University of Pittsburgh mandates anti-racism class for incoming freshmen

The University of Pittsburgh will require all incoming first-year students to complete a course on anti-Black racism.

Provost and senior vice chancellor Ann E. Cudd wrote in a letter to students on Monday that the course, Anti-Black Racism: History, Ideology, and Resistance, is intended to be an introduction to the Black experience. Students will be automatically enrolled for the class in the fall which will count towards one academic credit.

Roots, ideology, and resistance to anti-Black racism will be the central tenets of the course. Other themes that will be covered include pre-colonial African history, race, policing and mass incarceration, health disparities, and racial capitalism. There will be required reading in most weeks and a different scholar will present the discussions.

“This multidisciplinary course seeks to provide a broad overview of this rich and dynamic history. Built around the expertise of Pitt faculty and Pittsburgh area activists, this course will introduce students to the established tradition of scholarship focused on the Black experience and Black cultural expression,” the course overview read.

“It also seeks to examine the development, spread, and articulations of anti-Black racism in the United States and around the world. The course will grapple with three key areas of inquiry: the roots, ideology, and resistance to anti-Black racism.”

Cudd cited the recent social uprisings that have followed the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and others as one of the motivators for this curriculum. The students at Pitt were another contributing factor.

“This summer, we have also spent considerable time reckoning with societal injustice in the form of police brutality and systemic anti-Black racism throughout society,” Cudd wrote. “We have heard from our Black students, as well as Black faculty and staff, that our campus is not the safe, inclusive and equitable place for all that we are committed to creating.”

Yolanda Covington-Ward, chair of the Department of Africana Studies in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, took the lead in helping to develop the course. The faculty and students involved wanted the course to be a reflection and response to anti-Black racism.

“We wanted to make sure that the course provided some historical context, while also looking at ideologies of race and contemporary struggles against anti-Black racism locally in Pittsburgh, nationally and globally as well,” Covington-Ward told PittWire.

“We also wanted to focus on the humanity of Black people in creating a course that emanates from their own perspectives, experiences and agency.”

The ultimate grade will be determined as satisfactory/non-credit, but for many of the students on campus, the course is long overdue. This summer, students, including medical students, sent a letter demanding more transparency with campus police. They also wanted a better system to report racial inequities.

“This is something that should already exist,” Morgan Ottley, president of Pitt’s Black Action Society, told The Pittsburgh Tribune–Review.

Ottley added that the work being done was not new by any means.

“Our presenting the demands is just a continuation of everything that’s led us to this point,” she said.

Margo Shear Fischgrund, a university spokeswoman, acknowledged that students spearheaded the decision to make the anti-racism course mandatory.

“Student leaders at Pitt absolutely played a role in the activism that resulted in the development of this course,” Shear Fischgrund told The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “This course came out of conversations with Black student leaders on campus.”

-The Griot