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Pitt Black Faculty Development Initiative receives grant to tackle health disparities

  • Health and Wellness
  • Innovation and Research
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
  • Our City/Our Campus

The Richard King Mellon Foundation has awarded the University of Pittsburgh $250,000 to support the Pitt Black Faculty Development Initiative — a program that seeks to improve the lives of Black Pittsburghers by supporting research focused on equity, health and well-being in the city. This program is part of the larger Race and Social Determinants of Equity and Well-being Cluster Hire and Retention Initiative.

A portion of the gift will fund three to five seed grants given to Black faculty-led research projects that specifically address health disparities. The grant will also support Black faculty retention efforts.

“Seed grants inspire creativity by giving researchers an opportunity to throw an idea out there and find collaborators,” said Paula Davis, Pitt’s associate vice chancellor for diversity, equity and inclusion in the health sciences, who coordinates the recruitment and retention of diverse faculty, students and staff for those schools.

“Our vision is to engage Black faculty members in experiences that will help to develop their career paths and give them a stronger sense of what they may be facing as their careers develop,” Davis said.

An interdisciplinary approach to an intersectional problem

The grant is dedicated to mitigating regional infant and maternal mortality within the African American community.

“The Pittsburgh region is challenged with regard to issues of racial equity and gender, and Pitt’s senior leaders are committed to leveraging the intellect, the experiences and expertise of our existing as well as new faculty to explicitly address the challenges of our region,” said John Wallace, Pitt’s vice provost for faculty diversity and development

His office, along with the Center on Race and Social Problems in the School of Social Work, will steward the grant. Additionally, Tiffany Gary-Webb has joined the Office of the Provost as special assistant to the provost for race and the social determinants of equity, health and well-being. In this role, she will lead the Race & Health Collaboratory and work to implement the other core components of the Race and Social Determinants Initiative.

According to a 2019 report issued by Pittsburgh’s Gender Equity Commission, Black women in Pittsburgh are far more likely to die during pregnancy than their peers in other U.S. cities, and for Black Pittsburghers giving birth, 18 out of every 1,000 pregnancies end in a fetal death — twice the rate of white people giving birth in Pittsburgh

The seed grant program design encourages interdisciplinary collaboration to address this problem. 

“A diversity of viewpoints looking at a problem increases the likelihood that you will have a solution,” said Davis. “It gives me great hope for our capacity to come up with creative answers to some of our more daunting problems, ultimately making life better for Black women in Pittsburgh.”

Impact beyond research

The Richard King Mellon grant will have both immediate and far-reaching beneficial effects on the recruitment of students and faculty at Pitt who work in these fields and for whom these issues are important.

“This grant will support Black faculty at Pitt and advance our work to improve health and well-being in our communities,” said Sam Reiman, director of the Richard King Mellon Foundation. “The foundation is committed to addressing health disparities, particularly the higher rates of infant mortality that too often mean tragedy for Black mothers and fathers.”

Pitt’s Wallace also noted that the impact of this work will extend beyond the region. 

“While Pittsburgh is certainly challenging for African Americans, racism and health disparities are not specific to Pittsburgh,” said Wallace. “I'm confident that what we learn will have implications far beyond Western Pennsylvania, and I also am excited by the fact that the institution where I serve is committed to improving conditions in the community in which it is nested.”

— Nichole Faina