A crackdown on overcrowding, the Student Government Board president’s resignation, and pushes for bike lanes and a professors union — it’s been a busy year for Pitt, and The Pitt News has been there for it all. While we have been making our New Year’s resolutions to make your student newspaper even better, we pause today to look back at some of the stories that shaped our campus in 2015. Below is some of our most important coverage that defined the past year.
Beginning in November 2014, Pitt’s service workers started negotiating a new contract with the administration, which would take more than six months to settle. At Pitt, about 400 service workers, who clean and help maintain all of the buildings on campus, began holding rallies on campus calling for higher wages and more affordable health care. Pitt and the workers eventually agreed on a $1.20 per hour raise and a one-year freeze in health care co-premiums over the three-year contract in May.
In addition to its annual Sex Edition, The Pitt News published three special editions for the first time in 2015: The Pitt News Silhouettes, The Pot Edition, and the Final Frontier Edition. Silhouettes, published in March, included in-depth profiles of unheralded and some more well-known members of the Pitt community, giving readers a look into the lives of some people they might see around campus, but have never gotten to know. The Pot and Final Frontier Editions both replaced biannual “finals” editions, which typically serve as the last issue The Pitt News publishes in a given semester. The Pot Edition featured stories and commentary on Mary Jane herself, and the Final Frontier Edition took a look skyward to Pitt’s connections to Outer Space.
4. Pittsburgh cracks down on overcrowding in Oakland
According to Pittsburgh zoning codes, a house or apartment with more than three unrelated people living in it is considered overcrowded and illegal. In Oakland, however, many landlords rent homes and apartments to groups of four, five and six students. Due to the efforts of the Oakland community group Oakwatch, which is looking to enforce the zoning code, some Oakland landlords have been hit with hefty fines for violating the code. The Pitt News explored some of these cases in a feature that went on to win an Associated College Press award.
5. Student Government Board President Graeme Meyer resigns
Five months into what would have been an almost 18-month term, SGB President Graeme Meyer announced his resignation at the end of May. Per SGB rules, former Executive Vice President Nasreen Harun has taken over as president, since she received the second most votes in the last election. Former Board member Everett Green has taken over as Executive Vice President, and the Board hired Robert Tessier in October to fill the open seat.
6. Pitt announces Ruskin Hall and campus restrooms will be gender neutral
This fall, Pitt officially labeled all campus restrooms as gender neutral, meaning students, faculty and staff can use whichever gendered bathroom they feel comfortable using. Next fall, Pitt will open Ruskin Hall as a gender neutral residence hall. With its new policy, Pitt joins a growing list of colleges and universities that let students live in whichever dorms they feel most comfortable living in.
7. Pitt releases results of sexual assault survey
In September, Pitt released the results of the 2015 Campus Climate Survey on Sexual Assault and Sexual Misconduct, which showed that one in five women at Pitt and almost 1 in 4 trans and genderqueer students would have an unwanted sexual experience in their four years on campus. The survey results, which painted a stark reality of Pitt’s campus, came a little more than six months after Chancellor Patrick Gallagher declared that sexual assault “has no place” at Pitt. Gallagher has made combating sexual assault one of his primary focuses, and detailed part of his plan to The Pitt News in an interview in July. Despite their focus on sexual assault, however, Pitt administrators have said they don’t acknowledge the “red zone,” the period of time at the beginning of the fall semester when some research has shown the number of sexual assaults spike.
8. Pitt faculty begin a push to unionize
At an awards panel in October, Pitt English professor Robin Clark announced that the Pitt faculty were starting to organize a union with the help of the United Steel Workers, a labor organizer. Before the faculty can successfully unionize, it must hold two votes, one to start the negotiation process and one to formally unionize. Currently, professors at two other Pittsburgh universities, Duquesne University and Point Park University, are in the process of unionizing.
9. Pitt rescinds Bill Cosby’s honorary degree
Thirteen years after it awarded the once-loved comedian and actor an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree, Pitt stripped Bill Cosby of the honor in November. When it did so, Pitt joined a number of other colleges and universities that also took away honorary degrees they gave to Cosby. A Pennsylvania judge has since charged Cosby with drugging and assaulting one woman in 2004. Dozens of other women have accused Cosby of also assaulting them.
After the tragic death of Pitt adviser Susan Hicks — who was killed on her bike while riding home from work — students and City bike advocates began fervent calls for bike lanes along Fifth and Forbes Avenues through Oakland, the two busiest streets in one of Pittsburgh’s most traffic-heavy neighborhoods. Their petitions, however, have not seen results yet because the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, City officials, and others must work together to put bike lanes along Fifth and Forbes.