Leaders from across Pitt offer thoughts on racism and justice a year after George Floyd’s death.
Arjang A. Assad, Henry E. Haller Jr. Dean of Pitt Business
As a school, we’ve looked intently both outward and inward, shaken by the acts of violence, hate crimes and bias incidents since George Floyd’s death.
Looking outward, we’ve voiced our solidarity in condemning the targeted and senseless acts of violence toward Black and Asian communities. Looking inward, we are acting on our commitment to inclusion and equity. To step up to the challenge before us, we’ve reimagined core components of our programs with training for faculty and staff, held open forums led by underrepresented students, started a new Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Fund, and made changes in our curriculum.
We are taking action, but much work remains to be done. It is imperative that we do better—as a school and as a University—to sustain this transformation over time.
Kathleen Blee, Bettye J. and Ralph E. Bailey Dean, Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and College of General Studies and codirector of the Collaboratory Against Hate: Research and Action Center
In the year since the murder of George Floyd, students, staff and faculty across the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences and the College of General Studies have been part of a worldwide racial reckoning aimed at exposing and redressing the profound impacts of racism in higher education and beyond. Our efforts toward racial justice took place in forums, poetry readings, deep and often uncomfortable conversations, task forces and rallies. Our faculty led the development of University-wide learning opportunities for students, faculty and staff to address inaccuracies and gaps in our common knowledge of history. Our students engaged in “good trouble,” working to make Pitt a more welcoming space for incoming students from diverse backgrounds. Our staff and faculty have collectively committed hundreds of hours to engaging in challenging dialogue about their own biases, striving toward a more inclusive place to learn and work. This year also saw the creation of the new Collaboratory Against Hate: Research and Action Center, a joint venture between the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. The collaboratory will serve as a hub through which researchers will work with community partners on interventions to curb the acceleration of hate and violence against minoritized and marginalized groups in our society.
Kenyon Bonner, vice provost and dean of students
A few days ago, I was jogging through my suburban north Pittsburgh neighborhood. My neighbor who is a police officer waived to me from his driveway. I smiled, waved and kept moving.
A few blocks away, a beleaguered blue lives matter flag hung from a neighbor’s basketball hoop. I smiled and kept moving.
Farther down the road, my neighbor who is a nurse was on her morning walk. We waved to each other. I smiled and kept moving.
Around the corner, young children were playing hockey in the middle of the street. We waived to each other. We all smiled, and I kept moving.
A few blocks down the road, I passed a neighbor’s yard sign that read “In this house, we believe Black lives matter.” I smiled and kept moving.
A year after Derek Chauvin’s brutal murder of George Floyd, I am grateful that he was held accountable. However, Chauvin’s conviction makes me no less anxious when my Black sons are driving and no less committed to the fight for racial justice.
Despite my caution, I remain hopeful that the lives lost and disenfranchised by the incessant violence of racial injustice have not been in vain. I remain optimistic that the voices and actions of billions of people will continue to reverberate in noble hearts, minds, classrooms and homes.
In the words of Nelson Mandela, I am hopeful that “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other—not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.”
The fight for racial justice continues. Keep moving.
Ann E. Cudd, provost and senior vice chancellor
May 25—the date of George Floyd's senseless, brutal death—will always stand as a stark reminder of a tragedy that galvanized a powerful call to just action. His memory now continues to propel our efforts to offer solutions to long-standing racism. As an inclusive, equitable and caring community, let us turn this sad anniversary into a determined one, committed to the mutual recognition of the dignity and equal moral worth of every individual.
Elizabeth M.Z. Farmer, dean of the School of Social Work
As we look back at the past year and look forward to the time ahead, each of us will see it through our own lens that is influenced by our identities, positionality and experiences. Recognizing this diversity of who we are and what we bring is part of our strength in moving forward. We have begun the work of stepping out of our comfort zones and established practices to critically evaluate what we’re doing, what we need to do and what we must confront. Racism and oppression continue because they are “normal” in our society; we must continue to build our critical awareness, approaches, policies and practices to dismantle the problems and create an anti-racist, anti-oppressive, inclusive and welcoming school, University, community and society.
Patrick Gallagher, chancellor
We must find ways to build bridges, listen and empathize—even when it is uncomfortable. Working together, we have enormous power to realize change.
David A. Harris, Sally Ann Semenko Endowed Chair and professor of law
The video of George Floyd’s murder brought millions face to face with a grim reality, even beyond the cruel, senseless killing itself. Many began to realize the truth of what Black people have said forever: They face targeting by police, which can be physically dangerous and even deadly. And, in so many other ways, they face systemic disadvantages across many dimensions, such as economics and health.
As I look at Pittsburgh—where I served on the mayor’s Community Task Force on Police Reform—and as I survey what has happened nationally, I see some signs of progress. For example, Pittsburgh’s city council and the city’s police force have made changes in the way officers may and may not use force. I talk to many police officers and leaders who truly want this to be a moment of transformational change. But it is clear that what has happened so far is not enough. This past year must be just the beginning of the change we need to see, not the end point.
As I look forward, I hope that our entire Pitt community sees the necessity of working toward equity and fairness not just regarding policing but in all of the structures that disadvantage so many Americans depending on racial or ethnic appearance. I hope to see the energy generated by the events of the last year channeled into forcing city and state leaders to create the change we want and deserve.
James Loftus, chief of the University of Pittsburgh Police Department
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, necessary and critical demands have been placed upon law enforcement. Our country and our community have pushed us to examine each policy and practice to determine its validity and necessity as we move forward. Here at Pitt, that has meant reviewing, in great detail, how we hire; train; supervise; and, above all, hold ourselves accountable to the people we serve. We do all of those things better today than we did one year ago. We know that there is more work to be done. Our promise is to continue that progress in partnership with our community.
Daniel Jacobson López, chair of diversity and inclusion for the University of Pittsburgh Postdoctoral Association (UPPDA)
While it has been one year since the murder of George Floyd, countless Black individuals continue to be murdered resulting from anti-Black racism. We must continue to combat and speak up against all forms of anti-Black racism both at Pitt and wherever it does occur. I and UPPDA remain committed to supporting Black doctors at the University of Pittsburgh and ensuring equity and equality.
Our country’s continued history of systemic anti-Black racism has resulted in the tragic murders of countless Black individuals including George Floyd, Antwon Rose, Breonna Taylor, Dreasjon “Sean” Reed and Tony McDade. We cannot remain indifferent to the suffering of the Black community, as such inaction only allows for continued re-traumatization due to anti-Black discrimination and violence in this country. We can and must actively work to secure justice for Black people in Pittsburgh. We must speak out and, most importantly, take meaningful action to make substantive changes in policy and practice for Black postdocs, students, faculty, staff and colleagues at the University of Pittsburgh.
As the University of Pittsburgh is a predominantly white institution, there are few scholars of color. Currently, only 3% of Pitt’s 851 postdoctoral trainees are Black. UPPDA strongly believes that the University must collectively work to identify ways to increase the number of Black postdocs at Pitt, as well as make Pitt a safe and welcoming environment for every Black postdoc who chooses Pitt as their institution to train at.
UPPDA unequivocally stands in support of Black postdocs, faculty, students and staff at the University of Pittsburgh.
Monica McNeil, Carson scholar, track and field athlete and former chair of the Pitt Student-Athlete Advisory Committee
George Floyd’s murder forced people to confront racism that at one point could’ve and would’ve been easily ignored by some. But that’s no longer the case. For me, it showed more than ever the need for all of us to be intentional in the work of dismantling the systematic racism that allows for tragedies like this to happen in the first place and continues to negatively affect so many people in all aspects of life. If something is important to you, then it’s worth standing up for, and that’s what I plan to continue to do.
Clyde Pickett, vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion
The murder of George Floyd will long be remembered as a transformational moment in American history. Many of us will remember where we were when we saw the horrific video and how it made us feel. The tragic loss of his life remains a resounding call for action and change with regard to racial reckoning. On the one-year anniversary of his death, may we remember his life and family and not let the tragedy of this loss be in vain. May we be reminded that the work to promote accountability and transparency in law enforcement is a priority and necessary. This anniversary is an opportunity to acknowledge the actions taken to advance social justice and to recognize that there remains much work to be done. As a community, may we challenge ourselves to engage in the critical dialogues about race and racism and the broader opportunity to confront systemic inequity.
Anantha Shekhar, senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of the School of Medicine
One year later, so much and yet so little has changed. It is a time to reflect. And it is a time to rededicate ourselves to the challenging work—still just beginning—of building a better, healthier and fairer world.
Matt Wilson, men’s track and field athlete and incoming equity, diversity and inclusion chair of the Pitt Student-Athlete Advisory Committee
The death of George Floyd showed me the importance of coming together. It’s important for those in my generation to stand up for what they believe is wrong and to always lend a hand to those in need. In order to continue to combat hate and racial discrimination, it truly takes the support of thousands, and it starts with us. By coming together and continuing to stand against racial hatred, we will continue to build a better nation for our youth.