By Nadiyah Fisher
The University of Pittsburgh is a predominately white research institution in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. While the University is known for its world-renowned medical and business schools, it is not known for their diversity. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the University has a population of 32,227 students, and 26 percent of these students are people of color, which is lower than the national average of 38 percent. If we look closer into this 26 percent, only 5 percent of the students at the University identify as Black or African American and only 3 percent of the student body identifies as Latinx (NCES, n.d). Along with the lack of racial diversity at the University, the lack of geographical diversity lags further behind with 3 percent of the student body identifying as international and 59 percent of the student body from Pennsylvania alone (NCES, n.d.).
To account for this deficit, the University created the Center for International Studies (UCIS) to help “convene bright minds to explore and address global issues that improve life in the world’s local communities by engaging in research, policy, partnerships, and the study of language and culture, we open the door to global citizenship” (Pitt Global, n.d). Within UCIS, the Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS) was founded in 1964. The mission of CLAS is to promote an overall global understanding or international awareness of Latin America and the Caribbean through intellectually sound programs and resources (Pitt Global, n.d). Now in 2022, there is an emphasis on diversity, equity, and inclusion within universities in the U.S., but a decrease in funding for arts, language, and culture programs. Therefore, global studies centers such as CLAS are necessary to encourage reciprocal learning, inspire creativity amongst BIPOC students, and continue to spread equitable international awareness in a university that lacks diversity.
The use of students to spread international awareness not only makes the information more accessible but is also economically sound. At the University, CLAS spreads intellectual resources to the Pittsburgh community and internationally through their scholarly publication: Panoramas. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a panorama is “a complete view of an area in every direction” (Merriam-Webster, n.d). This relates perfectly to the goal of the program: to create a global view of people and the world in such an ethnocentric and individualistic country as the United States. Panoramas has created a space for academic discussion surrounding Latin America and the Caribbean through many mediums such as articles, roundtables, interviews, and videos since 2012. Panoramas interns are undergraduates at the University who draft articles, host roundtables, and disperse information about the diaspora through the Panoramas website and social media. In exchange for their research, the interns are paid 12 dollars an hour; this is a fair bargain for students to increase the inclusion of global studies in an interactive way in the student body.
Some may argue that establishing general education requirements that incorporate global issues and cross-cultural awareness would suffice, but the presence of letter grades and the cost of a multitude of these classes can be daunting for a student paying $1000 a credit. In a 2014 study about reciprocal peer instruction and undergraduate learning, undergraduates reported feeling more comfortable when learning from their peers. They did not have the pressure of being expected to “know everything” and liked having a dialogue with a person rather than lecturing (Miravet et al., 2014). Panoramas roundtables give students a space for dialogue with their peers on topics they may have never heard of without the pressures of letter grades and expectations from instructors. Not only does this empower those receiving the information, but the interns grow by dispersing the information. In addition to the benefits undergraduates received from learning from their peers, the student instructors felt empowered as well. Student instructors felt more capable and competent in subjects since they were able to teach their peers (Miravet et al., 2014).
With a population of 3 percent at the University, representation matters. Latinx students should be able to see themselves in their curriculum. Panoramas give students the opportunity to explore the Latinx and Caribbean diaspora in many facets. Usually, classes centered around marginalized populations discuss major historical events and stick to common themes. Panoramas give students the opportunity to venture out and create a safe space outside the bounds of an academic setting. With the new age of science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), there is less focus on the arts and more specifically the art of Latinx and Black people. After the 2008 recession, undergraduates became more focused on fields with high rates of job success over the humanities. According to the Department of Education, the study of languages and culture dropped by 33 percent, and the study of the arts is at an all-time low of 1.7 percent enrollment among college-age students (Schmidt, 2018).
Along with the decrease in undergraduates in the arts and humanities, there has been an increase in BIPOC in STEM fields, sometimes due to job assurance. Many BIPOC families that immigrate to the United States arrive in poverty (Wu, 2019). These families are disproportionally Black and brown but also do not have the time and money for creativity. Many Black and brown students cannot expand their horizons due to the lack of exposure and time. These same students are focused on providing their families with jobs that are traditionally secure rather than the arts (Wu, 2019). The critical thinking and cross-cultural awareness established by Panoramas are not only applicable, but necessary to excel in people-focused jobs such as medicine and law. Panoramas gives students a creative outlet through writing, interviews, and art. It helps expand the horizons of those who never had the time or imagination to explore interesting topics throughout the diaspora.
Changing the demographics at the University of Pittsburgh will take time, but the University should aim to retain programs in the UCIS such as Panoramas for the exposure of global issues and cultures to the student body. Reciprocal peer learning between Panoramas interns and undergraduates helps empower students to be their own leaders and helps remove the academic stress around learning is not only efficient but economically sound. With the drop in enrollment in the humanities and arts, Panoramas creates a space for a culturally creative expression of the Latinx diaspora that can be applied in many facets of their lives.
Merriam-Webster. (n.d.). Panorama. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved April 2,
Miravet et al., (2014). An Experience of Reciprocal Peer Tutoring at the University. Science
National Center of Education Statistics (n.d.). College Navigator- University of Pittsburgh-
Schmidt, Benjamin. (2018). Should I Major in the Humanities? The Atlantic.
Wu, J (2019). How Being Poor Affects Creativity and Decision Making. The Medium.