With more than 12,000 participants worldwide, the forum was a first-of-its-kind community-oriented, virtual social justice learning symposium, complete with over 55 interactive workshops and sessions.
While we’re just getting started in our work toward a better, more equitable community, we hope the forum presented an opportunity for listening, learning, self-reflection and growth.
For highlights, check out Pittwire’s live blog below. Recordings of all workshops will be posted on the forum website soon, and you can watch all livestreamed sessions on Pitt Diversity’s YouTube channel.
Working Together/Healing Together: Transforming Care via Social Justice
By Will Entrekin, writer
Panelists: Sage Hayes, who focused on healing from collective trauma and embodied trauma; Felicia and Martin Freidman, founders of YogaRoots on Location, embodied antiracist yoga instruction; and Jay Darr, PhD, director of the University Counseling Center, University of Pittsburgh (moderator).
“What a powerful and engaging forum this has been,” Jay Darr said of the University’s 2020 Diversity Forum as he led the final session Thursday. “I’m grateful for this space of knowledge and action.”
Darr, director of the Pitt Counseling Center, facilitated a session that explored trauma, healing and growth to close the forum. Following a grounded breathing exercise facilitated by Felicia Savage-Friedman, an Antiracist Raja Yoga practitioner, Sage Hayes discussed ways the body sometimes experiences psychic trauma in physical ways.
“There have probably been a lot of sensations and feelings and endurance it has taken to stay present with the content and shared living experiences [discussed throughout the forum], all of the suffering and sorrow that we’re living with right now,” she said.
Hayes then introduced a challenging question: “How can we create spaces of care for each other and connection and embodied practices that help us get back to rest, help us express our rage, turn our anxiety into activism and protest and action or turn our collapse into moving mobilizing energy toward what you want in your life.”
It was a question participants were interested in, as was Darr himself, who suggested exploring the ideas of historical and trans-generational traumas that make us as a collective society feel stuck. “How do we heal that so that we’re not stuck in perpetual hopelessness?”
Friedman acknowledged the “moment-to-moment struggle” of doing so while referring back to her grounded breathing exercise. “I give myself permission to feel what I’m feeling … and I have practices in place to honor what I’m feeling in the moment without staying in it for a long period of time.” As an artist, Friedman feels she can’t create her most impactful work from that place, so she uses activities to shift away from it, including taking walks, watching the sunset, singing and hula hoops.
Hayes agreed with the importance of healthful activities that bring joy, and the way historical trauma can affect the body. “There’s a way that we have to understand the immensity of historical trauma not to overwhelm us but to deepen our compassion and understanding.”
One important element, she said, was to acknowledge which traumas were ours to carry—and which aren’t. “There are things I might be carrying that I inherited unconsciously, and maybe I have to process it or maybe I have to give it over to the perpetrator or a higher power,” she said.
She also acknowledged the power of enjoying joyful activities with each other. “We can shake it together and enjoy connection with intention and envision the world we are creating. It’s a gift to our ancestors who endured that trauma and a way to together saw we can let go of this,” she said.
In final remarks, rising senior Cedric Humphrey spoke of the importance of engagement. He acknowledged it was unfortunate that participants could not meet together for the forum, though he joked that he enjoyed wearing pajamas to watch Ibram X. Kendi’s session.
The Diversity Forum kicked off Pitt’s Year of Engagement. Humphrey was part of the student-led committee that proposed the theme to the Office of the Provost when the upcoming census and presidential election year seemed to indicate the importance of engagement.
“The Year of Engagement is a celebration of work central to our mission of mobilizing to a more equitable and just society,” Humphrey told participants, whom he hoped had gained insight, passion, energy or new understanding from sessions.
And in a session that explored the idea of how to overcome historical and trans-generational trauma, it was only fitting that the next generation offered the only solution more valuable than hope: a call to action.
Responding to Root Causes: Shifts Toward a New Public Health and Public Safety Paradigm
By Gavin Jenkins, associate editor of Pitt Med magazine
Panelists: Richard Garland, MSW, assistant professor of public health practice, University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health; Kelley Kelley, LEAD Community Engagement Coordinator for CONNECT and mayor of the Borough of Turtle Creek; Laura Drogowski, critical communities manager, Mayor’s Office of Equity, City of Pittsburgh; Jody Raeford; executive director for the Foundation of HOPE; London Kimbrugh, CONNECT Community Paramedics; and Kenneth Hickey, CONNECT Community Paramedics
When a gunshot victim recovers at one of UMPC’s trauma centers, a social worker at the hospital asks if they’d like to meet with Richard Garland and learn about Pitt’s Gunshot Recurring Injury Prevention Services.
Garland, an assistant professor in Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health and a former gang member, said that when a patient agrees to talk, his first question is: “Who do I have to talk to make sure you don’t end up in this bed again?”
In remarks during Thursday’s virtual panel discussion focused on Allegheny County programs designed to stop violence at the root in urban communities, Garland said he then reaches out to the person who shot the patient. When they connect, he negotiates a ceasefire and then uses his community contacts to prevent additional violence. He said that, in most cases, he stops more bloodshed by moving gunshot victims to new apartments in other towns, thanks to donations from the Urban League, Allegheny Link and the Urban Redevelopment Authority. Sometimes, he even helps patients find jobs.
A mediator in Pittsburgh’s Black communities for more than 25 years, Garland explained to the audience that efforts to stop “this disease of violence” will fail unless activists build relationships inside and outside their communities.
“It’s not just talking with the funders [of nonprofit organizations],” Garland said. “You also have to build a relationship with politicians, law enforcement officials, people outside the county.”
Drogowski, from the Mayor’s Office of Equity, opened the panel with a slideshow that framed the problem from a public safety perspective. She said the Pittsburgh police fielded approximately 151,000 calls for assistance from citizens in 2019. “First responders frequently acknowledge that they are responding to situations that are not consistent with their job descriptions or training,” she said.
In June, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto announced the creation of the Office of Community Health and Safety (OCH&S), and Drogowski said it was borne out of the “right responder” objective.
“The whole goal is to have people never touch the criminal justice system,” she said.
Drogowski urged the audience to look at the city’s public safety issues as rapids on a river, with programs like OCH&S, CONNECT Community Paramedics and the Foundation of HOPE, as well as Garland’s activism, trying to work upstream to help people with factors that lead to violence, like mental health issues, food insecurity and housing.
“Why are all these people in the river?” she said. “Why are we at the rapids? Everyone’s at the rapids. What would it look like to have someone like Richard Garland way upstream to provide a rope? To get meaningful connections in community involvement?”
Progress, but a Long Way to Go: Panelists Reflect on the ADA Turning 30
By Amerigo Allegretto, communications specialist
The 1990 passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act was an important milestone that was intended to ensure everyone with a disability could have a life of freedom and equality. Three decades later, the journey is ongoing.
Just ask Rory Cooper.
Cooper, director of the Human Engineering Research Laboratories at the University of Pittsburgh, has been in a wheelchair since 1980 when he suffered an accident while stationed in Germany for the U.S. Army.
“I had to find people to carry me upstairs to get to labs, and lab equipment was meant for standing, not sitting. It was very difficult to get credit, meaning it was difficult to advance,” Cooper said to a virtual audience Thursday in the livestreamed Diversity Forum workshop, “Americans with Disabilities Act at 30: Pitt Contributions and Impact on Pitt.”
Since becoming director of HERL in 1994, Cooper has led the discovery and innovative progress of new technologies for wheelchairs and prosthetics to support independence for all. These include a wheelchair powered by compressed air, a robotic arm extension to help wheelchair users grab items and a specialized computer mouse for people with prosthetic arms.
Yet he noted the ongoing challenges with polling places and car rental along with the near-impossible challenge of flying among other accessibility issues.
“I had to enter some restaurants through the kitchen instead of the front entrance,” said Cooper, who was named Thursday as the lead researcher for a national study about the accessibility of autonomous transportation. Pitt’s leadership role was announced by the U.S. Department of Transportation, which will fund the study with a $1 million grant.
