From the Desk of the Dean - June 1, 2020

Justice for George Floyd and Others

My Dear Pitt Education Students, Faculty, and Staff:

I cannot say it in any other way: My heart is heavy and my soul is stirred. I am traumatized, I am sad, and I am angry. Here we are, again, bearing witness to the workings of systemic oppression, racism and racial injustice, anti-Blackness, and white supremacy in this country. We need only look at any chapter in American history to understand that the legacy of violence, inequality, and inequity directed at, and endured by, Black people and Black Communities has continued into our current moment. If we sit by in silence and inaction, then we are complicit in shaping a future that directly mirrors our nation’s horrific past and present conditions.

Even as we experience the devastating impact of COVID-19, which disproportionately affects Black communities in the United States, we are confronted with the continued murders of Black lives. On May 25, 2020, George Floyd, a Black man in Minnesota who was already handcuffed by police, was killed by a police officer after begging for breath; three other officers watched but did not intervene. His death has sparked protests around the country, including in Pittsburgh. We are also confronted with the murder of Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was killed by white men in Georgia when he was out for an afternoon jog. There is also Breonna Taylor in Kentucky who was shot eight times in her home by police officers; it was later revealed that the officers had raided the wrong home. And there are many other lives that have recently been taken from us including Tanisha Anderson, Sandra Bland, Rekia Boyd, Philando Castile, Terence Crutcher, Oscar Grant, Freddie Gray, Botham Jean, Corey Jones, Trayvon Benjamin Martin, and, among others, Walter Scott. We must #SayTheirNames and #HonorTheirLives.

Undoubtedly, as a School of Education, we must intervene. We must acknowledge this legacy and its painful, devastating history. Our School’s mission-vision states that “we are committed to educational equity” and that “we work for justice.” Now is the time for us to demonstrate how “we learn with and from communities” as we collectively “shape practice and policy” through our teaching, research, and engagements with each other. Now is the time for our School community to wrestle with the history of Black pain and trauma, to determine how we have been complicit in that pain and trauma, and to learn with and from Black people as we seek to “innovate and agitate.”

Thus, I ask you to join me in intervening. To begin, I am commissioning a three-year working group titled, “The PittEd Justice Collective.” My office will partner with Dr. T. Elon Dancy and our colleagues in the Center for Urban Education as well as with our new school-wide Equity and Justice committee. Our partnership will curate a series of justice initiatives with and for students, staff, faculty, alumni, families, youth, and district and community partners. Together, we will deeply explore how our current moment is situated within a history of struggle and survival, organizing and resistance, and how we can work toward a future that is equitable, engaging, and justice-directed.

Among other things, our new PittEd Justice Collective will:

  • Disseminate, discuss, and design interdisciplinary studies on justice
  • Host justice-focused lunch and learns and other justice programming
  • Collaborate with Pitt Education faculty and school districts on justice teaching, with an explicit focus on pedagogies, practices, and assessments
  • Design and propose a justice-defined scope of study for students
  • Collaborate with staff members on justice-based professional development opportunities
  • Initiate a Youth for Justice Dean’s Advisory Committee
  • Make recommendations for justice for public education, higher education, and society
  • Design a justice fellows program for faculty, staff, students, and community partners
  • Situate antiracist practices at the center of our School of Education and as connected to our cultural drivers and strategic priorities

During the next few weeks, I will share additional details with you about the Collective and about how you can become involved in this important work of intervening and leading. For now, I ask that you join me in standing for justice and working for equity.

For equity and because of justice,

Dean Valerie Kinloch