Hiring initiative looking for experts in health and racial inequities


The Race and Social Determinants of Equity, Health and Well-being Cluster Hire and Retention Initiative from the Office of the Provost and Pitt Health Sciences plans to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for newly hired faculty.

And with the recent $250,000 award from Richard King Mellon Foundation, the University is poised to tackle some of the issues surrounding health and racial inequity in the region.

John Wallace, vice provost for faculty diversity and development, said a 2019 study conducted by Pitt researchers inspired the creation of the initiative. The study concluded, among its many findings, that Pittsburgh’s Black residents face major disparities in multiple facets of society.

“The most recent report really inspired our commitment, the University’s commitment, to leverage the resources and the capacity of its faculty, in particular, to address the challenges of our region,” Wallace said. “And one of them, of course, is tied to the need for more faculty who have experience and expertise in that work.”

In 2020, Provost Ann Cudd and Anantha Shekhar, senior vice chancellor for the Health Sciences and dean of the School of Medicine, “decided they wanted to put their money where their aspirations were in terms of diversifying the faculty,” said Paula Davis associate vice chancellor for diversity, equity, and inclusion, for the Health Sciences.

Using the Latinx Cluster hire initiative as inspiration, Davis’ and Wallace’s offices developed the Race and Social Determinants initiative, reaching out to various schools and departments to find opportunities to promote it.

“It’s been a partnership activity, or partnership endeavor, to really try to diversify the faculty on this campus so that we have an opportunity to provide additional role models to our students and to bring sharp minds to some of the issues that are affecting the city of Pittsburgh, our region and our nation,” Davis said.

The initiative, spearheaded by Wallace and Davis, will take place over four years and focus on four main goals:

  1. Significantly increase the number of faculty who are hired, promoted and retained who specialize in race, equity, health and well-being.

  2. Attract and recruit graduate and undergraduate students who are interested in these fields.

  3. Improve Pitt’s international, national and local profile and expertise in research related to race, equity, health and well-being.

  4. Increase University contributions to sustainable societal changes.

Faculty hired through the initiative specialize in addressing specific disparities highlighted in the 2019 report, such as gentrification, mental health and infant and maternal health, Wallace said.

One of these faculty is Tiffany Gary-Webb, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and associate dean for diversity, equity and inclusion in Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health. She joined the Office of the Provost in September to help facilitate core aspects of the initiative as the special assistant to the provost for race and the social determinants of equity, health and well-being.

Gary-Webb, whose research focuses on the social determinants of diabetes and obesity interventions to improve diabetes outcomes for minority populations, also will lead the Race & Health Collaboratory.

The Richard King Mellon Foundation grant will go toward building these collaboratories, where groups of faculty in different disciplines with shared interests in societal issues surrounding race and inequity will work together to pick an issue that they will focus on improving.

The grant was awarded to a program under the initiative, the Pitt Black Faculty Development Initiative, which aims to improve Pittsburgh’s Black communities through supporting research focused on equity, health and well-being, according to PittWire.

The grant also will go toward additional faculty professional development programs and to help connect new hires to community resources, Wallace said.

Gary-Webb said a key part of her position is to build communities among the hires through events, networking opportunities and professional development programs. The collaboratory is a core part of the initiative’s recruitment and retention strategies, which will help connect new hires to existing faculty.

There are other programs in the works for new hires, Wallace said, including the Faculty Success Institute, which aims to help faculty publish and write grants, translate their work for broader audiences and join service and professional organizations.

This also aids in another core goal of the initiative: Improving retention.

“The idea is not just to bring people here, but to ensure that they’re successful and that we can retain them, as well as, frankly, our existing faculty, really leveraging, again, the set of relationships to also increase our ability to effectively retain our existing diverse faculty,” Wallace said.

Davis and Wallace added that connecting new hires to their communities is a key part of improving retention.

“The broader and deeper their roots in the community, the greater the likelihood that we can retain them,” Davis said.

She said the University has a significant impact in the region, and that the initiative gives the University the chance to make some lasting positive changes.

“I think you can’t overstate the University’s role in the community,” Davis said. “We’re a huge employer. We have a huge footprint in the city. We have resources that we can leverage to help build the community, and as a partner with the community, I think that efforts like this are overdue, in some sense. We had to take an opportunity to look at what we need to make some changes here on campus. And this effort really helps us to really meet one of the gaps that we saw.”

Donovan Harrell is a writer for the University Times. Reach him at dharrell@pitt.edu or 412-383-9905.


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