November 2, 2017: Updates from Graduate Dean Holger Hoock: Diversity and Inclusion

Dear Graduate Students,

In my second letter this term, I want to focus on issues of diversity and inclusion. I invited Amber Griffith, President of the A&S GSO, to join me in co-authoring this letter. Since we both started in our roles, Amber and I have been discussing areas of mutual interest in our efforts to support graduate students across the Dietrich School.

The University of Pittsburgh and the Dietrich School are committed to fostering diversity and inclusion in all spaces and places where people work, research, and learn. Our community is rich in diversity, which is an essential component of its excellence. As Pamela Connelly, our Vice Chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion, has put it, diversity “helps to remedy societal discrimination and bias, [it] enhances the educational and employment experience by exposing us to, and challenging us to consider, the experiences and perspectives of others. In an increasingly connected yet divided world, these skills are essential.”

Graduate School provides you with many opportunities to step outside your comfort zone, to experience diversity, and to expand your world view. 

Despite the diversity that exists at Pitt, and our sustained efforts at diversifying our curricula, faculty, and student body notwithstanding, there is much more work to do.  And this work requires the engagement and collaborative efforts of all members of our community––students, faculty, staff, and administrators.           

In 2016/17, the A&S GSO formed the Committee for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI). Its objective is to advocate for underrepresented students and to provide programming for graduate students on topics pertaining to diversity and inclusion.  As you know, in spring 2017, CDI administered a climate survey on diversity and inclusion to all Dietrich School graduate students. Among the 15 percent of students who participated, responses to questions about the climate for diversity and inclusion on campus were overall positive. There also were areas that students felt needed continued improvement, including:

  • nonwhite-identifying students reporting, at a higher frequency than white-identifying students, that they heard remarks or saw behavior amongst their peers that could be construed as offensive to minority students
  • requests for an LGBTQ+ support group
  • training in diversity awareness
  • creating a climate where students who consider themselves part of an ideological minority feel comfortable sharing their views
  • enhanced awareness of resources for individuals experiencing discrimination or harassment

Amber, on behalf of the GSO, has been discussing the survey with school and University leadership and professional staff working on diversity issues. We have agreed to continue this important conversation and to respond to findings with concrete next steps:

  • To start with, CDI will host a facilitated discussion of the climate survey results with the graduate student body to invite constructive feedback and seek your engagement as we develop further responses.
  • In response to student demand, A&S GSO is working with the GSO of the Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies Program to form an LGBT+ support group.
  • To ensure that a safe space is provided for people of varying viewpoints to communicate openly, A&S GSO is working with the Center for Teaching and Learning on a workshop on “Navigating Difficult Conversations.”

In spring 2018, the GSO will be hosting a diversity resource fair to showcase resources the University and the surrounding Pittsburgh community has to offer.

As graduate dean, I continue to work on diversity issues with the school’s Office of Diversity Initiatives led by Director of Diversity Affairs Philippa Carter and with the University Office of Diversity and Inclusion, including its Title IX team, which handles or coordinates responses to inquiries regarding discrimination, harassment, or retaliation based on sex, sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity or expression.

We will redouble our efforts to maximize the visibility of existing resources regarding discrimination, bias incidents, and how to report discrimination or a bias incident.

Please spend a few moments browsing the resources linked through Diversity Resources, including, e.g., Affinity Groups at Pitt, Individuals with Disabilities Resources, a list of lactation rooms on campus, and  LGBTQIA+ resources.  

As part of our professional development and diversity training, we plan to offer workshops on micro-aggression; all students can benefit from enhancing their listening and communication skills and their intercultural competency. This will make us all a better community and serve all graduate students in future careers––from the classroom to the corporate boardroom.

Title IX protects all members of the University community: students, staff, and faculty from sexual or gender-based misconduct, including discrimination, harassment, and assault. This year, Title IX launched a new online training module that was specifically developed to recognize the multiple roles and perspectives that graduate students may find themselves in vis-à-vis Tile IX issues. In addition to the annual Title IX training for incoming students, and the multiple training resources available through our Title IX office, we will develop enhanced Title IX training for continuing students.

I also have heard students suggest in various settings that we pay closer attention to the needs of our many international students and to the needs of those students who prepare to study or research overseas. I’ll be working with university partners, including students, on these issues. Please look out for forthcoming programming.

Please save these dates on your calendars:

Monday, November 13, 5:30-6:30: Dean’s Hour (with pizza) ––321 Allen Hall. My monthly Dean’s Hours are informal gatherings where you will have the opportunity to share input and suggestions to help shape the school’s responses to the evolving needs of our graduate student community. I welcome your thoughts about our priorities and any other topics of interest.

Wednesday, November 15: A&S GSO CDI Meet and Greet––Panera on Forbes. University leaders involved with graduate studies will drop by for part of the session.

Date TBD: “Let’s Talk Diversity" with Vice Chancellor Connelly and Graduate Dean Hoock.

February 28, 2018––WPU Ballroom: Diversity Resource Fair

As always, feel free to contact me at and please join me for my next Dean’s Hour on November 13.

With best wishes for the remainder of the term,
Holger Hoock


Holger Hoock
Associate Dean for Graduate Studies and Research
J. Carroll Amundson Professor of British History
Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences