Dear Members of the University Community:
Racial inequality and injustice run counter to the very mission of a university. Our fundamental objectives—to advance the frontiers of knowledge, to be a source of opportunity through education, and to improve society—are all directly harmed if we allow or sustain inequality or injustice based on an individual’s race or ethnicity.
To truly thrive, a university must be an open, just and supportive community—a space that, by design, fosters the pursuit of learning, teaching and the creation of new knowledge. Yet, at the University of Pittsburgh, racist behaviors, systems and structures remain an all-too-common reality. As a community, we must move beyond the goal of creating a more diverse campus and instead work to create an equitable, welcoming and inclusive environment for everyone.
This work involves looking beyond our campuses. A university is also a vital part of a broader community: our region. As an anchor institution, Pitt offers tangible benefits to the places we call home. Far from being an ivory tower, we are counted on to be an effective partner, economic powerhouse and an advantage for those who live and work near us in western Pennsylvania.
Yet, despite Pitt’s remarkable role in transforming our region, not all of our neighbors have benefited equally from our success. In Pittsburgh, large racial and ethnic disparities persist in terms of family wealth, health and education. These divides are particularly daunting in the city’s historically Black neighborhoods. As an anchor institution, we have a commitment to connecting all of our neighbors—including those within our university’s shadow—to these opportunities.
A university is also a global force, dedicated to advancing and sharing knowledge to make the world a better place. Racial injustice and inequity have no regard for campus boundaries or city lines. These issues are among the greatest challenges facing our society today.
Pitt, like all great universities, tackles great challenges. Transforming our campus systems and structures to fully support the success of Black students, faculty and staff is a start—one that will require years of internal examination, active conversations and conscious change.
Moving forward, we must tirelessly recognize and address racist attitudes, behaviors and policies. We must take a closer look at every area within our university—including how we approach teaching, research, financial decisions, policing, recruiting, hiring and contracting.
We must do better.
In early June 2020, we kicked off this mission-critical work. We’ve filled the last few weeks with listening, advocating and learning. But we’ve also taken real and concrete steps toward building a more inclusive campus environment for everyone—and especially for our Black peers and peers of color.
To share a few examples of actions already underway across the University:
In the Office of the Provost
- Developing a one-credit online course on systemic anti-Black racism and anti-racism.
- Hiring Dr. John Wallace as the new vice provost for faculty diversity and development, a role that involves envisioning and overseeing Black faculty diversity and development.
- Hiring an assistant director in the Center on Race and Social Problems to help establish the center as an interdisciplinary, University-wide hub for race-related research and faculty support.
- Engaging a University-wide tenure and promotion committee in developing expectations and guidelines for counting diversity- and inclusion-related service and community-engaged research for promotion and tenure.
In the Division of Student Affairs
- Launching an Anti-racism, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Action Plan. This plan initiates an array of changes within the Division of Student Affairs, including:
- Recruiting and training staff as restorative justice mediators to respond to bias incidents.
- Requiring bias incident report training as well as annual anti-racism training for all professional staff and student workers.
- Increasing the percentage of Black clinicians working in the University Counseling Center to align with the percentage of Black students on campus.
In the Office of Human Resources
- Adding an anti-racism training module to the required anti-sexual harassment training for all new employees.
- Requiring hiring proposals to plan for diversity outreach to Black candidates in order to ensure adequate diversity in hiring pools.
In the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
- Expanding the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to become the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. This change, spearheaded by the newly appointed Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Clyde Pickett, will support expanding programming that specifically aims to implement and advance equity and inclusion strategies.
- Committing to publishing statistics on bias incident reports.
- Hosting a three-day virtual symposium called “Advancing Social Justice: A Call to Action” that drew at least 12,000 registrants from around the world.
In the Office of Public Safety and Emergency Management
- Hosting at least three events each semester, in partnership with the Division of Student Affairs, to build relationships with Black students and student representatives.
- Publicly posting the office’s policies online.
- Creating a checklist of expectations for security guards and Pitt police officers who are paid to support student organization events.
In the School of Medicine
- Establishing a Dean’s Scholarship that covers four years of tuition costs, as well as living stipends and travel funds, for up to three underrepresented minority students, with guaranteed support for two Black medical students, annually.
Across all six Health Sciences Schools
- Creating an Office of the Ombudsperson, which will offer confidential and anonymous support to students of these schools.
In the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid
- Increasing the involvement and engagement of Black Pitt students in the recruitment, enrollment and retention of Black high school students.
In the Office of the Chancellor
- Expanding membership of the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Public Safety to bolster representation by Black students.
These early and immediate efforts complement many others that are already underway in our schools, departments and programs.
Looking ahead, we will continue engaging students, faculty and staff—as well as many stakeholders in surrounding communities—and grow this list of actions. Our extended University planning process will focus on formalizing these plans, committing the resources necessary and presenting to the Board of Trustees once our plans are complete.
To the students, faculty, staff and scholars, including many members of the Black community, who have helped us pivot toward progress: Thank you. We still have considerable work to do, but your voices, time and efforts have guided our early steps toward becoming a better university.
In the coming week, we will be launching a website devoted to identifying and tracking these objectives. This site will also serve as a channel for members of our community to share ideas and provide feedback on our progress. I encourage you to bookmark it now—and check back in a few days for the full launch.