By DONOVAN HARRELL
Student Affairs and Pitt Athletics have revealed a series of equity, justice, diversity and inclusion initiatives designed to improve campus life for Pitt's Black communities.
In a newsletter released on July 15, Dean of Students Kenyon Bonner said the COVID-19 pandemic has helped shine a spotlight on lingering systemic issues that harm Black Americans.
This combined with a nationwide series of protests following the death of George Floyd on May 25 at the hands of Minneapolis police, and other incidents of unarmed Black people being killed by armed white people, Bonner said, has impacted Pitt’s Black students.
The Black Senate, a coalition of 18 Black student organizations at Pitt, has called for immediate action and accountability by Pitt on addressing equity, inclusion and social justice, he said.
“Many of our Black students expressed what they described as Pitt’s general lack of fulfillment of its values of diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging,” Bonner said in the newsletter. “Students expressed that they were tired of enduring racial aggression on campus, both inside and outside the classroom.”
In response, Student Affairs has designed a series of strategies based on antiracism to improve the campus experience for Pitt’s Black students.
The strategies, outlined in the Student Affairs Antiracism, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Action Plan, are broken down into several categories including:
Recruitment and Retention Practices
Training and Development
Policies and Practices
Community and Sense of Belonging
Student Engagement and support
Programs and Services
Communications and Transparency
These initiatives outline strategies for improved accountability and inclusive staff and student worker hiring practices, training and professional development.
A planning committee also will be created to advise Bonner on the execution of these initiatives.
Additionally, these plans call for regular climate and engagement surveys to help gather feedback from Pitt’s Black communities.
Bonner said Student Affairs stands in solidarity with Black students and will support them.
“Our students rightly demand a Pitt experience that is not marred by racism,” Bonner said. “Student Affairs accepts the responsibility to advocate for racial justice, diversity, equity, inclusion and engage in meaningful efforts to dismantle racism and other forms of hate.”
Action in Athletics
The same day Bonner’s newsletter was released, Director of Athletics Heather Lyke revealed four new initiatives from Pitt Athletics to support diversity and inclusion.
One of these initiatives includes the creation of a new position, the associate athletic director for culture, diversity and engagement.
Fumi Kimura, who has been a part of Lyke’s executive team, will step into the position to develop educational programming and more inclusive culture in Pitt Athletics, according to the announcement.
Additionally, she’ll serve as Pitt’s liaison for the ACC’s Committee for Racial and Social Justice and the NCAA’s diversity and inclusion initiatives.
Kimura said it was “extremely humbling to be involved in such important work.”
“In Pitt Athletics’ partnership with the NCAA, the ACC, and our overall University, my focus will be to listen, ensure that everyone is being heard and be an active participant and advocate for real change in our country," Kimura said in the announcement.
A new group, Panthers United, also has been created to help cultivate a more inclusive culture in Pitt Athletics. The group is comprised of 45 members — student-athletes, coaches, department staff and University administrators — and is led by Penny Semaia, the senior associate athletic director for student life. The group will focus on support, communication, training and promotion and marketing.
Panthers United also has spread a hashtag created by women’s track and field student-athlete Jaylyn Aminu, #UntilWeUnite, to help highlight Pitt’s actions toward antiracism.
Finally, Pitt Athletics has updated its mission — the “Bridges for Pitt Athletics” — to highlight its commitment to diversity and inclusion.
The new bridge, titled “Powered by Diversity,” now reads "Pitt Athletics is fueled by diversity and united in our commitment to inclusion for all."
“Now more than ever, we need to dedicate our collective energies to creating and maintaining a culture of unity, mutual respect and inclusion,” Lyke said in the announcement. “The University of Pittsburgh throughout its history has helped forge a path to important societal change. The initiatives we've unveiled today are a means to focus the strengths and talents of our Pitt people to create a better tomorrow for all.”
Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-383-9905.
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