Students contribute to city’s diversity

As another semester begins and demographics shift on campus, the city of Pittsburgh also celebrated the changing diversity of its residents with the first annual DiverseCITY symposium and festival. The four-day event, held August 16–19, filled the streets of downtown Pittsburgh with inspirational lecturers, soul guitarists, Latin rock bands, and Jamaican reggae stars.

The symposium, which took place on August 16 and 17, featured discussion sessions, networking receptions, and a panel of CEOs from UPMC, Vivisimo, GlaxoSmithKline Consumer Healthcare, and other companies.

The festival culminated in performances from gospel, blues, Latin, and Jamaican artists in an effort to celebrate, promote, and encourage diversity throughout greater Pittsburgh.

The demographics of Pittsburgh’s residents have shifted in the past few years.

In the past 10 years, the number of African-American residents has increased by 16 percent. The number of Hispanic residents has increased by 11 percent; however, with only about 12,000 such residents, Hispanics make up less than 1 percent of the Pittsburgh population.

Comcast, one of Pittsburgh’s largest cable companies, does not yet offer programming in Spanish, which residents argue is necessary to encourage more Hispanics to settle in Pittsburgh.

While demographics may be changing for the better, integration remains key.

“I’d like to walk the streets of Pittsburgh seeing all kinds of people mixed up. I’d like to hear all kinds of music at our clubs and lounges. That is why I took the initiative and created Global Beats,” said Carla Leininger, a young Pittsburgh resident who hosts a weekly Brazilian Radio Hour on WRCT, Carnegie Mellon’s radio station, and created a website called ( to promote Brazilian culture.

Global Beats is a cultural dance party held the last Saturday of every month at AVA on Highland Avenue.

“There has got to be a better way of working together,” Leininger said. “I see too many special groups out there working alone.”

The diversity of Carnegie Mellon’s campus community has had a direct effect on Pittsburgh’s culture integration, said University President Jared Cohon.

“I think diversity is one of Pittsburgh’s greatest challenges,” Cohon said. “It has made remarkable progress in the past 10 years and much of this is due our diverse student, faculty, and staff populations around the community.”

Pittsburgh’s increased diversity is evident in the changing nature of university organizations, museum exhibits, stores, venues, and restaurants.

A decade ago, Pittsburgh was a more homogeneous town with only a handful of Asian restaurants. Today, with the abundance of Asian-American students at the neighborhood colleges, this number has grown to include Malaysian, Chinese, Japanese, and Thai restaurants.

Carnaval, a new exhibit at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, celebrates carnival celebrations from all around the world.

“Being primarily a steel city in the past and lacking an international airport, Pittsburgh is not a destination frequented by internationals,” said Dhruv Mathur, junior information systems and business major and Mayur president, “but is slowly being recognized for its hidden charm through the multitudes of students who call it home for at least four years of their lives.”

In addition to Carnegie Mellon, Pittsburgh is also home to the University of Pittsburgh, Duquesne University, Carlow University, Robert Morris University, Chatham University, and Point Park University, all of which host students from different cultures and backgrounds.

The Diversity Advisory Council, started by Cohon in 2000, is the main policy-making body on diversity at Carnegie Mellon. The Council concluded that the university community has come a long way in diversification but that each strength comes with its weaknesses, according to the group’s 2006 Annual Report.

The report also stated that over the past 10 years, the number of women in senior staff positions and board of trustees positions has risen 20 and 15 percent, respectively, while the number of female students in the undergraduate population has increased only about 5 percent.

This number may be affected by Carnegie Mellon’s focus on the technical and scientific fields, areas of study not typically favored by women.

Over the same 10-year period, the population of Asian-American undergraduate students has remained high at above 20 percent, while the Hispanic and African-American enrollment rates remain low, at about 5 percent each.

Carnegie Mellon’s endowment may have something to do with this consistently low minority enrollment.

Its endowment of about $1 billion is remarkably lower than its peer institutions. The University of Pittsburgh beats out Carnegie Mellon by $1 billion, while schools in the Ivy League have endowments superior by upwards of $30 billion.

“No matter what we intend, our financial aid packages to these typically higher-need groups just cannot compare with some of our peer institutions,” said Cohon.

Carnegie Mellon also rates highly in its gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) and international populations.

The university was recently named one of the top 100 schools for GLBT students by the Advocate Guide for LGBT Students. ALLIES and cmuOUT, two student organizations that promote GLBT advocacy, have gained a significant presence on campus.

Carnegie Mellon’s international population, about 26 percent of the overall student body, has led to the development of many ethnically and culturally oriented groups on campus.

Mayur, an Indian organization, has grown to be one of the biggest on campus for both Indian and non-Indian students. Its Diwali celebration, held during Spring Carnival, is one of many events it sponsors for students throughout the year.

“Looking at student organizations as a whole, organizations really started to lay the foundation to have this year be a landmark in their history,” said Adi Jain, junior electrical and computer engineering major and former Mayur president.

CMU Fusion, created last year, integrated ethnic and cultural groups and put on a successful two-act show last spring featuring a capella singing, African music, break dancing, and other talents.

Campus Idol, a university-wide talent show and competition, was another cultural showcase last spring that displayed the diversification of our campus community, featuring songs and dances from many of the different cultures represented at Carnegie Mellon.

However, Cohon insists, diversification on campus is an ongoing project.

“Diversity is not all about numbers, but rather the way we behave as a community,” Cohon said. “We have not yet reached our ideal state of diversity. However, we are much closer than only 10 years ago.”