Representation, role models matter for Black faculty and students


Having faculty “who look like them” may be the most important influence on Black students, a panel of intergenerational Black Pitt faculty, administrators, alumni and students discussed at a February panel.

“The Black Impact: Black Faculty and Administrators’ Influence on Black Student Success” event on Feb. 25 covered a variety of topics, including activism, the civil rights movement and ideas for institutional advancement.

Panelists included: 

  • Emily Williams, vice president and dean of academic affairs at Pitt–Bradford

  • Morgan Ottley, president of the Black Action Society

  • Curtiss Porter, a founding Black Action Society member

  • Jack Daniel, former vice provost for undergraduate studies and dean of students

The event was co-sponsored by the Pitt–Bradford Office for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion, the Black Action Society and the Center on Race and Social Problems.

“There's much research that points to the importance of students being able to see themselves in those who teach and nurture them at every stage in life, but especially during their college years,” Provost Ann Cudd said to kick off the event.

“These interactions serve as critical points of inspiration and of perseverance. It is extremely important to have role models who can identify with and support the cultural and racial experiences of the students they serve. Without this deeply important connection, we risk losing the stars whose higher education experiences are entrusted to us.”

Black Pitt community members have long advocated for a more diverse body of faculty. When a group of Black students formed the Black Action Society in 1968, one of their four main demands was for Pitt administrators to increase the number of Black faculty.

Porter, who was a founding member of the Black Action Society, said this demand and the others were designed to help “create a truly human society” at the University.

“I think that all of our efforts were trying to break down the barriers of racism and to advance society through the mechanism of the University so that essentially all people are treated equally,” he said.

Ottley, a senior neuroscience student, said students feel more confident when they see faculty “who look like them.” This also helps create a sense of opportunity and belonging for students, she added. 

And Williams said that as a Black woman in senior administration at Pitt–Bradford, she feels a responsibility to help advance diversity, equity and inclusion.

She said that when she sees students like Ottley, she remembers that since the beginning of her career, she has always seen herself as an influencer. And she said she takes that role very seriously when working with faculty and staff at Pitt–Bradford to improve the lives of Black students.

“I saw myself as an influencer and someone that was supremely courageous, because I knew I was going to have to walk forward very differently than what might have been expected of me,” Williams said. “In that regard, I am going to always and continuously be that influencer, number one for the students, and then certainly for faculty and staff.”

Without the influence of Black Pitt faculty and students and the efforts of the founding members of the Black Action Society, she probably would not have advanced to where she is now, Ottley said.

“Without their actions, without the first group of students who sat in the (Cathedral of Learning) and demanded change until it was made, I don’t think we would have the same fire that we have today to kind of push towards the same agenda,” Ottley said.

To see the rest of the conversation, visit the Black Pitt Faculty Facebook page.

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


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