Pitt’s Racial Equity Consciousness Institute works toward combating racism


Image courtesy of Racial Equity Consciousness Institute

A graphic from the Racial Equity Consciousness Institute about racial equity.

By Gabriella Garvin, Staff Writer

Ron Idoko, founding director of the Racial Equity Consciousness Institute and associate director of the Center of Race and Social Problems, came up with the idea for the Racial Equity Consciousness Institute at Pitt after recognizing a collective need for the nation to do better in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in 2020.

“The summer of 2020 was a very distinct time for a lot of people around the country in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd,” Idoko said. “And a lot of people were trying to determine how to do better. How do we work to root out racism in our society? So I was thinking about how we build the institution’s capacity to advance equity and inclusion initiatives.”

The Racial Equity Consciousness Institute engages learners through a series of cohorts designed to challenge and explore implicit bias. The cohorts are designed to embrace racial diversity, build racial empathy and acknowledge racial trauma, according to Idoko.

The Institute is set to kick off this year’s series of instructive cohorts on Thursday in room 2017 of the Cathedral of Learning from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. The cohort will start by introducing an overview of racial equity consciousness.

Idoko said his motivation behind the Institute is to ensure Pitt’s promise to be an anti-racist institution is put into action.

“I was thinking, how do we build the institution’s capacity to support our community members and uphold our desire to become an anti racist institution,” Idoko said. “Because it’s one thing to say you want to be an anti-racist institution, it’s another to talk about how you actually can make that happen. And so that’s what started my research, and I landed on consciousness development.”

Idoko added that he wants to help people better understand the complexities of racism using a racial consciousness framework he designed.

“The Racial Equity Consciousness Institute was developed to … think through how to foster racial equity and make our world a bit better,” Idoko said. “I was able to outline a framework that I think has been fairly instructive and is giving people a clear pathway to consider the behaviors they want to embody towards advancing racial equity.”

Betsy Farmer, dean of the School of Social Work, said the Institute appeals to a variety of audiences.

“I think it’s a really well put together institute with really relevant information,” Farmer said. “In the School of Social Work we have people who are at all different levels, in terms of their own experience with racial inequities, and so the materials are developed in such a way that it doesn’t really matter where you are starting — you can understand them and think about them.”

Farmer said in the two years she was a participant in the weekly sessions of the program, she could see a lot of progress.

“It was really good because I participated in it twice and I got to see some of the things that Ron and the other developers had changed between the two,” Farmer said. “I thought they did a really nice job of critically evaluating what worked and what didn’t work, and going back and finding new material that might be more able to get people thinking in ways they wanted to.”

Idoko said moving forward the goal for the Institute is to continue to evolve in an effort to reach people from all different disciplines.

“Certainly the goal is to continue to grow the center and to think about having a congregational space where people come in and have access to a bunch of resources or to have dialogue,” Idoko said. “A change-making space where people from different disciplines can come together to think about how big change happens.”

Doris Rubio, assistant vice chancellor for clinical research, education and training across the health sciences and director of the Institute for Clinical Research Education, said universities nationwide are interested in participating in the study of cohorts the Institute provides, including University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University and University of Massachusetts, among others.

“I contacted institutions across the country and asked them if they would be interested in participating in this study,” Rubio said. “We’re going to randomize half of them and the other half we will give some implicit bias training to test the effectiveness of the training. And the thing that is so wonderful is, out of 32, 28 responded with a resounding ‘yes.’ I think it’s really resonating with a lot of people.”

Idoko said it is important to remember that communities are responsible for holding their peers accountable.

“I think part of what we all have to remember as members of the University community is that institutions don’t exist without people. So when institutions make a commitment it is ultimately upon the people to hold themselves accountable towards uplifting that commitment,” Idoko said. “It’s not the job of one person to say, ‘Make Pitt anti-racist.’ It’s all the people.”