Confronting Racial Prejudice at Carnegie Mellon University

Carnegie Mellon University: President Farnam Jahanian; Provost James Garrett; Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Gina Casalegno

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Alisha Wormsley's text for The Last Billboard, before being removed in 2018 (image courtesy Jon Rubin)

WHAT IS THE PROBLEM?

We, as the student body, understand that it is a tough period in our nation’s history. First, we would like to thank the administration for giving us your time and your respect and letting us explain to you our perspective on the recent events. The Carnegie Mellon student body aligns ourselves with the Black Lives Matter movement, and all across the world Carnegie Mellon students are donating to foundations, protesting at our local rallies, and posting our opinions and thoughts on social media, just like so many others. While we partake in these actions to help rid our country of these injustices, we are saddened by the lack of action our school has taken to combat racial inequality.

A collection of student testimonies of racial prejudice at CMU: cmutestimonies.site

Carnegie Mellon continuously participates in and contributes to actions and institutions that harm the Black communities in which it is embedded and from which it has benefited. This includes Heinz College’s Predictive Policing project, CMU’s recent erasure of Black neighborhoods for almost a decade through official university marketing materials, the legacy of the gentrification of Oakland and Hazelwood, and insufficient attention to its diversity issue.

Predictive Policing:

In addition to the presence of the City of Pittsburgh police officers on CMU’s campus, CMU has a history of research investment that aids and abets the Pittsburgh police. Since 2016, CMU’s Metro21: Smart Cities Institute has provided $600,000 in grant funding from the Richard King Mellon Foundation to develop and deploy so-called “predictive policing” algorithms that PBP has been using to determine where to send additional patrols. These algorithms have been banned in other cities because they reproduce and amplify racist policing practices, often without transparency, oversight, or accountability.

Erasure/Gentrification:

CMU has fueled gentrification and expansion over the concerns of residents for years, most recently through the Mon-Oakland Connector, a high-tech gentrification project only benefitting CMU that has been met with consistent and loud resident opposition. This type of resident-exclusive tech development fuels gentrification and displacement, exacerbating a history of redlining that creates racially-based wealth inequities in Pittsburgh. Put together with CMU’s predictive policing project, which cites the flawed broken windows policing strategy as its inspiration, CMU is complicit in the over-policing, criminalization, and displacement of those same under-resourced neighborhoods.

Lack of Attention to Diversity Issues:

Like many institutions, CMU has its own share of issues concerning diversity, but despite the presence of the Center for Diversity & Inclusion, many students still report experiences of racial prejudice. There is very little attention drawn to minority groups and their resources; events to celebrate diversity are not well advertised and there is the common sentiment that minority groups and clubs do not feel uplifted by the CMU community. In addition, the Center for Diversity and Inclusion is literally underground, tucked away in the basement of the university center. Though CMU has released messages acknowledging racism as a general problem, it fails to point out its current shortcomings in diversity and the fight for racial justice. For example, it consistently fails to acknowledge the lack of Black staff and extremely low percentages of minority populations (6% of the class of 2023 is Black, 8% is “Hispanic”). In addition, their description of the class of 2023 as “15% African American, Latino, or Native American” exemplifies not only its attitude towards minority students, simply grouping them together into one group, but also the unacceptably low numbers of minority students.


WHAT IS OUR SOLUTION?

The following is our proposed solution, which contains six short-term demands and seven long-term demands.

SHORT-TERM DEMANDS:

The university has already shown that it can present information to the student body in helpful and impactful ways, as seen in its methods of keeping its student body informed about COVID-19. Doing the same for information on the fight against racism could positively impact how well-educated the CMU community is on this topic. This can be accomplished in a number of ways:

  1. CENTRALIZE STATEMENTS: Make university statements on dispelling racism more centralized and be more clear about where students can find additional resources to help fight racism and its effects.
    - Have a singular web page with the university’s statement, university resources, outside resources, and where to look for help or to support
    - Address the university’s small percentage of Black students, why the percentage is so small, what the university is doing to increase that number, and how CMU is working to make life for Black students better

  2. ADVERTISE: Advertise diversity and inclusion events better. Make the diversity and inclusion center more accessible since it’s hidden in the basement of the UC. Put more information concerning events, what resources the CSDI provides, what are its goals to promote diversity, what is it doing right now to promote diversity on the website. Advertise organizations students can donate to support racial justice and anti-racism.