Among the improvements cited by panelists since the ADA’s signing on July 26, 1990, include: communication advancements, such as telecom devices for the deaf, advanced hearing aids and smart phones have bridged communication gaps for people with hearing or visual disabilities.
Panelists said while society as a whole, including Pitt and the city of Pittsburgh, has improved since the signing of the ADA, there are still barriers to bring down.
“We still see higher unemployment for people with disabilities and participation for people with disabilities in the workplace is still relatively low,” said Jonathan Duvall, alum of Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering and the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. “That could be because they’re afraid of losing their health care or other benefits, but it’s still an issue that has other ramifications. Their children can grow up poor, and additional income from getting married can result in them losing their services.”
“We’d like to be in the forefront in planning, not be an afterthought,” said Libby Powers, a research assistant at HERL.
Panelists said more education on how to approach or include someone with a disability is needed. Shelby VanVliet, undergraduate student representative to the Chancellor's Committee on Inclusion and Accessibility, talked about her struggle to secure her wheelchair on a bus.
“I was harassed because I simply asked the bus driver to put tight-ons on my electric wheelchair. There have also been instances where people questioned why I even need tight-ons to begin with,” she said. “Not a lot of people are aware of how to be inclusive of individuals with disabilities.”
Panelists also said they would like to see Pitt do more, including continuing to support disability research and offering the University’s expertise to the community. Pitt offers resources to those with disabilities through its Office of Disability Resources and Services.
“We need to continue to be disruptive and boisterous, and use our resources to push change. We can’t be content just because the ADA is around, and it has to be done collectively. We need people outside the ADA to also be involved,” said Chaz Kellem, director of Pitt Serves. “Disabilities can affect anyone at any point in their lives.”
What’s in a Name? A New Pronunciation Software Could Help Create a Culture of Inclusivity
By Sharon S. Blake, communications manager
We’ve all been there. You come across a name, don’t know how to pronounce it and the person is standing there before you. What to do?
“The best way to handle it is to simply ask ‘How would you like me to pronounce your name?’” said Belkys Torres, Pitt’s executive director of global engagement. “Do it in a matter-of-fact way. It shows respect and is the first step toward a trusting relationship.”
But another helpful tool is in the works for the Pitt community.
Torres spoke at a Pitt Diversity Forum 2020 session titled “Fostering Inclusion through Welcoming First Impressions: Name Diversity and NameCoach.” She was joined by Ian McLaughlin, global operations support manager at the University Center for International Studies.
The pair showcased a new tool called NameCoach that is available to Pitt faculty, staff and students. It’s a cloud-based product that gives us all a way to more easily learn and remember name pronunciations and pronouns through any online touchpoint. Individuals can create a name badge by going to my.pitt.edu, typing “NameCoach” in the search bar and following the directions. They record the pronunciation of their name and include background on its origin and, if they like, their pronouns.
That recording is then available on their email signature, LinkedIn page or their instructor’s class roster, if the course uses Canvas.
“Names are an intrinsic portion of our sense of self, reflecting our family histories and cultural traditions,” said Torres. She noted that name diversity is deeply connected with a first impression, which is happening more often virtually these days.
“Names are incredibly personal and crucial to establish an optimal environment for learning, relationship-building, group bonding and a sense of inclusion,” she said.
Torres said that when people are confronted with the name “Belkys”—pronounced bell-kiss—they tend to skip it entirely and call her “Torres” or even “B.” In reality, her name has Turkish roots and goes back a number of generations, traveling the 1920s migration from Lebanon to Cuba.
Panel audience member Jazzkia Jones said that people frequently refer to her as “Jazz” or even “Ms. Jones.” A faculty member talked about the difficulty of calling on students whose names were difficult to pronounce.
Now with NameCoach, that name-based uncertainty could become a thing of the past.
My Racial Journey: A Guide to Developing Racial Literacy
By Margo Fischgrund, communications manager
A session geared toward giving adults the tools to talk about race with children began with a candid admission.
“I’ve been thinking about young children for my entire career … but never had I heard anyone bring up a conversation about race until I got to Pitt [in 2011],” said Shannon Wanless (pictured above), director of the Office of Child Development, part of Pitt’s School of Education. “It became clear that this is something I need to teach my students. I didn’t know where to begin.”
Since then, Wanless, who is White, and her colleagues with the Office of Child Development and its P.R.I.D.E. (Positive Racial Identity Development in Early Education) Program, have worked to foster the positive racial identity of young kids, support the adults in their lives and broaden the scope of awareness about the ways that kids are affected by race. The Office of Child Development reaches more than 7,000 children and families each year through community programs, early child partnerships and initiatives advancing racial equity and social justice.
And on Thursday at Diversity Forum 2020, Wanless and her team debuted a new project: My Racial Journey, a 10-week guide of activities that’s designed to help adults who work with children develop their own knowledge about race.
Two years in the making
My Racial Journey started as just an idea in the winter of 2018. Since then, it’s been piloted in school districts, university classrooms and early childhood centers across the country. Today, it exists as a free, open-source guide that lives online, with design by Adam Flango, the Office of Child Development’s communications manager, who is also White.
The activities are meant to help adults examine their early experiences with race and reflect on how those memories shape their perspectives today. And it’s not just for educators: anyone who is interacting professionally with children can use the resource, Flango said.
Wanless said it’s is an entry-level resource—a great place to start for those who want to have these conversations, but don’t know where to begin. “If you’re someone saying I know I should be talking about race with my staff, colleagues or my kids … this is where you should start,” she said.
From an educator’s perspective, Wanless said that it’s best to acknowledge that these conversations may not feel comfortable.
“You can stay in a place where you feel a little uncomfortable, and it’s OK,” she said. “There are definitely moments where it’s too much, and that’s when people need some self-care, and that’s OK, too.”
The sessions are broken down into 10 activities that each take about 20 minutes to complete, and they help with the development of four main skills:
- Racial humility
- Racial knowledge
- Racial communication
- Racial beliefs
In the workshop Aisha White, director of the P.R.I.D.E. Program and who is Black, walked the participants through a racial humility activity in My Racial Journey. She started by saying it’s important to understand your own perspective of race and where it came from.
She prompted the group: “When was the first time you realized there was a concept about race? Have you thought about that experience recently?”
People in the chat shared their own experiences. Many recalled their first experiences with race at young ages—at 3, 4 or 6 years old. Many said they hadn’t recalled having thoughts about these experiences in many years, if at all. Some shared their experiences audibly in the group—recounting memories they had at grocery stores, in their homes and on their front lawns.
After the open and honest session, Wanless and White asked the participants to take two minutes of silence to reflect.
At the end of two minutes, Wanless said, “Take a good deep deliberate breath and come back to the group,” she said. “And describe your feelings in one word.”
Words like “peaceful,” “reflective,” “embarrassing” and “emotional,” entered the chat.
The exercise helped create space for the complex emotions that came from thinking about those memories.
Historians Discuss Race, Discrimination and Protest in Pittsburgh
By Will Entrekin, writer
Panelists: Laurence Glasco, associate professor, Department of History; Laura Lovett, associate professor, Department of History; John Stoner, senior lecturer, Department of History and executive director for academic affairs, University Center for International Studies; moderator anupama jain, executive director of Pittsburgh’s Gender Equity Commission.
Early in his teaching career at Pitt, a student’s question prompted Laurence Glasco to change his syllabus to show that there is more to Black history and race relations than violence, oppression and resistance.
“What I want to do today is go into some of the things that are often left out of history because they don’t have a dramatic violent context to it, but are important for us to understand and deal with that history,” said Glasco.
To begin, Glasco said Pittsburgh was one of the first cities in the country to desegregate schools in 1875; many northern cities didn’t do so until well into the twentieth century. In the 1920s, when jazz came to Pittsburgh, jazz clubs attracted large and diverse audiences.
Into mid-century, steelwork was a major occupation for many Pittsburghers, and while some mills excluded Black employees, the Clark mills not only employed Black workers but even hired them in positions that saw them supervising White employees.
In 1958, Pittsburgh became just the second city in the country to pass a fair housing ordinance, which Laura Lovette also discussed in the context of redlining—a program set up along with the Federal Housing Administration in 1934.
