Chancellor Gallagher responds to student distress

By Emily Brindley / Assistant News Editor

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In the wake of Donald Trump’s election victory and the ensuing protests on campus and throughout the city, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher sent out a message meant to soothe tensions and reassure the Pitt community Thursday.

While he didn’t mention Trump by name, Gallagher acknowledged the turmoil on campus both during and after his victory in a letter emailed to Pitt students, faculty and staff. Though he didn’t list specifics, Gallagher urged students to use the University’s “resources” if they are having difficulties and ensured the community that Pitt’s values have not changed, despite changes taking place on a national level.

“Not everything is in transition,” Gallagher said in the letter. “Our University was founded before the U.S. Constitution was written, and our purpose — to improve human lives and our society through knowledge — is as important today as it ever was.”

In his letter, Gallagher marked the coming weeks and months as a time of transition from voters to citizens whose task is to engage in problem-solving and in discussion of current issues.

“Learning and discovery are made possible through values of respect, inclusion, integrity and freedom of expression,” Gallagher said in the letter. “This is why we remain committed to these values and why supporting diversity and an inclusive environment are vital priorities for our University.”

In a separate letter on Thursday, John Twyning, the associate dean of undergraduate studies at Pitt’s School of Arts and Sciences, told the school’s faculty that Kenyon Bonner, Pitt’s vice provost and dean of students, is in the process of coordinating efforts to help students cope with any distress or difficulty they might be having.

“Many students are experiencing a range of emotions in the wake of the election, including anxiety, grief, fear, anger and depression,” Twyning said in the email. “Students are likely to look to their instructors for help, guidance and sympathy.”

Twyning suggested faculty use “The Faculty and Staff Guide for Helping Distressed Students,” which lists numerous on- and off-campus resources, such as the University Counseling Center, to direct students to aid if they need it.

While emotions ran high on campus in the wake of the election, it’s unclear how Trump’s victory will affect campus in the long term. Since being appointed the director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology in 2009, Gallagher has enjoyed a close relationship with President Barack Obama’s administration. This relationship was most clearly seen last month when the White House administrators hosted the first ever Frontiers conference on Pitt’s and Carnegie Mellon University’s campuses.

Susan Rogers, Pitt’s vice chancellor for communications, declined to answer questions on Thursday about how Trump’s administration could affect Pitt. She also said Twyning’s message stood on its own and declined to comment further on the message or the election.

In his letter, Gallagher underlined the need to “move forward,” calling for Pitt’s community members to work together to identify and address problems.

“Values and beliefs don’t disappear with the act of voting. The post-election period is one of change,” Gallagher said in the letter. “This is a beginning, not an end.”

In addition, Lydia Heyliger, Pitt’s Year of Diversity coordinator, said Pitt has been urging its community members to engage in “difficult” conversations, a mission that the Year of Diversity supports. Heyliger said this election cycle acted as a “catalyst” for those conversations. Heyliger spoke from her personal perspective, based on her knowledge of Pitt’s words and actions surround the situation.

“How did we get here, and how do we move forward? We will continue to encourage engagement with different perspectives and hope to contribute additional space to do so throughout this year and beyond,” Heyliger said.

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