Dear Members of the University Community:
It is impossible to forget the image of George Floyd, gasping for air as a police officer who is sworn to protect and defend calmly kneels on his neck until he dies. It is both a shocking scene of violence that should never happen and a potent reminder that it continues to happen all the time.
The painful truth is that persistent and systemic racism continues to fuel a deep injustice toward African Americans. The familiarity of this tragedy has ignited widespread protests and demonstrations—not only across our country, but across the globe.
We are outraged because it is outrageous. How many times must we witness these blatant examples of injustice, hatred, brutality and discrimination before we resolve to change things?
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.
Unfortunately, grief and anger are emotions too easily exploited. Some are happy to create confusion, sow conflict and incite violence and ultimately erode our fundamental rights to peaceably gather and demand real change. This, too, is a painfully familiar pattern. Against a rising toll of injury, death and recrimination, we stand to lose our solidarity—replacing it with ever-deepening divisions.
Do we have to go down this road?
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.
But this is also a time to turn the lens inward and consider our institution’s own role in perpetuating unfair structures and systems. A university is not an ivory tower but an extension of society—a place dedicated to advancing knowledge for everyone’s gain. Racism degrades our pursuit of true equality, liberty and justice, and it undermines our ability to create opportunity through teaching, research and service. Our university must become a better, more equitable place, and we can do more.
These local efforts may seem like small acts in the face of a national civil crisis, but they can catalyze powerful change. The University of Pittsburgh is a longstanding leader in our region. Yet, for all of our remarkable accomplishments, African Americans living within the Cathedral of Learning’s shadow are still confronting an alarming opportunity gap. We can expand our efforts to translate our work into practice and spur a local renaissance in our surrounding neighborhoods and communities.
Reshaping our university to be more diverse, inclusive and just—while also expanding our reach and impact in promoting social justice—is a significant effort, and we will need to resource and sustain this transformation over time. Because of this, I am putting our nearly complete strategic planning process—which aims to chart Pitt’s course over the next five years—on hold. This pause will give us time to incorporate specific strategies to strengthen our commitments to racial equity and justice. I will need your help in identifying the most promising initiatives in this final plan, and I hope you will participate.
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. In the days ahead, we must continue to stand in solidarity as we work to forge a better, more equitable future for all.