  3. EDUCATE: Promote classes on Black history, art, and culture.

  4. HOST MORE BLACK SPEAKERS: In order to enrich both the cultural and academic community of CMU, having more diverse speakers in events such as academic seminars and diversity training would help students with different backgrounds feel that their opinions are represented.

  5. NORMALIZE THE CONVERSATION ABOUT RACE: Host more panels on diversity and what CMU does to promote diversity, especially for prospective students.

  6. ENFORCE ZERO TOLERANCE: Enforce a zero-tolerance for racism policy. Acknowledge what goes on on campus, and put an end to the mistreatment that black students face from staff and other students.


LONG-TERM DEMANDS:

Carnegie Mellon has acknowledged that the fight for racial justice is a fight that extends past today. Here are goals that Carnegie Mellon should plan to achieve in the future, to support this long fight for racial justice.

  1. MANDATE DIVERSITY TRAINING: The university already requires students to take online alcohol/drug and sexual harassment training. By introducing diversity training for students and staff through a similar platform, the university can ensure it is emphasizing its commitment to dispelling racism on campus before students even arrive on campus. This training could help students realize/self-correct any personal unconscious prejudices/micro-aggressions

  2. DIVERSIFY COURSES: Integrating Black history, culture, literature, etc. to current course curriculums will add to the quality and well-roundedness of a CMU education. In addition, add a question about Diversity and Inclusion or Bias to FCEs.

  3. EMPLOY: Employ more Black and other people of color in CAPS to give culturally relevant services to students in those groups. Hire financial advisors that specifically serve Black students.

  4. DEFUND CMU PD: See: CMU: Confront Racist Policing in Our Community

  5. SUPPORT BLACK-OWNED BUSINESSES: Cater from more Black-owned businesses. For example, Orientation Week could provide the university with a good opportunity to support and uplift Black-owned businesses.

  6. SUPPORT BLOS: Support more Black-led organizations, specifically volunteering organizations, such as Urban League Pittsburgh. As the university continues to show its support for actions of service, including more Black-led volunteer services during the Orientation Week Day of Service or Service Saturdays is a feasible and positive way to incorporate more Black voices into the CMU community.

  7. DONATE: Donate money to bail funds and racial equity foundations, and make public where funds and donations are being spent. We propose that on February 1st, CMU would make donations to anti-racism and pro-social justice foundations, such as BLM, 1hood, and the Bukit Bail Fund. This way, the university would be able to truly start Black History Month off correctly by honoring and giving back to Black communities.


As students, we are extremely proud of all that Carnegie Mellon has done in the academic sphere, but we recognize that the school is still behind in the conversation about racial justice and equality. Please sign this petition today for a better tomorrow. On behalf of the past, current, and future CMU students, thank you.

Petition by
Carnegie Mellon Student Body
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

To: Carnegie Mellon University: President Farnam Jahanian; Provost James Garrett; Vice President for Student Affairs and Dean of Students Gina Casalegno
From: [Your Name]

​We, the student body, understand that it is a tough period in our nation’s history. First, we would like to thank the administration for giving us your time and your respect and letting us explain to you our perspective on the recent events. The Carnegie Mellon student body aligns ourselves with the Black Lives Matter movement, and all across the world Carnegie Mellon students are donating to foundations, protesting at our local rallies, and posting our opinions and thoughts on social media, just like so many others. While we partake in these actions to help rid our country of these injustices, we are saddened by the lack of action our school has taken to combat racial inequality.

