Pitt aims to change low diversity numbers

By Meagan Hart / Staff Writer

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Chelsea Reyes may not come to Pitt. She’s worried it won’t prepare her for the real world. 

Reyes, a high school senior from Mount Laurel, New Jersey, is currently applying to colleges and says that while she plans on applying to Pitt, she is leaning more towards New York University partly because of the greater racial diversity there.

“I think college should prepare you for the real world, and the real world means you need to be able to interact with different kinds of people,” Reyes said. “I am looking to meet people who can challenge me and also for people to teach me different things and show different perspectives.”

For an urban school with more than 35,000 undergraduate and graduate students, Pitt is not as diverse as its competitors, such as New York University and Rutgers University. 

According to Pitt’s 2014 Fact Book, of the 35,014 students enrolled in the school in 2013, 16 percent were racial minorities — African American, American Indian, Asian, Pacific Islander and Hispanic students. 

At NYU, 61.5 percent of the student body, 44,599 undergraduate and graduate students, is non-white.

Rutgers, located in New Brunswick, New Jersey, has a 56 percent minority population, much higher than Pitt’s, according to its 2013 Fact Book. Rutgers-New Brunswick has 34,765 graduate and undergraduate students. Pennsylvania State University, whose student body population is 46,606 as of fall 2014, is 33.1 percent non-white. 

Rutgers spokesman E. J. Miranda said diversity in the school’s student body is part of the reason for its reputation, and diversity is important if students are going to get the best education possible.

“The university takes great pride in its tradition of promoting a diverse campus community that offers students intellectual and cultural interactions that enrich their educational experience and prepares them to be global citizens,” Miranda said. 

In his first “report of the Chancellor” address on Oct. 31 at the fall meeting of the Board of Trustees, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher said one of his goals is to increase student diversity on campus.

Although Gallagher has not yet announced any specific plans to increase diversity, he has made it clear that it will be a priority in the future.

Gallagher said diversity enhances creativity and attractiveness of Pitt, and it’s also critical to the region. 

“In order to thrive economically, it must grow, and as it grows it must become more diverse. The numbers tell you what you would expect: that Pitt, like the Pittsburgh region, is less diverse than many other regions or institutions,” Gallagher said. “This is an opportunity for us because it means we can do better.”

But, according to Gallagher, Pitt’s diversity problem is changing. 

This year, Gallagher said, Pitt has new students from 46 different states and 21 countries, due to efforts in student recruiting. Gallagher also pointed to new programs such as the Global Getaway, an integration program for international students and an international associates employer program, which offers international students assistance with job hunting.

Every year, during resident assistant training, Pitt trains student RAs on how to deal with possible diversity issues within dorms. Pitt’s Office of Cross-Cultural Leadership and Development holds the training, which takes place for about half a day preceding freshmen orientation week.

Abigail Tobin, an RA in Tower A, said she received training that prepared her to work with international students as well as students from different racial and ethnic backgrounds.

“We had a talk from the office for international students and we were able to talk to two different international students and ask them questions,” Tobin, a sophomore, said.

During their training sessions, RAs separated into groups and were each assigned a different race. Each group was then presented with different problems or forms of racism based on which race they had been assigned, and they had to solve those problems and accomplish a given task. Afterwards, the groups broke apart and talked about racial issues. 

Tobin said the training helped her feel more confident.

“I think the international student training helped me a lot because I was very nervous about having those first encounters with my international students. It definitely helped to ease some of my nerves, and I felt more confident when I met my residents,” Tobin said.

In contrast, Sarah Cassatt said the training “points out the discrimination that [she] knows already exists.”

Cassatt, a junior health and nutrition major and RA in Tower B, said she believes that it is a good idea for Pitt to provide training, but that there should be another focus.

“As an RA, I feel that the activity would be highly more beneficial if was more focused on providing me with educational tools and ways to stop discrimination I see on my floor,” Cassatt said.

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