Pitt OT has had a long-standing commitment to justice, diversity, equity and inclusion (JEDI) and was determined to strengthen its efforts by creating the Occupational Justice Club program as a response to the murders of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor–who were all participating in meaningful occupations of shopping, running, and sleeping–when they were murdered. Occupational Justice Club meetings provide all members of the Department of Occupational Therapy (students, faculty and staff) a space to learn about and discuss justice, equity, diversity and inclusion. Pitt OT understands the responsibility we have as a department to go well beyond educating students on the inclusion of meaningful occupations. A core tenant of occupational therapy practice is to ensure that the next generation of occupational therapists understands and promotes occupational justice. Our students graduate with the knowledge and skills to bridge the gap between people’s well-being and harmful social conditions that restrict who they deserve to be. The mission of the Occupational Justice Club program is to identify and discuss issues of inequity and injustice in our society based on written, video or audio materials, and to serve as a safe space for JEDI conversations to reflect, share thoughts and take action.
Since the inaugural club meeting in Fall 2020, Assistant Professor Jennifer White has been collaborating with OTD student volunteers and together created nine Occupational Justice Club meetings to address the following topics:
- Racism and residential segregation
- Discrimination in health care
- The effect weathering has on people of color and health outcomes
- Whitewashing and its impact on the perception of historical events
- Amanda Gorman’s poem text “. . . the norms and notions of what just is, isn’t always justice”
- Feminism and reasons for underrepresentation of women in leadership positions in health care
- Hate crimes against Asian Americans
- The history of the Disability Rights Movement and more recent events of ableism surrounding the Paralympic Games
- Understanding the experiences of undocumented immigrants
To date, over 350 students, faculty and staff have participated in the Occupational Justice Club program.
We conduct surveys at the close of each academic year to inform the Occupational Justice Club for the following year. Here is what we learned: students, faculty and staff appreciate that they have a safe space to discuss challenging topics. One member expressed a feeling that resonates with many others, “I enjoy participating in this club each month. I appreciate having time to talk through these challenging topics in a safe space and to be able to identify action steps that I can utilize in my life.” Pitt OT is looking forward to continuing our new tradition of discussing JEDI topics to promote positive health outcomes for the communities served by our students and faculty.