Black Action Society calls for better communication on 2020 demands


TPN File Photo

A Black Action Society T-shirt.

By Alexandra Ross, Senior Staff Writer

Destiny Mann, president of Pitt’s Black Action Society, said the University has made progress on the organization’s 2020 demands over the past two years. But she said communication with students about how initiatives are progressing has not been frequent, nor detailed, enough.

“Things are being done, but it’s just the students don’t know about it,” Mann said.

After BAS and 17 other Black Pitt student organizations released a wide-ranging list of demands in June 2020, the University and BAS have met on a quarterly basis to discuss the demands. But according to Mann, these meetings are not providing sufficient updates on the status of the demands.

“Obviously, continuing to have our quarterly meetings with the administration is great, but we want to be consistently updated on the initiatives and the progress that’s being made,” Mann said.

Mann also said the organization hasn’t received many details about progress on some specific demands, and also hasn’t received timelines for when they will be implemented.

“I think that’s one thing that hasn’t been occurring,” Mann said. “We don’t know about the progress. We know things are occurring, but we don’t know at what stage they’re at. Like, when is it going to be finished? When are things going to start being implemented at the University?”

Pitt spokesperson David Seldin said direct communication with students is a University priority, and communication is “ongoing and evolving.”

“The University responded directly to the Black Action Society after it issued its proposed plan in 2020,” Seldin said. “Today, a dedicated staff member continues to advise the group, support their needs and work to address their concerns. At the same time, the University has continued to work directly with students, faculty and staff on these issues.”

Mann said the original demands mostly centered on regular communication with upper administrators, but she has found that BAS actually needs to receive updates from the frontline faculty and staff who are implementing the initiatives.

“The people that were mentioned in our demands were very much the higher-ups, but at the end of the day, they’re the ones who oversee all the initiatives, but it’s people, it’s faculty and staff under them that are doing the work,” Mann said. “So when it comes to communication, we want to be in communication with those people, we want them to be updating us.”

Cameron Spooner, president of the National Pan-Hellenic Council, said organizations for both current Black students and alumni want to come together with the University in a collaborative effort to improve the Black Pitt experience.

“We don’t hate Pitt, you know, we’re trying to work with Pitt to improve the Black experience,” Spooner said. “I came here, I’m a Black student, I want to make sure that any other Black student that comes here has a better experience and the people that graduated in the ‘90s, ‘80s, ‘70s, who are active in our Alumni Council, want the same thing.”

One of the demands to improve the Black Pitt student experience was the creation of a mandatory class on anti-Black racism. The University created such a course for the 2020-21 academic year and mandated it for first-year students.

According to the provost’s website, first-year students are automatically enrolled in the course but can choose to unenroll through PeopleSoft. Seldin said the way that the University administers the one-credit course — which does not increase tuition, affect GPA or fulfill graduation requirements — has not changed since its creation. He did not reply to follow-up questions about whether the course is “required.”

Mann said she wants the University to make the course mandatory.

“The people who need to take it may not know that they need to take it if it’s not mandatory,” Mann said. “So for some who don’t see this as a priority, but it is a priority, they may pass it along. But if we make it mandatory, we now know that everyone has had the chance to experience education when it comes to this topic of being anti-racist.”

Another part of the 2020 demands was to increase the proportion of Black students to 10% of the student population by August 2025. According to the Student Diversity Dashboard, the proportion of Pitt students across all campuses who identify solely as Black increased slightly from 5.4% to 5.7% from fall 2019 to fall 2021, and the proportion of students who identify either as solely Black or as a combination of Black and any other race also rose from 7.6% to 8.1% over the same time period.

To further increase the Black student population, Mann said the University should make sure Black students are receiving and retaining financial aid, take a firm stance against racism to make sure Black students feel supported and include Black students themselves in events such as Admitted Student Day — the latter having influenced her own decision to come to Pitt.

“I know for me, a big reason why I came to Pitt was that during Admitted Student Day, I saw the Black Action Society — and other multicultural orgs on campus, but specifically the Black Action Society — they had a table and just to see so many Black students coming together, talking about their experiences at Pitt, helped me in my decision to attend the University,” Mann said.

Spooner said growing the Black student population is about more than increasing the number of Black students accepted to the University — it’s also about retaining them, in part through funding.

“There should be more funding for Black students when they come in, because it’s not just about admitting Black students,” Spooner said. “It’s also about retaining them and ensuring that they’re graduating from Pitt, and they’re graduating from Pitt with jobs and stuff like that and becoming successful.”

Despite any delays in communication or progress on the 2020 demands, Mann said she is glad the University is moving in the right direction on improving diversity and inclusion at Pitt.

“I do think … they are taking the right steps to becoming a more inclusive and diverse university, which I’m happy about,” Mann said.