Asian Student Alliance, Pitt admin discuss English Language Institute closure, sixth floor renovations at town hall


Madison Dean | Staff Writer

People attend an Asian Pacific Islander panel in the William Pitt Union on Tuesday night.

By Madison Dean, Staff Writer

With a “renewed emphasis” on Pitt’s Office of Inclusion and Belonging, Kenyon Bonner said the University is working diligently to communicate and engage with organizations and groups for students of color across campus. 

“We created the Office of Inclusion and Belonging specifically focused on making sure that all of our communities, all of our students, feel like they belong on campus and we have more staff and attention dedicated to students,” Bonner, the vice provost for Student Affairs, said. 

Students and staff vocalized the need for an expansion of the OIB, faculty and certificate issues within the Asian Studies Center and greater resources for international students at the Asian and Pacific Islander town hall on Tuesday night. The Pitt Asian Student Alliance hosted the town hall to raise awareness for Asian American and Pacific Islander month and address API students’ issues at Pitt. AAPI month falls in May, but the ASA is celebrating it in January because the school year will end before then.

One student audience member asked the administration panel about the closure of the English Language Institute and additional resources in place for international students and ESL speakers. 

Ann Cudd, provost and senior vice chancellor, said the University is having “conversations” about the institute and that they will “continue to evaluate what’s the best path forward for our students and faculty.” 

Emiola Oriola, director of the OIB, proposed the creation of an OIB calendar so other student organizations can actively participate in events surrounding AAPI month and build relationships with other groups. 

“A lot of student organizations come to the sixth floor to hang out, but many times they don’t connect with each other.” Oriola said. “So this OIB calendar is going to be infused and shared with student organizations so that when they come together monthly, they’ll get to say, ‘Let my student organization go to it.’” 

ASA members voiced their concerns about a lack of safe spaces for marginalized students, saying student organizations including the Rainbow Alliance, Black Action Society and ASA all share a “limited” space on the sixth floor of the William Pitt Union. 

Carla Panzella, associate vice provost and dean of students, said the need for more space on campus for students of color and the OIB is a “hot topic,” especially because of limited space on campus. 

“We hope to be approved by a firm that will help us do an entire renovation plan,” Panzella said. “Once a firm is hired, we will do in-depth interviews and focus groups with students at large, so you will all be a part of the conversation in a very serious way.” 

The panel also addressed questions about staffing within the Asian Studies Center. As a center dedicated to research and education about Asia, only three current faculty members are of Asian heritage, according to Allyson Delnore, executive director of academic affairs for the University Center for International Studies. 

A professor from the Asian Studies Center said API faculty and students want to “bridge the gap” between access to courses in high demand and implementation within the center. According to Delnore, many API students have also shown interest in Asian American courses, but securing funds and finding departments willing to teach them slows implementation of these courses into the curriculum. 

Cudd said the University wants to teach classes that will bring students into the center, especially if the classes are in high demand. 

“The development of the ethnic studies certificate will help to drive demand because students often want a certification or credential,” Cudd said. 

In collaboration with student groups and the Center for Ethnic Studies Research, the University’s first ethnic studies certificate is looking for more feedback through the creation of a student advisory committee, according to Delnore.

ASA asked the panel about their efforts to help international students adjust to American schooling and make online information more accessible and understandable. Panzella said it is important to hear from students directly about the barriers they’re facing on campus with communication, technology and housing. 

“The more present we are and the more that we are able to be in spaces with you that you are comfortable sharing that information, the better we can take down and break those barriers for you,” Panzella said. 

Kyoungah Lee, assistant director of international programs, also emphasized how one-on-one contact for international students is essential and the Global Ties mentoring program pairs incoming students to mentors with similar interests and backgrounds. 

Joshua Nguyen, a junior art history and microbiology major and president of the ASA, said the town hall allows students to further implement their ideas and voice their needs to Pitt administration and staff. Without bringing these groups together, he said there is “radio silence” from the administration and it is unclear if the school is addressing necessary changes. 

“This gives the administration the opportunity to share the work that they’re doing while also expressing concerns that they might not hear from students directly,” Nguyen said.