As he prepares to retire, Larry Davis reflects on race and center he founded

Larry Davis, former dean of the School of Social Work and founder of the Center on Race and Social Problems, is retiring this fall to become professor and dean emeritus.

Davis hosted the 2019 CRSP Summer Institute in June on the topic, “Race and Hate Crime and What We Can Do About It.” Find a video of the event here.

He sent a letter to colleagues this week praising Pitt’s foresight to establish the Center for Race and Social Problem. Find an abbreviated version of the letter below. You can read the full text here.

Dear colleagues and friends of the Center:

Larry DavisAs I prepare to leave my position as Director, I realize more than ever how fortunate the School of Social Work was to have been afforded the resources to establish a Center on Race and Social Problems. This Center has given Pitt a unique standing among schools of social work. This was true despite the fact that many other universities and schools were larger and more financially endowed.

CRSP began as "just an idea," but fortunately one that the University of Pittsburgh agreed to fund. … Now CRSP is one of the premiere centers of its kind in the country. I will remain forever grateful for the University's support of a Center which straight forwardly addresses race. Although race was, in 2002, and continues to be a topic that many believe to be America's defining social problem, it also is one from which many universities shy away. In the years following the Obama presidency, many were hopeful or believed that America had become a post racial society. Well, it is clear that this is not the case.

Much to my sincerest disappointment, since CRSP was established in 2002, racial problems appear to have worsened. Two factors have contributed to this only partially correct perception. First, why do I say this perception of worsening race relations is only partially true: social media has opened our eyes to the enormity of present-day racial bias, conflicts and injustice. Therefore, we are now more aware of racial difficulties. Most of us were woefully unaware of the ubiquity and depth of racism in our society. … Although there are some who might argue otherwise, significant racial progress has been made. But it is also true that the racial progress which has been made in the past fifty years is far less than what most people my age had hoped and believed would be made during our lifetimes.

Secondly, America is experiencing a difficult period, and it is for this reason that there has in fact been a worsening of the country's race relations. Actually, this is not a new phenomenon for us. We have always experienced an increase in racial conflict during times when the country is having a financial downturn. Contributing to this problem is the fact that many whites presently feel and believe themselves to be under siege demographically, politically, and economically. As a result, many believe themselves to be losing social status as other racial groups have gained in prominence and visibility. …

In this current racial environment, the work of our Center on Race and Social Problems is ever more important as a forum for scholars on race from across the country. We know how important it is for broad-based collaboration in addressing broad-based social issues. This Center has been instrumental in providing a forum for some of the best scholars in the country to present and to publish their significant observations, findings and ideas. As such, the Center has contributed to our understanding of the causes and manifestations of racial problems as well as to their possible amelioration.  

CRSP's 2010 "Race in America" conference, which was the largest conference on race ever held in America, in addition to the 2015 "Pittsburgh's Racial Demographics and Differences" report were both extraordinary contributions to our efforts to combat racism in the city and nation. Information derived from these projects are now used by our regional leaders to guide and assist in making policy decisions.

It has been my good fortune to have had a productive academic career here at Pitt. However, it is the establishment of the Center on Race and Social Problems that is the accomplishment about which I am most proud. I want to thank all who have supported CRSP since its inception. Your support has resulted in both the University and the region benefiting by having a place where a diversity of scholars and lay people work together to bring about greater racial harmony, insight and justice.

… I want to thank everyone who has helped me personally and has made my tenure here a fantastic one, but even more importantly for helping to turn "just an idea" into a huge success.



Larry E. Davis, Ph.D.
Founding Director
Center on Race and Social Problems
School of Social Work