Screenshot via www.diversity.pitt.edu
Morgan Ottley, the president of the Black Action Society, said one of her organization’s main goals is to push for transparency from Pitt. She said the University’s new social justice website is a good place to start.
“I do think that everything that comes out of this website will be a step forward in the positive direction,” Ottley, a senior neuroscience major, said. “Not just for the University, but also for the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and for students.”
The Office of Diversity and Inclusion’s new social justice website, released in late September, includes dashboards with annually updated statistics in areas such as admissions and enrollment, faculty and staff diversity and institutional funds spent on outside contractors and businesses based on race and ethnicity. The site also includes resources geared toward promoting diversity and inclusion, information on how to make bias reports and online training opportunities.
University spokesperson Pat McMahon said Pitt worked on the website with students, faculty and staff with the goal of creating a more “equitable, just and inclusive community.”
“This website is an extension of that collaboration, providing information and resources to inform and support those working for justice,” McMahon said.
McMahon added that the website would be updated throughout the year as data is collected or reported. He said some information is updated more frequently and other information is only collected once a year.
“This site will continue to evolve and grow over time, with information to be added concerning other minoritized groups,” McMahon said. “Dashboards will be updated throughout the year as data is collected and reported — some information is collected more frequently, while other data can only be amassed on an annual basis.”
Ottley said the website’s creation was in line with BAS’s summer demands to the University. BAS and 17 other Black student organizations submitted a list of more than 20 wide-ranging demands to the University in late June. They touched on topics including amplifying the Black student voice, increasing the number of Black students and faculty, curriculum changes, additional training for employees and Pitt police reforms.
Pitt launched an Anti-racism, Diversity and Inclusion Action Plan in July that addressed many of the BAS demands, including establishing in-staff service days, hiring more Black clinicians at the University Counseling Center and a policy that allows student organizations to request security guards instead of Pitt police officers for certain situations.
“I’m really proud that the University was able to pull through and create this resource for students,” Ottley said. “I’m really proud of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion for stepping up and making this not just an idea, but a physical tool that people can use.”
But Ottley said while the website is a great resource, it will be challenging to get students to “purposefully engage” with it and that the University and student organizations must take further steps such as promoting it on social media so students are made aware.
“The University must put this resource somewhere where students are often engaged at, such as social media,” Ottley said. “And student organizations must take the role of the middle man between students and senior administration, in order to inform students about the website and get them engaged with it.”
Ottley said the Black Senate originally proposed a report card-style approach that would have included a frequently updated report of actions that the University is taking to improve its diversity and inclusion policies. She said the report card would have specific action items followed by the University’s response with updates on the administration’s current policies.
She said the report card idea eventually morphed into the social justice website after she realized other student organizations had submitted similar demands.
“The report card we mentioned turned into the curation of a website where the University would not only record its response to the demands of the Black Senate, but other student organizations as well,” Ottley said.
Ottley said one of the site’s most important elements that BAS and other groups advocated for is a link to resources on how to make a bias incident report, so that students wouldn’t have to remain silent after an incident takes place.
The website contains an orange button that takes students to a reporting form. It also provides links to policies and procedures for making a report. On the form, students can state the “basis of or motivation for the conduct” was such as race, sex, religion, disability and gender identity.
“Our biggest wish with such a site was that students would be able to make reports on biases against them as well as resources,” Ottley said. “You don’t have to remain silent and suffer. You don’t have to stay silent about something that happened to you because you don’t know how to report it.”
McMahon added that reports are done “confidentially and separately” through the Office of Civil Rights & Title IX, rather than the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
Jaimé Ely, a first-year communications major, said she thought the website was well organized and contained relevant information.
“I think that the website is beneficial and looks extremely well organized,” Ely said. “And it has a lot of great information, especially about different events and how to be engaged in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.”
But she is doubtful if students will actually use the reporting feature.
“I think that it is helpful that the website has a reporting button,” Ely said. “However, I don’t really see students reporting, even though it is a useful tool.”
McMahon said the University is considering adding a step-by-step guide on how the bias reporting system works and what students can expect to happen after filing a report to the site in the future.
Ottley said she felt proud that the University is addressing student concerns and taking the necessary actions to show students its dedication to equity and inclusivity.
“We challenged the University to put some action behind its words and I can say that this is the first time in my four years at Pitt that I have seen senior administration truly do that,” Ottley said. “I’m very proud and joyful that Pitt heard what we were saying and that they really put their money where their mouth is to take action in such a short period of time.”