“All neighborhoods that have African Americans were outlined in red and those houses were declared to be a risk for investment by federal funds,” Lovette explained. People who wanted to buy those houses generally had to turn to private mortgages, which cost more.
Additionally, Lovette pointed out that the language used by the committees drawing the lines was the same used by the American Eugenic Society in their discussion around reproductive anxiety in the 1920s.
This arguably contributed to what Glasco called the great paradox of Pittsburgh history: “Despite a history of relative racial harmony, Blacks today lag badly here in terms of lifestyle and quality of living,” he said, citing a 2015 study on median household wealth and income. The study showed that the median wealth for White Pittsburgh households was $110,000, while the median wealth of Black households was just $6,000.
“Pittsburgh has a lot to do to catch up in systemic issues that have a lot to do with quality of life and status of Black community,” he said.
John Stoner discussed current events, including the Black Lives Matter protests, which the New York Times called the largest movement in U.S. history, with upper estimates of 25 million protestors participating.
“You have millions who are safely masking and carrying water and first-aid in wagons that really indicate this is a mass movement of people who really want change and are willing to take care of each other in making this happen,” Lovette commented.
Stoner hoped future historians will be able to write positively about race equity and justice in our time. “Some of the things that have been notional experiments are coming back into political discourse,” he said, citing examples like conversations about reparations and ongoing support for police reform.
“Historians are bad at predicting the future. But we can think about how future historians will analyze these moments. ... We hope that we will write a more positive epitaph for this moment than has been the case for far too long,” he said.
Student Organizers on Seeking Justice in a Polarized, Competitive World
By Micaela Fox Corn, communications specialist
In Thursday morning’s featured session at the Diversity Forum 2020, a panel of three student government leaders shared their commitments to organizing for justice.
“We’re by no means experts,” said Kathryn Fleisher, University of Pittsburgh student, 2020 Truman Scholar and executive director of Not My Generation, a nonprofit committed to localized, intersectional gun violence prevention and advocacy. “But we realized we’re the people who are doing it on the ground. We’re the people who really believe in this enough to carry it out every day, to do hours and hours of volunteer work every week.”
Fleisher led the workshop on organizing for justice with fellow students and members of the Student Government Board (SGB), Cedric Humphrey, a rising senior and executive vice president and liaison to the academic affairs committee of SGB, and Tyler Viljaste, a rising junior and vice president and chief of SGB’s cabinet.
Around 175 participants tuned in on Zoom and via YouTube live. Takeaways from the session, called, “Collaboration, Aggregation, & Cooperation: Organizing for Justice in a Polarized, Competitive World,” include:
Collective struggles require collective solutions. “The current siloed ways of organizing aren’t as effective, and they aren’t working for young people,” said Viljaste. “The current institutional structures frustrate the organizational space for students like us who are trying to make change.”
Aggregate. Pool resources and knowledge with others. Take the opportunity to uplift other organizations doing work locally.
Fight the nonprofit industrial complex. When organizations have to compete for funding, it forces nonprofits to think like businesses rather than fulfilling their missions. This disenfranchises their constituents. “Young people see through this model. We are tossing it out in favor of a more just and equitable model of making social change,” said Fleisher.
Build coalitions. It strengthens your organizational power base. “You can sit down at the table with other groups working for other changes, and say, ‘Our missions may not be exactly the same, but the best way to create change, to get started, is to get people on your side,’” said Humphrey.
Be intersectional. “The Black Lives Matter movement is chiefly about racial justice and equity for Black Americans,” said Fleisher. “But it’s also about economic and gender equality, environmental justice. … So for us to be organizing in a siloed manner doesn’t make sense because our work isn’t siloed. We should be partnering with each other, not competing with each other to do the work.”
Look to history. Chances are, the problems we’re facing today have been faced before, in similar fashion, said Fleisher. Get creative with solutions by working together. Young people have and will continue to be at the forefront of this kind of organizing. They’ve also pushed for critical, radical change at every point in history—and right now is no different, she said. We have to move into a new approach because our communities need to be served.
Trust that communities know themselves best. “It’s easy to get caught up in the academic environment and not engage with the communities that are experiencing those social justice concerns. We have to listen to them on the issue,” said Viljaste.
Trust young people to democratize leadership. Create horizontal power structures. Diversify every place you can. The speakers listed examples including Pitt’s Brackenridge research fellowship, which is a cohort of 36 students—12 in STEM, 12 in humanities, 12 in social sciences—that allows for boundary crossing conversations. They also noted the creation of the Center for Civic Engagement at Pitt Civics and Not My Generation, Fleisher’s organization.
Let institutions of higher education do their work… Universities educate and create engaged, active citizens. They provide students with the tools they need to create change.
…but allow space for critical reflection. “We can’t create engaged, active leaders if we don’t allow them to think critically,” said Humphrey.
Fleisher posed a question to Viljaste and Humphrey, something they get asked a lot: Isn’t this approach a little aspirational? Too naive, not actually realistic in terms of doing good, productive organizing?
“Part of the problem with the question itself is that its inherently limiting. That very sowing of doubt within us is the reason siloes continue to exist,” said Viljaste.
“Something being hard should never stop you,” Humphrey added. “In a perfect world this is how we would organize. We should all be striving to create a better world.”
Each student made recommendations for books, professors and courses, such as intro to social work and political theory, that changed their thinking about the space of organizing. If you need some inspiration, check out the workshop recorded on YouTube: https://bit.ly/30cMGP0
From Protest to Policy: Environmental Justice, Economic Equity and Community Activism
By Margo Fischgrund, communications manager
What can individuals, including Pitt’s incoming students, do if they want to dedicate their lives to human rights, civil rights and racial and social justice issues? The answer involves looking inward.
anu jain, executive director of Pittsburgh’s Gender Equity Commission, offered perspective: “Start with what you see as an injustice in your own life. Don’t try to solve other people’s problems,” she said. “You are the best expert in how injustice shows up in your own life.”
Advice like this came up frequently in Thursday morning’s opening session of the final day of Pitt’s Diversity Forum 2020, Advancing Social Justice: A Call to Action.
The panel’s moderator, Kristin Kanthak, associate professor in the Department of Political Science, set the context for this session, describing the energy of this summer’s protests as “powerful.”
To learn how the protests can be translated into policy, a diverse panel of professionals and activists who have been doing this work in Pittsburgh for years shared their experiences.
Fred Brown: The president and CEO of the Forbes Funds, an organization that provides capacity building to nonprofits in Allegheny County, said after the death of George Floyd, many of his White friends have reached out to him saying: “I didn’t realize it was ‘that bad.’”
“That really hurt me,” he said, adding that Black people don’t get to walk away when the protests are over. “The burden we carry is extraordinary. We grow tired.”
One of the best ways to show support is to help support leadership, Brown said. What’s really “troublesome” is when White people design mechanisms for Black people, and then get frustrated when they deny their proposals. “The work is really about how you support humanity. Put people at the center of our ecosystem,” he said.
Carl Redwood: A community organizer at Pittsburgh Hill District Consensus Group and adjunct faculty member in the School of Social Work, much of Redwood’s work involves advancing racial and economic justice. “Since Black people have been here in the United States, our struggle has been for freedom and it’s gone through different phases. Now we’re in a different struggle: the movement for Black lives.”
He went on the talk about the history of the Black Lives Matter movement and called those involved “abolitionists,” working to replace systems in place, such as prisons, with those that honor Black lives. “We’re creating a proactive movement instead of a reactionary one,” and working to fight toward proportional representation, he said.
Olivia “Liv” Bennett: “Protest to policy is what my life has been,” said Bennett, a member of Allegheny County Council (District 13 representative). Her activism started with the murder of Trayvon Martin in 2012, she said, when she turned advocacy into a career. “Protesting in the street informs policymakers. We need policymakers in the seats that will actually do something about it. And we see some of it happening.”
“We should be advancing what folks are telling us in the street. It should never come from the top down. It should come from the bottom up,” she said.
