- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
- Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences
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A guide to campus buildings and uncomfortable conversations.
Nicholas Johnbosco (A&S ’22) is antsy for the presentation to begin. He arranged for the speaker, and dozens of his friends are here as part of their training as Pitt campus tour guides. But he knows some are dreading it because the conversation might get uncomfortable — the trainings tackle distressing “isms” like racism, heteronormativity, intersectionality and more. Today, a representative from Disability Resources and Services will talk about ableism and challenges faced by students with different abilities.
Johnbosco knows personally how discomfort comes with the territory anytime you’re forced to see inequities and your own advantages, which is why he made confronting it a prime pursuit for Pitt Pathfinders, a group of nearly 200 undergraduates who give tours and answer questions for prospective students visiting campus.
Johnbosco’s parents immigrated to the U.S. from rural India, and when he would return with them to visit, he witnessed families who had barely enough food or water to get by, a shocking contrast to his life in Downingtown, Pennsylvania, where the fridge was always stocked and the tap spewed fresh water. And hearing his parents’ stories of moving across the world reminded him that things he took for granted — like conversing easily in colloquial, everyday English — represented barriers he never had to overcome.
Yet, there were situations where Johnbosco wasn’t the most privileged person in the room. He was one of just three students of color in his high school and the only Indian, which at times felt isolating.
With awareness cultivated from these early experiences, Johnbosco chose to attend the University of Pittsburgh, a school not too far from home with strong programs in his interest areas of science and music as well as an increasingly diverse student body. He quickly joined Pitt Pathfinders. (He himself had taken three tours of Pitt, the first with a student of Sri Lankan descent who later became a friend.)
When he wasn’t walking backward around campus to show off academic buildings and residence halls, Johnbosco took advantage of the liberal arts education Pitt affords, double majoring in biology and music performance. He landed a research gig through the First Experiences in Research program, where he worked in a real lab to sequence DNA and cross reference genealogical data. Meanwhile, he auditioned for and was accepted into the internationally acclaimed Heinz Chapel Choir and took classes in theory, history, composition and performance.
“I’ve loved music for as long as I can remember, and I was so glad I could continue it even with the demands of science,” he says.
As a junior, Johnbosco scored a new leadership position with Pathfinders: vice president of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). Because Pathfinders might be the first contact at Pitt for potential students from around the world, Johnbosco felt it was vitally important its members understood various perspectives and identities in order to be as welcoming as possible. So, he organized DEI presentations and trainings and successfully advocated to make participation required. Together, the group explores questions like: How can we honor concerns LGBTQ+ students might have when choosing a school? What are some ways students of color have built community at Pitt? How best can we give a campus tour to someone with different abilities?
He openly shared his own experiences, which made his fellow guides feel more comfortable.
“I’d say, ‘Listen, I don’t know everything and I’m going to make mistakes, but I’ll do my best.’”
To Johnbosco’s relief, his worries about how his peers would react to the presentations, and what they would think of him, faded quickly. Many students rose the occasion, asking questions during the presentations and engaging in the conversations afterward.
In addition to serving potential Pitt students of all stripes better, Johnbosco knows the trainings also help build a good foundation for the tour guides in pursuing future careers — including himself. He’s currently working full time in a doctor’s office and plans to pursue a graduate degree in a health care field, where he’ll certainly encounter people with different identities, experiences and life situations. He hopes to work directly to support underprivileged populations, maybe by opening a free health clinic in an underrepresented neighborhood, here or across the ocean in India.
— Liberty Ferda