Racial Equity Consciousness Institute promotes continuing conversation


Pitt’s new Racial Consciousness Equity Institute began as an idea in 2020.

“When the chancellor put the message out last year in the aftermath of George Floyd that the University is going to be committed to advancing racial equity, that became the starting point for us in really thinking about how do you position the entire University community to do that, realizing that’s not the job of just one office,” said Ron Idoko, diversity and multi-cultural program manager in the Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.

The goal is not only to foster broad competencies so people have a clear understanding of what it means to advance racial equity, but also for those people to be able to take those conversations back to their own work units and other groups.

“One of the challenges that we often see … is that a lot of folks can be very uncomfortable when it comes to having deep ongoing conversations around race and racism,” Idoko said. “We had to really think about how do we create environments where people work to express themselves, they really work to build those dialogic skills so that they’re more confident and effective in having those conversations in their respective units.”

The institute has had a couple of trial runs, including 120 people from both within and outside Pitt participating over two days and 14 hours this summer at the annual Diversity Forum. The first official cohort, which is only open to Pitt students and employees, begins on Sept. 29, with sessions from 3 to 5 p.m. each Wednesday through Nov. 10. Register here.

Idoko said the maximum number of people for the cohort is 200 to 250, mainly because of technical limitations. They want to be able to have small group dialogues of four to five people and the online platform will only allow 50 breakout rooms. As on Sept. 20, around 140 people had registered.

The institute is open to everyone at Pitt, he said, “because the idea is everyone has a role to play in addressing racism.” He said those already registered include faculty, staff, students and even deans.

The seven weeks of discussions start with an overview of racial equity consciousness and then focus on six spheres of development:

  • Understanding Racial Oppression and Advancing Racial Liberation

  • Examining Racial Identities and Addressing Racial Biases

  • Embracing Racial Diversity and Growing Racial Competence

  • Building Racial Empathy and Enhancing Racial Stamina

  • Acknowledging Racial Trauma and Fostering Racial Healing

  • Gauging Racial Inequities and Championing Racial Justice

Each of the modules are bilateral in that the topics feed into each other. For instance in the first module, understanding racial oppression through the history of racial dominance and racial privilege based on racial group designations, “puts you in the best position to advance racial liberation,” Idoko said.

While racism of all forms will be covered, Idoko said, “the content will hone in on anti-Black racism, only because we identify that as the most visceral when we think about the impact of racism. When you look at racial inequity, when you look at the data, when you look at the outcomes, black communities tend to be on the bottom of the barrel. We really think about how do we work to address those who’ve been most oppressed. … When we work to address those who’ve been most impacted, it actually kind of aids everyone in the process.”

The Office of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion worked with the University Center on Teaching and Learning to create a racial equity consciousness resource site on Canvas. Idoko said they’re always adding new resources and information. They also encourage community members to help populate the page.

For each sphere of development, there are resources for reflection, some videos, and books for consideration. The resources are open to everyone, and “folks who go through our institute can then utilize these resources to facilitate the conversation on their own,” he said.

The goal is to have a cohort every semester and then work on making the program scalable and sustainable. “The series is designed for folks to prepare to facilitate the conversations for their own units. What we’re doing is not so unique that other folks can’t facilitate the dialogue. Our focus is that we all have to be actively engaged in dialogues on racial equity if we want to foster an environment that advances racial equity.”

Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at suejones@pitt.edu or 724-244-4042.


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