Destiny Mann, president of the Black Action Society, said because Pitt is a predominantly white institution, it is important that BAS helps bring Black students together.
“Being a part of a marginalized group at a PWI is super hard, but when we take into consideration all that has occurred with the Black Lives Matter movement last year and other factors, it’s just really hard to be Black at a university and not to have that solidarity with other Black students,” Mann said.
Pitt’s Black Action Society is a student organization that advocates for Black issues and concerns and provides a sense of community for Black students on campus. Mann said BAS’s overall goal is to ensure that Black students at Pitt feel welcome on campus, know that their voices are heard and any of their political, educational and social needs are addressed.
“We just want to make sure that we’re providing the necessary events and programs to make sure that Black students are meeting each other, fellowshipping and just creating lifelong bonds,” Mann said.
Mann said engaging with students over Zoom during the COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging, which is why the group hopes to provide fun in-person events this year. Among these events are their Indaba week and Homecoming block party.
Jalen Edwards, the BAS vice president, said she hopes BAS is able to reestablish a solid community for Black students at Pitt with more in-person events.
“I think specifically for this year after coming out of a pandemic, we’re really focusing on recovering and gaining back that sense of community that we had before the pandemic,” Edwards said.
Edwards said she hopes BAS can help Black students’ mental health heal from the strain of the pandemic, such as isolation and loss, as well as get back to activism.
“One of the issues that we really have this get on is recovering and allowing ourselves to be able to transition and being kind to ourselves, but also transitioning back to activism and not remaining steadfast in our values as Black students,” Edwards said. “I think it’s definitely a little bit harder since we’re fatigued from COVID. But I think strengthening each other, backing each other up and remaining unified is definitely going to be important for that.”
The Black Action Society, along with 17 other Black student organizations, released a set of demands last year to Pitt to make the University more diverse and inclusive. Some of the demands included increasing the number of Black students and faculty on campus, as well as more transparency from the Pitt police.
Since the demands’ release, Pitt has been in communication with Black student leaders to address them. BAS and Black Senate leaders communicated with University administrators many times last year, Mann said, but she hopes to have more dialogue this year.
“The issues are still here. So we’re going to be making sure that we’re obtaining that communication with the administration and that those task forces that were created as a result of the demands are still doing the job that they’re supposed to be doing,” Mann said. “And just making sure that the University is holding their commitment to being diverse, equitable and inclusive.”
Danielle Floyd, a member of Student Government Board and its vice president for initiatives, is helping maintain communication between SGB, the Black Senate and the Pitt police this year. Floyd said she feels it is important to continue to “fight” against the injustices of policing.
“When you’re doing this work, it’s really important to just fearlessly fight the issues of racism, discrimination and disparities, but just continue just to exist in our policing system,” Floyd said. “I think it’s really important that we continue to build off the momentum that was started last year and continue to have these difficult conversations in order to water the seeds of change, to create meaningful progress and lasting effects on police reform and make Pitt a safe place for all students to attend.”
The Chancellor’s Public Safety Advisory Council established the Committee on Students-Focused Public Safety Concerns at the end of the spring semester as a way to further improve communication and transparency with the Pitt police.
Floyd said the committee provides “a direct line of communication” between student and administration around concerns of public safety and the actions of the Pitt police.
“The other edge of the committee is making sure that the committee’s being responsible and serving as some sort of bridge between the student body on Pitt’s campus, particularly those who are minorities, marginalized and other targeted communities,” Floyd said. “And continuing to just put pressure on the Pitt police to be as transparent, accountable and responsive as possible on their hiring, training and disciplinary practices.”
Floyd said she hopes this committee and the partnership between the Black Senate and SGB can work toward improving the Pitt police and making campus a safe place for everyone.
“Making sure that when we were talking with the Pitt police we’re being very fearless and honest, in our conversations with them and not holding back and working to build a bridge,” Floyd said.
Another demand BAS hopes to continue to push the University on is increasing the population of Black students, faculty and staff. Mann said in order for this to be done, the University must put in the time and effort to engage with the Pittsburgh community. Black students made up 5.26% of undergraduate students in 2019 — the latest in a downward trend from the past 40 years.
“The way the demands are listed requires the University to back some of these initiatives with money and action. So in order for them to recruit more Black faculty and staff, the City itself needs to be a place where Black people want to live,” Mann said. “And as the University is such a major influence on the City, I think it’s up to them as well to make sure that they’re engaging with the community, making sure that they’re helping marginalized groups, especially groups that have been negatively impacted by where the University resides.”
The University rejected the Black Senate’s demand to create three $10,000 scholarships for Black first-year students and 48 $5,000 scholarships to Black upperclassmen in the memory of Antwon Rose II. Mann said despite the rejection of this demand, it’s important that the University prioritize financial support for Black students, especially when aiming to increase the Black student population.
“People are in positions where they cannot afford a University that is constantly increasing tuition, and financial aid needs to be prioritized,” Mann said. “You can’t be inclusive if it’s not accessible to a large population.”
Mann added that she hopes Black student leaders can continue to communicate with the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid this year, despite the University denying the scholarships.
Mann said BAS wants to be a community that Black students at Pitt can turn to, as well as a resource for others on campus to learn about the struggles Black students face.
“We’re just doing as much as we can to make sure that we’re holding this University accountable,” Mann said. “We’re doing all that we can to make this a fun experience for Black students on campus and to educate the general community as well to make sure that they know that this is what it’s like to be Black and at a PWI, and these are the issues that need to be addressed.”
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