Jerry Dickinson: A professor in Pitt’s School of Law, Dickinson said one of the driving forces for his career of utilizing the law and litigation as forms of advocacy was his own experience in the foster care system. “I struggled to have shelter and safe space. I understood the things that were happening in this region.”
In addition to a 2020 bid for Congress, Dickinson founded the Housing Rights Project, a pro bono initiative advocating for tenants who face eviction in Allegheny County, in collaboration with the Neighborhood Legal Services Association. “This collaboration was very important,” he said. “We don’t have enough legal representation for the Black and Brown community. “
Dickinson’s work has resulted in establishing precedence in the State Court to provide protections for tenants facing eviction.
“I have a lot of hope we can make change,” he said, referencing his fellow panelists who are “fighting on the ground every single day making progress.”
“Think about the nuts and bolts about the laws we’re going to push for to make change in this region,” he added.
Moderator Kathak noted that running for office is a powerful way to effect change, and you don’t need to win to make a difference. “People across the community who saw Dickinson running for office … that’s something they see is available to the Black and Brown community that hadn’t been in the past,” she said.
anu jain: The executive director of Pittsburgh’s Gender Equity Commission has spent the past 25 years focused on equity—and she called the Black Lives Matter movement perhaps the largest movement in the country’s history. But protesting can’t be sustained without doing it with critical mass, she said.
“One of the biggest challenges has been fragmentation and silos that happen when we don’t work together … the first thing we need to do is break down these silos,” she said.
The goal with protesting, she said, is not receiving a handout. “It’s about helping ourselves and making a common cause with other people. We need to solve institutional problems that are impacting everyone. I don’t say me, I say us,” said jain.
Hillary Roman: The ADA Coordinator for the City of Pittsburgh set the context of accessibility in terms of equity: “Accessibility is designing something from the very beginning so people with disabilities can get there, so they don’t need an accommodation.”
She said that, despite what many think, she is not an enforcement officer. Rather, she said, “I’m here to use all the tools in my toolbox to get everyone on the same page so we do the right thing and we’re being inclusive.”
Roman has spent many years as an activist and offered some wisdom: “It’s great to be in your echo chamber where people are supporting each other. But try to think about how you would defend this and understand that it will take a long time.” She also stressed that making change takes time, but said not to let that sway or discourage you from standing up for what you believe in.
Updates from July 30
Good morning, and welcome to the final day of Diversity Forum 2020. We start the day with a panel on protesting and policy:
"Nothing for us without us": panelists in this morning's featured session say that the goal in achieving equity is not about getting a handout, but helping ourselves and making a common cause with other people. #PittDiversity— University of Pittsburgh (@PittTweet) July 30, 2020
And with appreciation:
Participants from around the world have joined in, as well as those closer to home, such as folks from the city's Office of Equity:
A morning session, “Environmental Justice is Social Justice,” led by Pitt Sustainability Director Aurora Sherrard began with a land acknowledgement:
This is the first land acknowledgement that I've seen at @PittTweet. Maybe there have been others but this is the first time I've seen a Pitt presentation do one. I'm glad to see it and will try to make it more of a practice. Dr. @AuroraSharrard is moderator of this session. pic.twitter.com/JFDwm3Ote1— Dr. Lauren B. Collister (@parnopaeus) July 30, 2020
Read all of Pittwire’s coverage from July 29:
- Diversity Forum 2020 Kicks Off with Angela Davis, Pitt Leaders and More
- Social Psychologist Uses Research Personal Experience to Reflect on Engagement with Racial Justice
- Overheard on Social Media
- ‘To Do Nothing is to Be Complicit’: Ibram X. Kendi
- How Anthropology Creates, Upholds—and Can Dismantle—Racism
- Turn the World Inside Out: Art as Activism
- Insights from the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh
- ‘Othering’ in Medicine: Racism Has Dire Health Consequences
- Integrating LGBTQIA+ Topics into All Curriculums
- Understanding Diversity Among Asian and Pacific Islanders
The Contagion Xenophobia in America
By Sharon S. Blake, communications manager
“Where are you people from?”
Phuc Tran, a 9-year-old Vietnamese immigrant was with his family in a small-town Pennsylvania grocery store in 1975 when the man with aviator glasses approached them with the question. Young Phuc caught the sting of the words “you people.” It turned out the man was a Vietnam veteran. After a short exchange, the man walked away, and Tran’s younger brother asked why the man wanted to know where they were from.
“Because we’re from Vietnam,” Tran said.
“Not me,” piped up the younger brother. “I’m from Pennsylvania.”
Tran was reading from his new book “Sigh Gone: A Misfit's Memoir of Great Books, Punk Rock, and the Fight to Fit In” at a Wednesday afternoon session at Pitt Diversity Forum 2020.
“How could I explain to my little brother that we were symbols of a confusing and painful war and that we would never be viewed as just ‘people?'" said Tran.
The author and educator was a panelist in the session attended virtually by more than 700 people called “The Contagion of Xenophobia.” Other speakers were Paula Davis, assistant vice chancellor for Health Sciences Diversity, led the discussion with Tran, Alyssa Khieu, advocacy chair of the Asian Student Alliance; Waverly Duck, Pitt associate professor of sociology; and Sheila Velez-Martinez, the Jack & Lovell Olender Professor of Refugee, Asylum, and Immigration Law and head of Pitt’s Immigration Law Clinic.
They explored the current anti-Asian sentiment sweeping the country since the breakout of COVID-19 and other racist constructs. While Asians in America are expected to “fit in,” Tran said, there’s a more complicated idea of when he fits in and when he doesn’t.
“Our American-ness is still subject to question,” he said.
Duck, author of “Tacit Racism,” added that racism morphs to accommodate the “othering” of people. He said the social construction of racism comes out in all of our interactions and shows itself in various ways—between police and citizen, employee and supervisor, or even pain ignored by a doctor.
Khieu, a rising Pitt sophomore and also from a small town, is a Cambodian American. Her family are refugees from the Khmer Rouge Genocide in Cambodia. But they had a White sponsor family who encouraged them to learn English as fast as possible.
“To this day my dad and his sibling no longer speak Khmer,” she said. “It is sad because it’s an obvious loss of culture.”
Velez-Martinez provided a history lesson of American policies from the past that she said used a xenophobic approach to blame immigrants for all ills. There were exclusion laws that targeted the Chinese community. In 1924, the U.S. adopted the national Origins Act, which allowed for the immigration of people depending on how many people of that descent already resided in the United States.
Understanding Diversity Among Asian and Pacific Islanders
By Kimberly Barlow, communications manager
A team of University of Pittsburgh students unpacked the complexities encompassed within the Asian and Pacific Islander (AAPI) demographic and looked at the impact of the stereotype as America’s “model minority” in their presentation, “Inclusivity in the Asian Community: Above and Beyond an Acronym.”
The talk was coordinated by Alyssa Khieu, advocacy chair for Pitt’s Asian Student Alliance, with student co-presenters Uma Balaji, Eric Duong, Gabriel Gilbert, Zach Lim, Lyka Mamaril, Tommy Nguyen, Sam Rae, Vikki Wang and Katherine Yang.
Collectively the panel included students involved in Pitt’s Chinese American Student Association, Filipino Students Association, Japanese Student Association, Korean Student Association, Vietnamese Student Association and South Asian Student Alliance, many of whom are involved in efforts to establish an Asian American Studies Certificate at Pitt.
Even though the identities of the many groups under in the very broad description of Asian and Pacific Islander do overlap, overgeneralizing can erase the diversity and unique histories of these cultures—as well as their histories as immigrants in the United States.
“Often we aren’t taught to distinguish among these groups,” noted Khieu. “While we may be bigger together, we are a diverse community with our own needs and struggles that need to be addressed.”
Coalition-building is valuable in promoting solidarity within this minority group, but some ethnicities risk being overshadowed when categorized as a single group that is anything but monolithic.
East Asian cultures—Chinese, Korean or Japanese—often dominate while South Asian and other groups are less represented. “When have you last seen Pacific Islanders represented within the Asian American popular culture?” Lim asked.
While we may be bigger together, we are a diverse community with our own needs and struggles that need to be addressed.
