SENATE MATTERS: Doing our part on racism, equity and justice


Through the work of its elected representatives, appointees, standing committees and outreach, the University Senate should ideally pursue a version of Pitt that is fair and beneficial for all of us, whether we are students, staff, faculty or simply neighbors inextricably linked to Pitt by proximity.

In a very loose sense, this reflects our expectations of the public institutions we know and rely upon elsewhere in our lives. And just like those other institutions, we have to acknowledge the role that the Senate can and must play in addressing the persistent, destructive force that is racism.

On July 22,  the Senate officers issued a directive, which can be found here, to the chairs of all of our standing committees. The directive orders all committees to examine the issues of racism, equity and justice within the scope of their missions. The Senate already has a standing committee on Equity, Inclusion and Anti-Discrimination Advocacy, which has a strong track record of engaging with these issues, but what the new directive adds is additional labor, talent, perspective, specificity and resources afforded by the involvement of our other committees.

Committees will proceed according to whatever approach best fits them, but each will ultimately produce a report that will be used to formulate a Senate Plenary session in the spring.

And, what are our goals? Our efforts alone in this endeavor will not solve racism and will not ensure equity or justice, and so our goals are not that lofty. However, we do expect three things to happen.

First, we expect that by engaging in this exercise, the process of examining these issues will become engrained in the work of the Senate — second nature to the way the Senate approaches all topics. If racism can exert its influence anywhere, the Senate should approach all issues prepared to find and address it in the future.

Second, we expect to learn more about our institution and its impacts than we already know, including good things about existing or planned efforts at the University, but also including weaknesses and gaps.

And, third, we expect to share our findings broadly and to productive ends, including recommendations for programs, policy/procedure changes, and transparency.  

So, where are we now? While it is still early in the semester, several standing committees have already met and reported progress identifying topics within this space that they will be examining this fall. Without reservation, I can say the officers are heartened, but not surprised, to see the level of enthusiasm we have seen thus far. A lot of good ideas are brewing, and we are sure more are on the way.

The last thing I will say is that we cannot do this on our own. Your input and involvement are needed. It is, after all, your University Senate. So, I encourage you to reach out with any ideas you have to the appropriate standing committee, or if you are not sure which committee your idea should go to, reach out to me or any of the other officers. We don’t assume our approach is perfect, and in fact we assume it is not. With your help and the hard work of our committees, we may still make a difference.

Join us in the Senate and see what we can all do together.

David Salcido is the University Senate vice president and reminds you to take a walk to the Panther Hollow Lake while it’s still warm out.