We, graduate students and graduate alumni of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh, recognize and fully support the movement to protect Black lives from state violence and systemic racism. The latest murders of George Floyd, Manuel Ellis, Tony McDade, and Breonna Taylor by police officers have reignited a national movement that demands profound changes to the treatment of Black people and other racial minorities. These recent murders are the tip of the iceberg within a continuum of violence that includes but is not limited to police brutality. This continuum of violence includes white supremacist vigilantism, evident in the murder of Ahmaud Arbery; white fragility that weaponizes its privilege, as seen in the interaction between Amy Cooper and bird watcher Christian Cooper in New York’s Central Park; and microaggressions and tokenism that continue to be perpetuated and overlooked in university settings. The settler-colonial history of the United States, along with continued historical injustices such as Jim Crow and other disenfranchisement, continue to shape racial hierarchies and must be critically confronted in order to create a truly equitable society. We cannot and will not stay silent.
Pittsburgh is often described as one of the “most livable” cities in the U.S. Yet it is also one of the most segregated. Recent and historic waves of gentrification as well as land seizure and demolition have disproportionately displaced Pittsburgh’s Black residents from many communities. Despite having one of the most sophisticated medical systems in the country, the Black community of Pittsburgh still faces severe health disparities, including higher mortality rates during pregnancy and higher instances of chronic disease. Health issues are also associated with the Black communities’ disproportionately high exposure to environmental risks. Further, severe racial disparities are prevalent in education: In Allegheny County schools, Black students are suspended at 7.3 times the rate than their non-Black peers, as a 2017 report by the University of Pittsburgh Center on Race and Social Problems examining the school-to-prison pipeline shows. At the same time, the police budget has been increased by almost $38 million dollars over the past 5 years, an increase of nearly 50%. The city’s 2020 budget for the Bureau of Police is $114,787,000, almost one fifth of the overall City Operations Budget. Police brutality is not a distant reality for Pittsburgh, either: in 2017, Michael Rosfeld, an East Pittsburgh police officer and former member of the University of Pittsburgh police, murdered 17-year old Antwon Rose II. He was acquitted of all charges in 2019.
The University of Pittsburgh is not exempt from critique. Previous campus protests have been met with violent responses by campus police. More broadly, the university has not done enough to improve racial inequities in its faculty and student bodies. The 2019 Racial Equity Study conducted by the Senate Budget Policies Committee found that Pitt faculty were overwhelmingly white, with only 3-4% Black and Hispanic faculty. In terms of its student population, Black undergraduates represent only 5.1% of the University of Pittsburgh’s main campus student body, while the percentage of Black adults aged in the traditional college bracket of 18-24 in the state of Pennsylvania is 14.2% and 14.6% nation-wide. This is unacceptable.
As members of the new generation of anthropologists, we must critically reflect on our roles and positionalities. The legacy of our discipline and academic work has been contradictory. In the early days, anthropology was tied to the global power structure of colonialism, but over the years many of its practitioners have exposed and criticized the injustices of colonialism and racism. Despite its noble intentions, scholarly work within anthropology has not been sufficient in dismantling white supremacy or in decolonizing the discipline. We recognize that all too often we are complicit in reinforcing problematic epistemic traditions, biased academic structures, and cultures of discrimination that silence Black scholarship and labor. We must do better as educators and scholars. As students and alumni of the Department of Anthropology at Pitt, we commit to doing everything in our power to work in collaboration with Pitt Anthropology faculty and staff to expand current initiatives and implement new ones that will address this situation. We are currently reassessing our roles within our own department and institution, and, ultimately, within the discipline of Anthropology at large. That includes expanding our purview beyond academia to support and follow Black activists in their work to eliminate police violence and mass incarceration. In order to provoke meaningful change, our next steps consist of deepening anti-racist academic work, diversifying our department, and integrating our university into the wider community.
● Office of Diversity & Inclusion: 412-648-7860 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
● University Counseling Center: 412-648-7930
● Racial Trauma & Self Care Resources
● Free legal consultation for Pitt students: 412-648-7970 or email SGB@pitt.edu
● Occupy Peace: Protest Planning & Safety
Donate or Get Involved:
● Black Lives Matter
● Color of Change
● Black Visions Collective
● NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund
● Campaign Zero
● Bukit Bail Fund
● Abolitionist Law Center
● 1Hood Media
● Sisters PGH
● The Trevor Project
● Stream YouTube Fundraising Videos
● Movement for Black Lives
More resources are available here.
 City of Pittsburgh 2020 Budget, p. 21, 227, https://apps.pittsburghpa.gov/redtail/images/8055_Operating_Budget_as_ap...(3).pdf. City of Pittsburgh 2015 Budget, p. 11, https://apps.pittsburghpa.gov/omb/2015_Operating_Budget_Dec_15.pdf.