Painting a broad picture can disguise vast gaps in wealth and education among immigrants within the AAPI community. The panelists noted that it’s not well known that the Asian and Pacific Islander American community has the largest socioeconomic gap of all racial minority groups in the United States.
For instance, U.S. Census Bureau data shows that Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders have the highest share of college graduates of any race or ethnicity category in the nation—with 51% holding a bachelor’s degree or higher. However, a closer look shows 74.5% of Taiwanese Americans have degrees while less than 15% of Samoans, Fijians, Other Pacific Islander and Bhutanese do. And Other Micronesians are at the bottom of the AAPI scale, with only 5.2% holding degrees.
While Asian are often viewed as the “model minority” in America—stereotyped as docile and law-abiding, achieving success through hard work and talent—it’s a dangerous myth that can pit Asian Americans against other minorities and perpetuate the notion that assimilation is good and that hard work is a direct path to success, Lim noted.
It’s also a myth that often is used to diminish historical oppression of Black communities, ignoring the impact of slavery and Jim Crow laws, Khieu added.
Maintaining a proximity to Whiteness can drive a wedge between Asians and other communities of color while upholding a White supremacist system, said Balaji, who noted that colonization exacerbated pre-existing colorism associated with caste systems.
Integrating LGBTQIA+ Topics into All Curriculums
By Deborah Todd, communications manager
As a college student during class discussions, professors leaned on Julie Beaulieu for expertise on topics related to the LGBTQIA+ community. And while she understood and appreciated the attempt to highlight her point of view, it didn’t make her feel any less singled out or put on the spot.
“When I think about my college professors, I think a lot of them had good intentions when they called on me as a lesbian. It didn’t go well for me, I wasn’t wild about that, but I think they had good intentions in the sense that they didn’t want to speak for me,” said Beaulieau, a lecturer in Pitt’s Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Program (GSWS). “It’s kind of a complicated balance, thinking about how minoritized voices will be called upon in the classroom.”
Beaulieu and Matthew Lovett, a visiting lecturer in GSWS, discussed methods to support the educations and careers of queer students, staff and faculty during the forum, “LGBTQIA+ Inclusion and Representation in the Classroom.” The conversation also discussed the history of marginalization against LGBTQIA+ people in America and how that legacy continues through legislation such as the Department of Health and Human Services’ June ruling to not recognize sexual orientation as a protected category under the Affordable Care Act.
While both speakers emphasized that LGBTQIA+ history and identity should be included in some way across all disciplines, Lovett noted that it may come easier for liberal arts courses. He said that makes the effort to educate in STEM disciplines all the more important.
“There are many people for whom this kinds of subject matter never comes up,” said Lovett. “There are suggested curricula out there that are based in social justice for all different fields. How do you teach a statistics class that is concerned with social justice? What are the kinds of things you use as your examples?”
Beaulieu seconded the idea and noted that shared lesson plans and syllabi could be valuable tools for anyone looking to add an element of social justice education to their offerings.
“It’s very common for me to have colleagues that reach out to me and say hey, can you give me a reading list? This is something I’m dealing with,” she said.
Overall, Lovett said the goal is to help the University community understand the challenges that continue to rise for LGBTQIA+ individuals and to recognize there’s much more to learn to offer a supportive learning and working environment.
“There's so much queer visibility right now. We have 'Queer Eye,' 'Ru Paul's Drag Race.' There's a lot of media representation of gay people today,” said Lovett.
“But that's a skimming off the top, a wealthy and perky seeming, visual oriented sense of gayness. It reminds us that even though there might be gay marriage and visibility there's very much underneath the surface that needs to be reckoned with."
‘Othering’ in Medicine: Racism Has Dire Health Consequences
By Erica Lloyd, editor-in-chief of Pitt Med magazine
J. Marion Sims (1813-1883), considered the father of gynecology, experimented on enslaved Black women in Alabama without anesthesia. Lucy, Anarcha and Betsey are three of those women’s names. Anarcha endured 30 of Sims’ experimental fistula surgeries.
During this Wednesday’s panel discussion on Educating Anti-Racist Health Professionals, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’s Eliana Bonifacino, advisory dean and the vice dean liaison for diversity to graduate medical education, began the discussion noting she could take the whole hour talking about historic abuses of race in medicine.
The workshop, which attracted more than 135 audience participants, included Pitt’s Eloho Ufomata, assistant professor of medicine, advisory dean and the vice dean liaison for diversity to graduate medical education, Thuy Bui, director of the Social Medicine Fellows Program and the Global Health/Underserved Populations track, Utibe Essien, assistant professor of medicine and health equity researcher and Naudia Jonassaint, assistant professor of medicine and surgery.
Bonifacino touched on Sims’ legacy as well as the Cincinnati Radiation Experiments, which took place from 1960 to 1971 and were part of a larger series of studies throughout the United States testing effects of radiation on humans. In 1999, a collaborator on those studies told a writer that patients were chosen because they “didn’t have any money and were Black and poorly washed.”
The panelists spoke of the persistent “othering” in medicine of underrepresented individuals.
Medicine continues to perpetuate the myth that race is biologic rather than a social construct.
And it’s filled with incorrect assumptions, for example, that Black patients have higher pain thresholds. (This was part of Sims’ reasoning for operating on enslaved women.) Black children with long bone fractures in the emergency department were less likely to receive IV pain medication in a 2016 Academic Medicine study.
Kidney function, which is expensive to directly measure, is often estimated in the clinic. These calculators have binary options for race—Black or non-Black—so kidney function is typically overestimated in Black patients. This leads to even longer wait times for life-saving kidney transplantations. The wait list is already five years long.
Ufomata noted that white race is often the default in medicine. Mention of race is often linked to cue the learner to certain diseases. Black race is often taught as a “risk factor” for a myriad of diseases and is often associated with worse outcomes. There’s a failure to label racism, racist systems and their downstream effects, such as poverty, as a cause of health disparities.
This practice also implicitly teaches that there’s a genetic inferiority to being Black.
Jonassaint and others discussed ways changes can be made systemwide to medical education and training, like the Department of Medicine’s A.J. Conrad Smith Scholar Program, focused on supporting physicians who are Black, Indigenous and people of color through residency and fellowship. This program asks mentors to figure out how they can help young physicians get from point A to point B in their careers.
How can schools and hospitals move forward? The panelists had valuable insights to audience questions and comments:
- Ufomata suggests adopting an attitude of cultural humility instead cultural competence. Take the position of being a learner, not of assuming that you know everything you need to about another person.
- Always see yourself as an influencer in your space, says Jonassaint—you needn’t be a manager to make a difference in hiring practices, for example. Become knowledgeable about these issues and disperse that information to people in power. Be part of the process.
- Beyond offering electives and requiring related courses for students, build a cadre of faculty who are equipped to integrate anti-racist ideas into the curriculum.
- Create mentorship teams.
- Don’t allow racist behaviors.
They noted the importance of engaging interprofessionally across health care disciplines to make real change.
Watch for more in-depth coverage of these issues in the fall Pitt Med magazine, the School of Medicine’s quarterly publication.
Insights from the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh
By Margo Fischgrund, communications manager
Participants: Lauren Apter Bairnsfather, executive director of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh; Marcel L. Walker, award-winning graphic-prose creator and expert in social applications for comic book art; Jackie Reese, marketing and education associate of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh.
In the panel, “Connecting History with the Injustices of Today: Insights from the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh,” Lauren Bairnsfather, executive director of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh, said that as we find ourselves in the era of COVID-19 and a re-energized racial justice movement, the feelings many are experiencing reflect what we know about the Holocaust.
“It’s a strange time of fear and confusion and scapegoating … hatred boiling over. It looks familiar to us because of what we know about the Holocaust,” said Bairnsfather.
Nazi anti-Semitism thought considered Jews a race, said Bairnsfather, and even used the Jim Crow south as a model on basing their treatment of Jews.
And while the hate against the Jews was a “Nazi obsession,” the Nazis also showed hate toward many other groups, including Roma/Sinti, the LGBTQ community, Jehovah’s Witness, Poles, the Catholic Clergy and people of color.
