• Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
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Year of Diversity Creates Framework for Continuing Exploration and Education

They gathered to discuss equal rights for the gay community. They examined what it means to be black in America. They took part in a workshop where veterans reclaimed their voices through music and drama. They heard from guest speakers, authors, poets and artists. They sampled food from cultures around the world.

Participants in the University of Pittsburgh’s Year of Diversity were able to choose from more than 200 events during the 2016-17 academic year. And the exploration of diversity in all its forms promises to continue, as the events helped to create an important infrastructure on which the Pitt community can build.

The Year of Diversity's goals, as outlined by Provost Patricia E. Beeson last fall, were to help the Pitt community recognize and appreciate one another’s differences and to understand that unfamiliar ideas and perspectives are necessary for the advancement of knowledge.

“This past Year of Diversity not only afforded the entire Pitt community the opportunity to better understand the value of diversity,” said Beeson, “it also helped lay a strong foundation for initiatives and ideas that will continue to renew our commitment to diversity, which is essential to the advancement of Pitt’s mission.”

The Year of Diversity was the latest in a series of yearlong themed initiatives advancing the frontiers of knowledge and preparing students to lead impactful lives. The series began with the Year of Sustainability in 2014-15, followed by the Year of the Humanities in 2015-16. As in past years, the Office of the Provost provided up to $5,000 in matching funds for 168 workshops, lectures, plays or roundtable discussions on all five Pitt campuses. From August 2016 through June 2017 there were events nearly every day, sometimes more than one a day.

In November, School of Social Work Dean Larry E. Davis addressed the Diversity Book Club, where participants had read his “Why Are They Angry With Us?” The book for nonscholars teaches theories on race and racism through personal essays and storytelling.

“There were a lot of scholars and researchers who came to campus during the year,” said Pam Connelly, director of Pitt’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion. “Hearing about that research, in my role, is always very empowering.”

The Diversity Book Club, which met three times over the year, will continue and convene again this November, with veterans’ issues as a potential book theme.

That's just one example of the kind of momentum that was important to the year committee’s co-chairs — faculty members Waverly Duck, from the Dietrich School of Arts and SciencesDepartment of Sociology, and Kacey Marra, from the School of Medicine’s Department of Plastic Surgery and the Swanson School of Engineering’s Department of Bioengineering.

One of the events that stood out to Duck was an April discussion with Temple University professor Sara Goldrick-Rab, a leading scholar-activist on college affordability. After hearing the remarks that evening from Goldrick-Rab and a student panel, Duck said he realized Pitt has “a fair number of students who are struggling financially and who are food insecure.” Many, he said, are working and taking advantage of our food pantry.

That session motivated Duck to propose the planning of financial literacy workshops for Pitt students and their families.

Other efforts that will continue include the Diversity and Inclusion Certificate Program, a series of six workshops that takes about one academic year to complete, and is open to any faculty or staff member. Including members of the first group to complete the program — who were honored at the recent Office of Diversity and Inclusion Retreat — 260 people have enrolled in the program.

In mid-April, many departments participated in a poster session highlighting events each had sponsored. Sixty posters were on display throughout the Lower Lounge of the William Pitt Union, representing themes ranging from the Latino community to working effectively with LGBT students.

“I spoke to every presenter,” said Marra. “For me, these events took me out of my science bubble and opened my eyes.”

Realizing the importance of showcasing the themes to a broader audience, Marra submitted the poster collection to D-Scholarship@Pitt so that researchers and the public can access the information.

A group of Pitt film studies students who were members of senior lecturer Carl Kurlander’s Making the Documentary course created a 12-minute documentary, mostly focusing on a feature film being made in the Hill District neighborhood of Pittsburgh. That film, “The Rehabilitation of the Hill,” is based on a screenplay by Pitt visiting assistant professor Demetrius Wren. The students interviewed the actors and filmmakers and worked alongside members of the community who joined the project.

“By making this documentary, the students’ lives were changed,” said Kurlander. “In the spirit of the Year of Diversity, it truly allowed the students to get out of their comfort zone and enter a world they would not have otherwise.”

Said Pitt junior and film studies major Grace Woodruff, from Erie, Pennsylvania: “The Hill District turned out to be a perfect case study with a rich history of diversity and, later, gentrification and exploitation. Learning about the Hill’s past, present and hope for the future not only gave us a look into Pittsburgh's history but also a real-life example of how beneficial a diverse climate is.”

As the discussions on diversity and inclusion continue, members of a steering committee are already planning events associated with Pitt’s 2017-18 academic year theme — the Year of Healthy U, which will give the Pitt community the opportunity to examine practices that promote a healthy physical, mental and social well-being.