Black Action Society provides updates to SGB on student demands


Zoom Screenshot

Student Government Board met Tuesday night via Zoom.

By Nathan Fitchett, Staff Writer

When Pitt’s Black Action Society gave a list of demands to the University on June 22, it wasn’t the first time. Morgan Ottley, president of BAS, reminded Pitt’s Student Government Board of BAS’ historical significance at the University.

“In 1968, the Black Action Society presented the University of Pittsburgh with a series of demands requesting that the University increase Black students and faculty, as well as creating a Black studies department and incorporating the Black narrative into curriculum across the University,” Ottley said.

SGB received its first update from Ottley at the board’s Tuesday night meeting regarding the University’s response to demands created by Pitt’s Black Senate. Ottley said the demands ask Pitt to examine its “racist foundations” and stand in solidarity with Black students. Board members also gave updates on some other key initiatives currently in the works.

Ottley said the demands were created to push the University toward addressing its failures in dealing with racism on campus.

“In creating this document, we sought to call out the University’s failure to combat racism on campus, in the classroom and amongst students,” Ottley said.

Since the publication of the demands, the University has met with the BAS twice, most recently on Sept. 15, to discuss which demands would be addressed and to what extent they would be carried out. The People’s Voice committee, composed of eight students, four faculty members and four additional staff members, was created by the University as a standing committee to address each of the demands made.

Pitt has addressed several of the demands so far. Most notable of these changes is the addition of a new anti-racism course, which is mandatory for all first-year students this semester. The committee has been receiving feedback on the new course, which has been overall positive, but some students have reported that they feel the course is “too much work” or “not relevant to what they are studying.” Ottley said the committee hopes to change the course to address these concerns.

Ottley said in response to another one of the demands, the University appointed John Wallace as the new vice provost for faculty diversity and development. He will lead initiatives to provide anti-racist and bias training for professors and staff. The University has also told the committee to stay tuned for a Black faculty hiring cluster coming this spring.

The University also pledged to increase the number of Black students and faculty by 1% each year to get to 10% by 2024. The commitment is in response to concerns over a long-term decline in Black student representation, which has decreased by two-thirds since the ’80s. The University plans to incorporate more Black Pitt students into the local high school recruitment process to achieve its 2024 goal.

But not all the demands were fully met by the University. The demand to create three $10,000 scholarships for Black first-year students along with 48 $5,000 scholarships for Black upperclassmen in the name of Antwon Rose II was denied by the University. Ottley said while the University refused to create these scholarships, it will continue to support need-based scholarships for Black and other underrepresented minority students.

Ottley said the University also denied the demand to immediately terminate and ban Pitt police officers with one incident of “racial bias, excessive force or unlawful arrest/detainment,” but noted that students and faculty can submit concerns on specific officers to the Pitt police or the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and officers will face consequences following an investigation. Student organizations can also now request security officers at public events free of charge instead of Pitt police officers.

Ottley said the People’s Voice committee will continue working with the University until all of Black Senate’s demands have been addressed. She told SGB members to expect another report sometime in October or November.

In addition to the BAS report, board members provided several notable updates on ongoing SGB initiatives.

Ben King, vice president and chief of finance, announced the formation of a task force to prepare for planning changes to the SGB constitution. SGB seeks to update the document to better reflect current operations.

King also stated the new student activities budget has yet to be finalized and said he is waiting on Student Affairs for an update. Steve Anderson, associate dean and director of residence life, said with the 20% reduction in the activities fee this semester, Student Affairs wanted to make sure all of the “above-line cuts” were taken care of before finalizing the amount to provide to SGB. Anderson said he hopes for the finalized number to be released next week.

Tyler Viljaste, vice president and chief of cabinet, announced an SGB-sponsored raffle being held for students on campus who participate in the 2020 census. SGB will give away 25 $100 gift cards to the campus bookstore for people who respond to the census by the Sept. 30 deadline. Only students who lived off campus last spring are eligible to be entered, as students living on campus were already counted in the 2020 census.

Viljaste said participation in the census is important for the University so that it can receive state grants and funding accurate to the number of students on campus.

As the weekly meeting concluded, President Eric Macadangdang reminded students to stay safe and continue to follow quarantine guidelines.

“Please continue to take care of yourself and others. Remember, we are still in a pandemic,” Macadangdang said. “It’s still vital to uphold safe and healthy behaviors both on and off campus.”