Today, with renewed calls for racial and social justice, Bairnsfather said it’s important that minority groups such as the Jews stay true to themselves, while being committed to being anti-racist.
She touched on the recent anti-Semitic comments and ideas put forth on social media by DeSean Jackson, Ice Cube and Nick Cannon, along with the “most disgusting”: the #JewishPrivilege moment on Twitter, which she called a “White supremacist movement.”
This is a reminder to us that when people are against one minority group, they’re probably against all minority groups.
“This is a reminder to us that when people are against one minority group, they’re probably against all minority groups,” said Bairnsfather. “When we argue among these groups, we strengthen the White nationalists.”
Bairnsfather also showed photos from an exhibit previously hosted by the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh called OpticVoices: Roots, a photography showcase by Emmai Alaquiva that featured photographs of concentration camps juxtaposed with photos of the Black Lives Matter movement.
A play on the Yiddish word chutzpah, meaning shameless audacity or courage, Chutz-POW! is the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh’s original comic book series produced by Marcel Walker, an award-winning graphic-prose creator and expert in social applications for comic book art. The comic books are meant to serve an educational purpose and help teach lessons about the Holocaust to middle-school-aged children.
Walker, who is Black, said he is often asked what it feels like to work at the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh as a non-Jew. “I’m from a culture that’s adjacent to the Jewish culture. There is a lot of intersection, but also a lot of parallels,” said Walker.
Walker added that, as a Black artist, he always tries to make himself available to groups who don’t look like him. “It’s just as important to see who is working on these stories, and who is making them important,” he said.
We cannot compare pain
While many like Walker find similarities shared by Jewish people and African Americans—and those comparisons can be tempting to make—it’s important to distinguish their histories, said Jackie Reese, marketing and education associate of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh.
For instance: In Europe, Jewish people spent centuries not being considered citizens; African Americans were considered only 3/5 of a person, as written in the Constitution of the United States. However, the pain and trauma should not be compared, said Reese.
“Generational trauma is something both African Americans and Jews grapple with today. We talk about this a lot at the Holocaust Center. But we cannot oversimplify and compare pain,” said Reese.
Bairnsfather said the Jewish community experienced an outpouring of support after the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh's Squirrel Hill neighborhood on October 27, 2018. She said that leaders need to respond in the same way to the struggle Black people are facing today.
We need to be aware this is happening and have these difficult conversations, she said, and it’s OK not to have all the answers or right words to say.
Turn the World Inside Out: Art as Activism
By Margo Fischgrund, communications manager
Participants: Brittney Chantele, hip-hop artist and activist; Deepshikha Sharma of Rangoli Pittsburgh, a group dedicated to uplifting the voices of South Asian LGBTQ+ community of Pittsburgh, Sarah Huny Young, a creative director, photographer, interdisciplinary artist; and Joseph Hall, executive director of the Kelly Strayhorn Theater (moderator)
In this session, Pittsburgh artists presented their work and discussed their ideas and art-making practices in relation to social and political activism. The session concluded by announcing the winners of the Art of Diversity Showcase and Competition.
This session kicked off with energetic remarks from moderator Joseph Hall, executive director of Pittsburgh’s Kelly Strayhorn Theater. When the pandemic hit, Hall and other artists around Pittsburgh, including Black and queer artists, decided to join forces to “imagine a new way forward.” The result: a virtual fundraiser called Hotline Ring, featuring performances from artists around the city. Hall said the group collectively allocated 40% of their shared pool of donations to Black women artist groups.
“Folks are asking what can I do? This was a small example,” said Hall. “I wonder how incredible it would be if this model is instituted with White-led organizations with bigger budgets.” Hall then handed the “mic” over to the other panelists:
Brittney Chantele: a mixed-race hip-hop artist and activist, Chantele said she identifies as Black. While she was in college, the murder of Michael Brown prompted her to change her career plans of becoming a police officer; she decided to use her criminal justice degree toward activism. She said she’s always wanted to be an artist. Chantele shared a several music videos of songs she wrote, including “Black Lives Matter,” produced in 2017.
Deepshikha Sharma: A 2015 Pitt grad in communications and rhetoric, Sharma represents of Rangoli Pittsburgh, a community initiative dedicated for uplifting the voices of LGBTQ+ Southasians in Pittsburgh. Community-building work: town halls, movie screening, workshops and Mirrors—“a work of deep activism.” Formed in 2018, Mirrors is a collection of art from queer Southasians across the U.S. that dealswith coming out, self-representation and family. The collection is housed in Hillman Library and Carnegie Public Library in Oakland. The second edition of Mirrors will be out soon. As a result of Rangoli’s efforts, the City of Pittsburgh declared June 1, 2019 LGBTQIA Asian Pacific Islanders Day of Visibility on June 1, 2019.
Sarah Huny Young: A creative director, photographer and interdisciplinary artist who focuses her work on Black women, queer people and their own intersectionality. She contextualizes her very existence as its own museum of modern art. Young presented a project called “American Woman,” something she’s been working on since 2016: a portrait and interview series documenting Black women in America across seven cities. “I consider it to be a time capsule project. … I hope people can look back on this and map what Black womanhood in America looked during this time,” she said. She also talked about protest photography and the purpose of having photographers at protests. She said that when she photographs protests, she’s often putting her camera down to participate.
Winners of the Art of Diversity Showcase and Competition
The Art of Diversity Showcase and Competition received almost 200 submissions from the Pitt community and across the region. Submissions included performance art, written word, visual art and photography. “We had a really wonderful representation of creativity across the board,” said Erik Shuckers, workshop manager of the Center of Creativity at Pitt.
Winner: End of Winter, by Yanchen Ge (Pitt Student)
Betsey Farmer, dean of the School of Social Work, presented this award: a film about the isolation of an international student during the COVID-19 crisis. “We were all moved by this,” said Farmer.
Honorable Mentions: Emerge, by Morgan Overton (SSW Alumni) & Food Is Culture, by Alyssa Khieu (Student)
Winner: Chant, by Bria Walker (Faculty, Theater Arts)
Jazzkia Jones, graduate student in Pitt’s School of Education, presented this award, given for the monologue “Chant,” about a search for meaning and strength surrounding racial justice in this country.
Honorable Mentions: The Black Struggle, by Dhael Monfiston (Student) & Our Boys, by Juhi Farooqui, alias Shooooz (Student)
Winner: Viral Blame, by Lori Huang (Pitt Student)
Presented by Gemma Jiang, director of the Organizational Innovation Lab at Swanson School of Engineering. The art depicts an Asian woman encircled by COVID-19 “virion,” symbolizing the the discrimination that Asians have felt during the pandemic.
Honorable Mentions: Thrift, by Jasmine Green (Staff) & You remember this day when your father cried, by Alivia Vaughns (Student)
Queen, by INEZ, local artist
People’s Choice Award
The People’s Choice Award will be announced next week: Vote now through Thursday at 11:59 p.m.
How Anthropology Creates, Upholds—and Can Dismantle—Racism
By Micaela Fox Corn, communications specialist
Gabby M.H. Yearwood likes to remind us that we are not sea turtles: When sea turtles hatch in the sand, they instinctively know which way to go to get to the water, how to swim, how to eat, to survive.
“Humans are fundamentally different,” he says. “We teach each other things. We are not biologically determined to organize our world in terms of difference. These categories of race and racism are not inevitable biological categories, but we have created them both.”
Yearwood, a lecturer and director of undergraduate studies in Pitt’s Department of Anthropology, led a morning workshop session called “Anthropology, Race, Racism and Everyday Life” on Tuesday, July 29, to answer the question, “How did we get here?”
As a socio-cultural anthropologist, Yearwood spends a lot of time thinking about how systems interact. “Race is 100% a social construct,” he says. “It’s embedded into every part of human life.”
The entertainment industry, for example:
“We think about racism in the way we like to think about lynching: barbaric, irrational, random, chaotic, as opposed to something that is part of our life,” he said. “But some of the first films and photos were of lynchings. Lynchings were date nights. Parents would take their children to them. State officials, mayors, would show up. This was not hidden away.”
