Main Content:

Paula Davis HeadshotSHRS' Inclusion Initiatives play an important role in the University of Pittsburgh's efforts to promote diversity and inclusion campus-wide. It is an effective means of reaching diverse students to let them know that their decision to pursue their studies in one of our health care options is a fantastic way of providing high quality, comprehensive care to others and that the door is open for everyone.

It is our pleasure to partner with SHRS programs in recruiting, welcoming, retaining and graduating talented diverse health care professionals for the good of our country's health.

—Paula Davis, associate vice chancellor, Health Sciences Diversity, Equity and Inclusion


What is the Pitt OT Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Initiative?

The Department of Occupational Therapy acknowledges the profound impact that systemic and institutional barriers have on the Pitt community, the occupational therapy profession and our world at large. We recognize that diversity, equity and inclusion in occupational therapy cannot be achieved if the systems designed to exclude and oppress formerly marginalized groups remain unchanged. The Pitt OT community is working diligently and persistently to dismantle the barriers currently preventing people among marginalized communities from pursuing a career in occupational therapy. We strive to create an embracing environment that not only attracts people from different backgrounds, but also allows each person to thrive in our department.

We want our department to continue to reflect an investment in the inherent and equal value of all people, and we embrace our role in preparing the next generation of occupational therapy professionals to be comprised of and ready to care for people of all abilities/disabilities, religions, marital statuses, familial statuses, sexes, ages, sexual orientations, veteran statuses, national origins, ancestries, races, colors, genetic information, gender identities and expressions and socioeconomic statuses.

Our initiative will result in many positive impacts, especially in widening the breadth of practitioners in the field of occupational therapy and in optimizing care for vulnerable and disadvantaged populations. Our department strives to be the paragon for change by supporting members of marginalized communities who pursue a career in occupational therapy.

This initiative aligns with:

Why is it necessary to actively address systemic racism and stimulate diversity in Pitt OT?

  1. Systemic racism – or the denigration of any individual or group of people for any reason, intentional or unintentional – is a human issue. We each need to engage, evolve and grow as individuals if we are to end systemic racism.
  2. Diversity stimulates learning, growth, creativity, productivity and collective achievement. From biology to teams to organizations – diverse systems are stronger and more effective, innovative and persistent than systems that are not diverse. The more we support diversity, equity and inclusion, the stronger and healthier our society will be.
  3. Systemic racism destroys altruism, equality, freedom, justice, dignity, truth and prudence – core values in the Occupational Therapy Code of Ethics. As occupational therapy professionals, we have an imperative to lead anti-racist change through our educational programs, clinical practices, professional organizations and research. 
  4. The department has been operating within a structurally oppressive system. We cannot incorporate diversity into a system that has marginalized groups of people. We need transformational change so that we can actively support the inclusion and advancement of professionals from diverse backgrounds.

The Plan:

This three-part plan allows us to share what we are doing and how we plan to continue to disrupt the barriers to:

  • Diversify the identities among practicing occupational therapists;
  • Maintain and advance the climate of inclusivity among the students, faculty and staff of our department; and
  • Prepare occupational therapists to be ready for and embrace the opportunity to care for patients of all identities, experiences, backgrounds and perspectives.

1. Communicate Our Strengths

Faculty and Staff Activities

Equip faculty and staff with skills to build inclusive environments and improve hiring.

  • Faculty received a "Diversity in Practice" mini-grant from the University Office of Diversity and Inclusion to implement training on structural bias for Pitt OT faculty to address disparities in the student admissions process in order to develop a more diverse and inclusive learning environment and workplace. This training was completed in 2019.
  • Our faculty search committee members have completed briefing sessions with the Office of Diversity and Inclusion to guide our efforts and to identify and limit biases in recruiting, retaining and recognizing an excellent and diverse faculty and student body.
  • Several faculty and staff have completed University training programs in diversity, equity and inclusion and are applying what they have learned to our educational, research and clinical/community programs.

Student Activities

Support diversity initiatives and foster growth-inclusive mindsets.

  • The Coalition of Occupational Therapy Advocates for Diversity (COTAD) chapter at Pitt was established in 2020 by students from the Doctor of Occupational Therapy and Master of Occupational Therapy programs. COTAD chapters are designed to support occupational therapy students to work together to develop and promote diversity, equity and inclusion within occupational therapy education programs and in the profession.
  • The department is committing resources to support the local COTAD chapter and the TJ group so that we can promote and make meaningful contributions toward change at the local, national and international levels.

2. Strengthen Our Partnerships

Enhance Engagement

  • The department has established an advisory committee comprised of students, alumni, community members, external consultants, faculty and staff to oversee our planning and implementation process. This advisory board independently oversees the department's efforts, engages in routine assessments of the department’s progress and provides recommendations that advance us toward our goals.
  • We are hosting a series of Pitt OT community discussions comprised of a mixture of students from each of our programs, faculty and staff to engage in more intimate conversations to promote learning and growth in our community. Pitt OT’s Occupational Justice groups will identify and discuss issues of inequity and injustice in our society based on written, video and/or podcast materials, and will serve as a space to reflect, share thoughts and take action.
  • The department has commissioned task forces comprised of students, alumni, community members and faculty to review our curricula (OTD, MS, CScD) and make recommendations for modifications within and across programs to address the prevalence and causes of health disparities, cultural humility in assessment and intervention and strategies to address institutional mechanisms that squash diversity, equity and inclusion. We are implementing recommended changes in concert with ongoing curriculum modifications.
  • We are implementing University and Health Sciences resources to support efforts and events aimed at advancing diversity, equity and inclusion in our department.
  • We are enhancing our engagement with organizations such as AOTA, POTA and COTAD in order to support their efforts and better connect our students, faculty and staff in regular and meaningful ways.

3. Advance Our Efforts

Spread the Initiatives

Leverage OT's efforts to grow, expand and unify the focus across all of SHRS.

  • Our goal is to spread this initiative across SHRS and throughout our clinical sites and communities.
  • We will advance our mission through an increasingly diverse body of students, alumni, faculty and staff supported through a welcoming and nurturing environment for all.

Renovate Systems

Renovate systems with a greater focus on diversity, equity and inclusion in recruiting, admissions and hiring.

  • We are acting on education and training through targeted strategies that shape our communities, our practices and our research to address racism and health disparities.
  • We are training practitioners, educators and scientists who are well informed and equipped with proactive strategies to promote cultural humility and address systemic threats to equity and inclusion.
  • We are analyzing and refining our admissions process to minimize biases and continue to ensure equal opportunities for all applicants.
  • We aim to create a learning and working environment that champions the core values of occupational therapy – altruism, equality, freedom, justice, dignity, truth and prudence – for all members of our community.

Seek Opportunities

Seek opportunities to engage with local communities and encourage interest and understanding of occupational therapy.

  • Our department has created a communications work group that is developing department communications shared with our clinical and community partners that highlight diverse perspectives in education, practice and research.
  • We are investing in a series of projects that expose young people to the opportunities afforded through careers in occupational therapy to attract more diverse students to the profession. We are doing this through interactions with children, youth and young adults through connections with elementary and middle schools, high schools, undergraduate programs and youth and advocacy organizations. These interactions focus on exposure to occupational therapy, mentoring and educational preparation and support. These combined efforts will be critical to increasing the diversity of occupational therapy students, practitioners, educators and scientists.
  • We are building on our existing relationships with community partners including Pittsburgh Public Schools (Faison and Lincoln) and the University of Pittsburgh Community Engagement Center at Homewood and SHRS' Wellness Pavilion.