The following is our proposed solution, which contains six short-term demands and seven long-term demands.

----------

SHORT-TERM DEMANDS:

The university has already shown that it can present information to the student body in helpful and impactful ways, as seen in its methods of keeping its student body informed about COVID-19. Doing the same for information on the fight against racism could positively impact how well-educated the CMU community is on this topic. This can be accomplished in a number of ways:

1. CENTRALIZE STATEMENTS: Make university statements on dispelling racism more centralized and be more clear about where students can find additional resources to help fight racism and its effects.
- Have a singular web page with the university’s statement, university resources, outside resources, and where to look for help or to support
- Address the university’s small percentage of Black students, why the percentage is so small, what the university is doing to increase that number, and how CMU is working to make life for Black students better

2. ADVERTISE: Advertise diversity and inclusion events better. Make the diversity and inclusion center more accessible since it’s hidden in the basement of the UC. Put more information concerning events, what resources the CSDI provides, what are its goals to promote diversity, what is it doing right now to promote diversity on the website. Advertise organizations students can donate to support racial justice and anti-racism.

3. EDUCATE: Promote classes on Black history, art, and culture.

4. HOST MORE BLACK SPEAKERS: In order to enrich both the cultural and academic community of CMU, having more diverse speakers in events such as academic seminars and diversity training would help students with different backgrounds feel that their opinions are represented.

5. NORMALIZE THE CONVERSATION ABOUT RACE: Host more panels on diversity and what CMU does to promote diversity, especially for prospective students.

6. ENFORCE ZERO TOLERANCE: Enforce a zero-tolerance for racism policy. Acknowledge what goes on on campus, and put an end to the mistreatment that black students face from staff and other students.

----------

LONG-TERM DEMANDS:

Carnegie Mellon has acknowledged that the fight for racial justice is a fight that extends past today. Here are goals that Carnegie Mellon should plan to achieve in the future, to support this long fight for racial justice.

1. MANDATE DIVERSITY TRAINING: The university already requires students to take online alcohol/drug and sexual harassment training. By introducing diversity training for students and staff through a similar platform, the university can ensure it is emphasizing its commitment to dispelling racism on campus before students even arrive on campus. This training could help students realize/self-correct any personal unconscious prejudices/micro-aggressions

2. DIVERSIFY COURSES: Integrating Black history, culture, literature, etc. to current course curriculums will add to the quality and well-roundedness of a CMU education. In addition, add a question about Diversity and Inclusion or Bias to FCEs.

3. EMPLOY: Employ more Black and other people of color in CAPS to give culturally relevant services to students in those groups. Hire financial advisors that specifically serve Black students.

4. DEFUND CMU PD: Carnegie Mellon University’s support and use of law enforcement makes students and the community less safe. CMU should officially cut ties with the police forces of the City of Pittsburgh, Allegheny county, and all other regional municipal departments.

5. SUPPORT BLACK-OWNED BUSINESSES: Cater from more Black-owned businesses. For example, Orientation Week could provide the university with a good opportunity to support and uplift Black-owned businesses.

6. SUPPORT BLOS: Support more Black-led organizations, specifically volunteering organizations, such as Urban League Pittsburgh. As the university continues to show its support for actions of service, including more Black-led volunteer services during the Orientation Week Day of Service or Service Saturdays is a feasible and positive way to incorporate more Black voices into the CMU community.

7. DONATE: Donate money to bail funds and racial equity foundations, and make public where funds and donations are being spent. We propose that on February 1st, CMU would make donations to anti-racism and pro-social justice foundations, such as BLM, 1hood, and the Bukit Bail Fund. This way, the university would be able to truly start Black History Month off correctly by honoring and giving back to Black communities.

----------

We are hopeful that Carnegie Mellon University will hear our appeals and begin to reach a new potential for racial equality in and around campus. Desmond Tutu famously said, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” As students, we are advocating for change; please do your part as the administration to implement change. And remember, as YOUR students, YOUR actions are OUR actions.