Other takeaways from Yearwood’s workshop:
- We have to think critically about the categories we use.
- Anthropology gave us the science to determine race, but it’s a relatively new concept.
- Who decides what our racial boxes are? They change each time the census is done. We see a variety of the ways people were categorized—mostly in relationship to White male landownership.
- The eugenics movement was headed by members of the American Anthropology Association—just because an organization backs something, doesn’t mean it’s good.
- We have to recognize when science is useful and when its abhorrent. “I already knew that people of color would be most impacted by COVID because they’re most impacted by everything, even beyond class,” Yearwood said.
- We really can’t talk about racism without capitalism, democracy, patriarchy.
- The white ivory tower of academia can do better.
Learn more about Yearwood in his first-person essay he wrote for Father’s Day, and in case you missed it, the Department of Anthropology held a June town hall about anti-racism and anti-Black violence in the field.
‘To Do Nothing is to Be Complicit’: Ibram X. Kendi
By Ervin Dyer, senior editor and writer for Pitt Magazine
The Diversity Forum’s opening session today was “America’s Persistent Pandemic—Racism: How to Foster Anti-racist Practices and Create a Culture of Inclusion, Equity and Justice.”
The panel featured a keynote from Ibram X. Kendi, director of the Center for Anti-racist Research at Boston University. It also included Keisha N. Blain, Pitt history professor; Majestic Lane, chief equity officer with City of Pittsburgh; and Morgan Ottley, a University of Pittsburgh student. Moderators were Valerie Kinloch, the Renée and Richard Goldman Dean of Pitt’s School of Education, and Eric Macadangdang, president of the Pitt Student Government Board.
The session opened with Chancellor Patrick Gallagher acknowledging that the University, the city and, indeed, the world is in a historical moment. “The scars and sin of slavery permeate our entire country. For those who live with it every day, this is not a moment of revelation,” Gallagher said. Unequal access to housing, employment, wealth and prosperity, “has been a real and tangible experience.” However, he added, this “disruptive moment” is a moment of accountability and opportunity.
He then introduced noted scholar Ibram X. Kendi, who began his keynote with a number of questions that he says “speak to the heart of this moment”:
Why do we have racial inequities?
What is the cause of racial inequities and injustice?
In a time of pandemic, why is it that Black people are two-and-half times more likely to die of COVID-19?
Why are they more likely to be victims of police violence?
Why do White people have 10 times more wealth than Black people?
The questions launched a wide-ranging conversation on police brutality, the criminalization of Black neighborhoods and urban schools, and considering the “radical” idea of being an abolitionist, that is, someone purposely engaged in abolishing racism.
Kendi and the other panelists encouraged action, which is at the heart of the work of becoming anti-racist.
First, Kendi said, individuals need to be reflexive and consider their complicity in supporting racism and being racist, which to Kendi is the idea that suggests one group is superior or inferior than another group.
Kendi said people are racist by their “inaction” and continued support of policies that harm marginalized groups. “To do nothing is to be complicit, because that allows for the maintenance of racism,” he said. Any individual, Black or White, Kendi says, who is in a policy-making position and not using that power to challenge racism and enacts policy that harms Black people, is supporting racism.
The work of being anti-racist can build a better Pitt and a better Pittsburgh
Majestic Lane said it’s important to be honest that the city is harmed by being a place that is not welcoming. He said Pittsburgh is losing Black talent, losing other people of color and does not feel diverse. However, he said that kind of recognition will lead to grappling with how to make the city a place where Black people can build families.
To make Pitt better, anti-racism at the University means diversifying the curriculum, promoting Black faculty and academic leadership, and investing in Black students, said Keisha Blain. These efforts, she said, mean recruiting, hiring and retaining more Black faculty and students.
“I would love to shift from conversation to action. Let’s bring five, 10, 15 faculty of color to Pittsburgh next year,” said Blain. She also added it would “be anti-racist if White Pitt faculty were advocates for calling out racism and prejudice,” and that the burden didn’t have to fall solely on Black faculty.
Dean Kinloch agreed that action needs to happen to recruit and retain, and that the University also needs to think with a critical anti-racist lens about what’s possible.
One of the ways to move forward, according to Kendi, is to hold deans, provosts and other leaders accountable for change. “It’s on the [institution] to improve,” he said, “the institution is to blame, not the people who are not there”
Morgan Ottley, a Pitt student, said part of the anti-racism work is to consider the Black student experience at Pitt and the need for resources and greater access to mentorship—not just at Pitt but in the broader community, which includes connecting Black students, faculty, board of trustees members and others. For her, it also means supporting Black organizations, such as the Black Action Society. She feels these actions will help student retention, as students do not return to a campus where they don’t feel heard.
Overheard on Social Media
From our newest dean, Carissa Schively Slotterback, of the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs:
Thx @DrIbram at today’s @PittTweet Diversity Forum for critical insights on role of #policy - to be involved in policy is to be anti-racist, if we’re not changing policies we’re allowing them to persist and are complicit in racism #PittDiversity @GSPIA— Carissa Schively Slotterback (@cschively) July 29, 2020
And one happy audience member, of the 12,000+ who registered:
An endorsement for the @PittTweet #PittDiversity Forum 2020. Over 55 workshops and breakout sessions on one of the most important conversations of our time. Happening now thru Thursday. Tune in @PittDiversity! https://t.co/wZRefMa8kR— Micaela Corn (@MicaelaCorn) July 29, 2020
Social Psychologist Uses Research, Personal Experience to Reflect on Engagement with Racial Justice
By Margo Fischgrund, communications manager
Omid Fotuhi’s research at Pitt focuses on the psychological factors that impede engagement. He looks at situations where individuals “ought to” to engage, but sometimes don’t, and what leads to inhibition.
In his Diversity Forum 2020 session, “Social Identity, Bias and Racism: A Social Psychological Lens to Help Understand a Social Justice Movement,” he began by recalling his reaction to the death of George Floyd.
More on Fotuhi’s research
This spring, Omid Fotuhi received a Personalized Education Grant for his project, “Non-Cognitive Skills and Psychological Resilience Training for Students and Faculty: An Adaptive Mindsets Toolkit for The Modern Education Experience.” Read about how he’s using that support to help student at Pitt succeed.
Fotuhi, who’s a research scientist with Pitt’s Learning Research and Development Center, said in May, he applied his own work as a professional to figure out what was holding him back, personally, from engaging and speaking up.
He said three perceptions loomed large:
- My skin color might convey to others that I may not have the experience or authority to speak on these issues; I don’t come from the group that’s the focus of national attention.
- I may not be as “expert” as someone else in who has more authority, or someone who is focused on social justice to speak to these issues.
- I worry about saying the wrong thing.
“As I reflected on why, it dawned on me that I was feeling forces internally that prohibited me from feeling these issues. Others may be feeling this, resulting in more inaction than what we would’ve expected,” said Fotuhi, who is of Iranian descent. “But instead of being inhibited, I felt compelled to speak up and share what we know from social psychology to be a part of this conversation.”
A de-humanizing airport experience
Fotuhi offered a personal example of being on the other side of what he called an anxiety-inducing, de-humanizing experience. “I was born in Iran and traveling through the United States has always been anxiety inducing,” said Fotuhi.
He went on to describe a situation in the airport:
“A customs officer sees my passport, gives me a glance and doesn’t interact with me. He goes silent for a few seconds and says, 'Are you a terrorist?' How do you answer that question?” He said immediately, he was filled with a sense of being dehumanized. “After, I was able to ‘navigate’ myself out of that. I pulled out my student card, used technical terms of psychology … and I was able to ‘get out’ of that situation. But the feelings of confusion and rage persisted. I still have anxiety going through customs.”
He ended the session by offering concrete next steps for leadership, particularly teachers:
Foster a greater sense of belonging, invite two-way dialogue and create space.
Allowing students to feel heard and seen is a core element of what we can do, even though the solution of what the right thing to do may be absent or unknown.
Normalize discomfort from all sides. There is no clear 'right’ answer.
Part of the hesitation not to engage is because we feel like we don’t have the right answer. If we can all feel comfortable from time to time, that’s OK.
