty, staff, students and community partners
Situate antiracist practices at the center of our School of Education and as connected to our cultural drivers and strategic priorities
Kenyon Bonner, dean of Students (see full statement here): “The repeated incidents of black lives being treated with reckless abandon are deeply disturbing, saddening, infuriating, and incomprehensible.
"The most recent tragedies involving Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd are painful reminders that police brutality and racism are deadly and cannot be tolerated if we value the lives and well-being of people of color. Now is not a time to remain silent.
"Student Affairs is committed to protecting and supporting the well-being of all our students, and we proudly stand in solidarity with them. Our students rightly demand justice when crimes have been committed. And while the responsibility for investigating and holding wrongdoers accountable does not lie with us, it is our responsibility to advocate for justice in society and engage in meaningful efforts to dismantle racism and other forms of hate.
"I will be meeting with students next week to discuss ways in which we can help to ensure the Pitt community lives up to its ideals and to help make our community a safe and just place of belonging for all. If you want to be part of that conversation, please email me at email@example.com.”
Catherine Koverola, president of Pitt–Bradford: “Since coming to Pitt-Bradford one year ago today, my commitment to you has been to provide a campus that is safe, welcoming and inclusive for all of our students. We have made some progress this past year, but we know there is more work to do. In the coming year, I hope you will join me in these efforts. Let us know how we can support you through these challenging times. … Please feel free to reach out to me as well as Dr. David Fitz, interim dean of students, or Dr. Michele Cruse, associate dean. The Office of Counseling Services at 814-362-5272 is also available to support you.”
Robert Gregerson, president of Pitt–Greensburg: “UPG values justice, freedom and equality. We are shocked by the horrible examples of hatred and bigotry. We are committed to making real the ideal of "liberty and justice for all," and we stand with those who suffer when racism impacts individuals, communities and our country.”
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-648-4294.
Have a story idea or news to share? Share it with the University Times.