The University of Pittsburgh Center on Race and Social Problems (CRSP) has begun its 16th year of operation and, like the prior 15 years, continues to be a busy place. This is a good thing, as now more than ever our country is in need of attention to race matters. When we established CRSP in 2002, there was speculation about America’s possibly being in a postracial phase of its history. Few would make such assertions today. Perhaps more so than at any other time since the Civil War, our country is divided on a variety of social, economic, and political issues—and among these, race relations is one of the most divisive and problematic. Tragically, our current president has given largesse to those who, it seems, love to hate. Since his election, the number of hate crimes and groups has dramatically increased. Those of us who have been in the trenches fighting for greater racial and social justice find this disheartening. Not surprisingly, it has caused many to ask the questions, “Have race relations gotten worse, and have all of our efforts to bring about greater racial justice failed?” Unfortunately, it does appear that race relations have, in fact, gotten worse. But, at the same time, it also is true that considerable racial progress has been made. It is very likely the case that we are experiencing a conservative racial backlash because so much racial progress has been made.
But we should not come to the conclusion that we have failed in our efforts to bring about a more just society. It is instead the case that we have most certainly underestimated the enormity of the problem we were facing and the amount of time and effort it would take to eradicate it. So let us not be disillusioned by the present troubled state of race relations but continue in the struggle to make America a more perfect union.
Our speaker series has continued to flourish. We kicked off our 2018 series with a special presentation by the Criminal Justice Task Force led by Pitt Chancellor Emeritus Mark Nordenberg with his colleagues Frederick Thieman of the Buhl Foundation, the former
U.S. attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania, and Edward Mulvey of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who commissioned the task force, introduced the panel. The panelists reported the findings from a yearlong study on the insidious effects of high rates of incarceration. The panel also made clear the negative effects high incarceration rates are having on people of color.
Our second lecture, “No Way Out: Precarious Living in the Shadow of Poverty,” was presented by Waverly Duck from Pitt’s sociology department. His presentation offered informative insights into the difficult living conditions that those living in poor communities face daily. Our third lecture, “Race and Compounded Adversity,” by Kathryn Neckerman, had to be canceled due to inclement weather. Our final lecture, “The Real Record on Racial Attitudes,” given by Camille Zubrinsky Charles, provided a longitudinal look at racial attitudinal change in America.
CRSP has been awarding pilot grants since 2004. Typically, we have awarded one to three grants per year. These grants, most of which are in the amount of $10,000, are given to faculty members across the University who have race as their topic area of interest. We have awarded more than $200,000 since 2004. We have been pleasantly surprised to learn that many of our awardees have been successfully using their pilot funding to obtain larger grants, resulting in a $6 return on every dollar awarded by CRSP. This fact was only recently brought to our attention by Daniel Rosen, a CRSP associate, who is currently preparing a report on the success of our pilot grant recipients. We hope to distribute this report later in 2018.
The first of our 2018 Summer Institutes, on child welfare, was held on June 6. It focused on the effects of the opioid crisis on children and families. Our second institute was a panel presentation by five Black local politicians on July 11. They presented a report on the city’s Black poverty and unemployment rates as well as possible interventions to ameliorate these conditions. Our third and final institute was held on July 25 and was called Police and Community.
Each year, CRSP provides stipends for eight Master of Social Work students to enable them to fulfill their internships. These students provide emotional, scholastic, and practical support to students in two local elementary schools with high proportions of needy students. CRSP fellows have been found to be a tremendous resource to the schools in which they are placed. In addition, the placements provide the fellows with unique practicum opportunities to serve low- income and underrepresented communities.
Pictured from left to right in the first row are Meghan Hough, Cody Harmon, and Tailer Speight.
Pictured from left to right in the second row are Louisa Munian, Rebecca Sherrill, Deirdra Bullock, and Amanda Dugan
Annual Cuba Trip
The Cuban Social Policy course has been part of the CRSP’s international study abroad program for more than 10 years. Each year, we take a group of 10 students to Cuba over spring break. They are required to attend four seminars before we leave for Cuba and write a short paper upon our return. These seminars involve a combination of films and lectures about the history and present-day status of Cuba. Students visit facilities such as schools, orphanages,
and homes for the elderly and are provided with wonderful lectures by University of Havana faculty. Of course, a major focus of this course is how race and income operate in Cuba. Students are presented with both the similarities and differences between America and Cuba on these topics. It is one of the most eye-opening experiences that many of our students have with Cuban history and America’s involvement with it.
As many of you are perhaps aware, I stepped down as dean of the School of Social Work at the end of this term. However, I will stay on as director of CRSP for another year. It is my hope during this next year to continue to improve CRSP. This will involve providing greater support to the Research Advisory Panels, promoting more research, providing greater academic rigor to the Cuba program, and finding ways to include greater numbers of our students in the work of the center. More than ever, I want to acknowledge and thank the supporters of CRSP. First and foremost, I owe a great deal of thanks to the University of Pittsburgh, which steadfastly supported the center from the beginning. Without Pitt’s unwavering and sustained support, there would be no Center on Race and Social Problems. Pitt is to be given immense credit for supporting a center focused on race when many other schools avoided addressing the topic of race altogether. I also want to thank the supporters of our lecture series, the law firms of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney PC and Reed Smith LLP. Both of these firms have been with us since the beginning and we cannot thank them enough.
As always, we invite you to attend the center’s activities. America needs your attention to be on racial justice issues now more than ever.