Remind people of unifying identity—we’re all in this together.
We can group together and have these meaningful conversations. We’re here just to learn and have greater understanding. When framed around that, individual intentions won’t feel as threatening.
Be proactive, or social media will do it for you.
If we really care about our students, we shouldn’t take too cautious of an approach, but not wait too long. We need to create these experiences, but there will be a greater polarization over time.
Highlights from Ibram X. Kendi Talk Coming Soon
It was an honor to engage with you and the Pitt community.— Ibram X. Kendi (@DrIbram) July 29, 2020
Diversity Forum 2020 Kicks Off with Angela Davis, Pitt Leaders and More
By Margo Shear Fischgrund, communications manager
The University of Pittsburgh kicked off its fifth annual Diversity Forum, Advancing Social Justice: A Call to Action, with two back-to-back conversations Tuesday night that set the tone for the next two days: inspiring participants to take action and to gain the tools to make our world a better place.
The lineup for the forum’s launch night included the voices of scholars, leaders and activists from inside and beyond Pitt—including world-renowned social justice educator and activist Angela Davis.
In preparation for today’s Diversity Forum workshops, the University Counseling Center has compiled a list of tips and advice for being present and reflecting on the experience.
“I hope this forum inspires you to do something first in your own families, then where you work and then in your community,” said Kathy Humphrey, senior vice chancellor for engagement and secretary of the Board of Trustees, in her opening remarks to the forum. “Some of you have the power to do something in our nation and our world. I hope you’ll speak up and take action to create a better world for all of us.”
The forum, which has drawn the registration of 12,000 guests from around the world, begins the Year of Engagement at Pitt, said Humphrey.
“This year, we have chosen to focus on making even more meaningful connections locally, regionally, nationally and globally.”
Hosted by Pitt’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion, the forum’s other featured speakers include Ibram X. Kendi—scholar, activist and author of the New York Times best-seller “How to Be an Antiracist” (coverage of his Wednesday presentation to come).
Tuesday night’s conversations covered a wide range of topics related to anti-racism efforts:
Session 1, A Call to Activism: Witnessing Globally, Responding Locally
At 5:30 p.m., the forum’s first session featured a conversation with Clyde Wilson Pickett, Pitt’s vice chancellor for diversity and inclusion; Leigh Patel, professor in the School of Education; Jasiri X, rapper, activist and founder of anti-violence group 1Hood; and Darren Whitfield, assistant professor of social work and psychiatry at Pitt. Mario Browne, director of Pitt’s Office of Health Sciences Diversity, served as moderator.
Pickett, who provided his first public remarks in his new role at Pitt, laid the groundwork for the forum and said the virtual environment has given us the opportunity to make the best of our situation: allowing us to generate broader opportunities for community impact as we face a global pandemic and calls for change after the death of George Floyd.
“I want to express my enthusiasm at the commitment that my colleagues at Pitt are taking action to lead an anti-racist institution,” he said. “The road ahead must be forged with transparent commitment and action.”
Naming the moment—and taking action
Patel talked about the importance of “naming the moment”—something she addressed to her School of Education community in an essay this summer.
Patel said we have to name that we’re in a global pandemic along with a new awareness that there were already existing disparities in our country. Additionally, she said we must name that there’s a global uprising and rebellion against anti-black racism. Next comes the time to act, she said.
“A call to activism, to me, means to be in the right relationship to know where is my place to step in, to speak up and do it from an informed place,” she said. That informed place means knowing the history of the land on which you live—which, in this country, is a history built on stolen labor on stolen land, said Patel.
Another point Patel made in “naming the moment,” is going beyond the term diversity, which has been used so much it’s lost its meaning, she said.
“it doesn’t name what’s going on … to me it’s not a robust enough of a concept because it skates on the surface. It doesn’t talk about the power dynamics.” Instead, in addressing how we alter power structures, the term “abolitionist” would be more appropriate, she said.
On the streets, in Pittsburgh and in the classroom
Several of the panelists referenced Danielle Brown, a mother on a hunger strike demanding answers from police about her the death of her son, a student at Duquesne University who died on campus in 2018.
Jasiri X said activism is more than posting in support of Black Lives Matter on social media—it’s supporting activists like Brown and demanding for change in the streets.
“We need folks to really get involved. We need data. We need lawyers,” he said. “Create some type of app that can allow us to be safe while protesting. The call is for folks to assist with getting justice in Pittsburgh.”
Whitfield offered a blueprint for Pitt to think about moving toward a rebirth toward dismantling systemic racism. The steps: reconciliation, re-education and reflective action.
“I would argue that creating a class on blackness or the Black experience is not enough … it has to be embedded in all classes. We can’t one-off it,” said Whitfield.
With less than 100 days until our presidential election, Whitfield said we have to think about our contributions to racism because we all play a part.
“If people believe Black Lives Matter, the moment doesn’t stop when the cameras stop rolling. It continues to November and after,” he said.
Session 2, A Conversation with Angela Davis
At 7 p.m., Senior Vice Chancellor Kathy Humphrey and Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Ann E. Cudd engaged in a dialogue with world-renowned scholar and activist Angela Davis about her experiences fighting for social justice and asked for her insights on how to make our education systems better.
“Dr. Davis has been deeply involved in our nation’s quest for social justice,” said Cudd in her introductions, before asking Davis on what motivated her to engage in social justice work.
Davis, who grew up in Birmingham, Alabama, said she still remembers the lynching of Emmett Till and the violence of the Ku Klux Klan. “Watching my elders and my peers stand up and fight back … I realized it was simply not possible to survive with dignity under those conditions without standing up and fighting back,” said Davis.
On being anti-racist and aware of the past
Humphrey asked Davis what she feels is the most important distinction of being a non-racist versus being an anti-racist—as many scholars and activists argue that simply being a ‘non-racist’ is not enough.
“A chorus of people saying ‘I am not a racist’ accomplishes northing,” said Davis. “But the same people calling for free healthcare—because it’s the only way to dismantle racial disparities—will go a long way.”
Humphrey then asked Davis to suggest a first step that an organization should take toward being anti-racist. Davis’ answer: the process of collective self-reflection.
“Before reaching for these terms of diversity, equity and inclusion … it’s examining the ways in which the institution is perpetuating structures of racism.”
Colleges and universities in particular, have to “engage in a great deal of work” to move in this antiracist direction, she said—and first they have to become aware of their own complicities in colonialism and racism.
“There are scholars at the University of Pittsburgh who have done amazing work on that history. I’ve been following Marcus Rediker’s work for a very long time,” said Davis. (Read about Rediker's book, “The Fearless Benjamin Lay” in Pittwire.)
On changing the educational system
Cudd asked Davis to provide insight on how leaders in higher education can prioritize reforms that lead us to more equitable forms of education—ones that can open doors across racial and economic divides. Davis said it will require a radical transformation in order to make a meaningful contribution, and she also offered advice to students.
“Not to say I don’t value colleges and universities today, and I certainly do, but when young people complain about the racism they encounter on campuses, or other problems, I always advise them to take advantage of the process of acquiring knowledge, but being critical at the same time,” she said.
Davis continued, citing the “Ban the Box” campaign to eliminate the question of previous felonies on college applications, and said that prison education programs are essential parts of this change. She offered that our notion of interdisciplinary work should also reach beyond the traditional, academic sense of the word, and recognize that knowledge is produced by movements: on the job, on-the-ground activism.
“Supporting Black study, critical ethnic study, critical prison study, feminism study … so many changes can happen right now to move us in the direction of more democratic education system,” she said.
But there will be undoubtedly be barriers to this transformative work, Davis said.
“It’s extremely important to recognize that conservative forces are always at work. There’s always a tendency to remain with what we know,” said Davis. “There’s always a fear in moving toward a new moment; the fear of the unknown future. We have to develop ways to counteract that fear.”
In closing, Cudd thanked Davis for her “incredible insight, wisdom and obvious passion,” and for “motivating all of us dig deep and do more.”
As Pittwire continues to cover the Diversity Forum 2020, check back here for updates on featured sessions and selected workshops.