Center on Race and Social Problems

Pittsburgh Magazine profiles Dean Davis

From Pittsburgh Magazine's "A Force for Racial Justice Will Retire This Year" by Ervin Dyer and Lamont Jones, Jr.:

A graduate student tells Larry E. Davis, dean of the School of Social Work at the University of Pittsburgh, that he reminds him of the historically prominent race scholar W.E.B. DuBois. There is a stylistic resemblance: the angled mustache, the slim build, the dapper presence.

Davis accepts the compliment. But his strongest similarity to DuBois, according to those who know him, is in substance. For most of his 71 years, Davis has been passionate about the issue of race and its complicated influence on individuals and society.

After 17 years as dean, Davis is retiring in August. Under his leadership, social work degrees were strengthened, initiatives blossomed and the graduate program leaped from 14th place to 10th in the competitive national ranking published by U.S. News & World Report. 

Davis made race a topic of serious conversation and thoughtful research at the school. He created and directs the university’s Center on Race and Social Problems, which is celebrating its 15th year.

With broad support from foundations and the Pitt administration, the Center is a signature achievement that provides a microphone to amplify racial disparities in health, economics and education. The Center brings in experts from around the world and publishes a quarterly journal of trailblazing research. In 2010, Davis organized Race in America, a wide-ranging conference at Pitt that he described as a “teach-in” to provide knowledge for action.

In 2007, the Center published “Pittsburgh’s Racial Demographics: Differences and Disparities.” The report, and others that followed, offered the most comprehensive surveys ever on the quality of life of whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians in the metropolitan area. It showed that in almost all areas, from family life to economics, blacks were at the bottom. The data alarmed regional leaders — and gave them a tool to shape policy to address the inequities.

“The reports are wake-up calls,” says Tim Stevens, Chairman and CEO of The Black Political Empowerment Project. “They help to move the city on some housing and job issues. But they let know us the depths of the problems we are confronting and that more must be done.”

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