Associate Dean at OUWB honored with OU exemplary award for diversity
An image of Glenn McIntosh, Dee Pitts, and Monica Emerson
Glenn McIntosh, senior vice president, Student Affairs and chief diversity officer, Oakland University, Deirdre Pitts, and Monica E. Emerson at the Exemplary Employee Award Recognition ceremony on Aug. 29, 2023.

When Oakland University President Ora Hirsch Pescovitz, M.D., addressed the honorees at the 2023 Oakland University Exemplary Employee Award Recognition ceremony, she encouraged the recipients to put their awards someplace special.

She also urged them to tell their families about the award so that they would know that they are valued in their workplace.

“You are something other than ordinary, something that’s not average. You are extraordinary … and know that at OU, you are exemplary,” she said.

Deirdre Pitts, Ph.D., associate dean, Academic and Faculty Affairs, OUWB, was among the celebrants whose career accomplishments over 35 years could be described as something extraordinary.

That afternoon she accepted the prestigious Monica E. Emerson Diversity Award, which annually recognizes significant achievements toward developing a culturally diverse, compassionate university community reflective of inclusive excellence.

“When I learned that I was receiving the award I was moved to tears,” said Pitts. “I share this award with the members of the OUWB community who have worked diligently to ensure an inclusive environment and have led the initiatives that our community is recognized for.”

However, without her leadership, several OUWB programs would not be possible: the nationally recognized Diversity Liaison Program, the Diversity Champion Certificate Program, the establishment of an OUWB Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Council and its development of the Learning Environment Guidelines along with the school’s unconscious bias training.

Her work positively impacts the OUWB community with the most recent example being the implementation of the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Day during new student orientation at OUWB where incoming students are immersed in activities focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI).

“The real reward is not the recognition; it is the people who have been impacted by the work, who have increased their awareness and have made a commitment to foster an inclusive environment,” said Deirdre Pitts, associate dean, Academic and Faculty Affairs.

In her nomination letter, Stefanie Attardi, Ph.D., associate professor, Department of Foundational Medical Studies, praised Pitts for her ability to connect with students, citing the time when the Queers & Allies student interest group requested her support of a LGBTQIA+ project which came to fruition in early 2020 as the OUWB Kaleidoscope Project.

“The students have always felt comfortable in approaching Dr. Pitts with any DEI-related concerns, especially those pertaining to the LGBTQ+ community. She has listened to them with compassion and sensitivity,” said Attardi.

Her commitment to building a diverse academic environment is steadfast and far-reaching.

The OU community has benefited as well with the university now requiring a diversity liaison designate to participate as a member of the search committee when interviewing faculty and staff.

Monica E. Emerson, for whom the award is named, was thrilled that Pitts received the 2023 award, and specifically points to the Diversity Champion Certificate Program as one of the important contributions for building a community that is committed to DEI.

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The Diversity Champion Certificate Program, launched in February 2021, consists of several training sessions focused on topics such as social identity, unconscious bias, microaggressions, a history of race and racism, the importance of pronouns, and more. Champion cohorts of about 25 include a mix of students, staff, faculty, and residents from Corewell Health who, upon graduation from the program, are qualified to lead others with a commitment to the mission of realizing a diverse, equitable, and inclusive community.

“Dr. Pitts is a walking, talking, and living embodiment of diversity, equity and inclusion. From the time I met her, I was impressed with her warmth and openness,” said Emerson. “Because she is so comfortable in her own skin, she can allow others to be their authentic selves.”

She describes the qualities of award recipients as being someone who has the ability to create transformative relationships.

“This requires the engagement of the heart, head, and hands; a heart that is kind and loving, a head that is curious and continuously learning, and hands that are willing to do the important, and sometimes difficult work,” said Emerson, who presented the award.

For Pitts, the real reward is knowing that her work is having an impact on people who are then making life-changing differences in their communities.

“The real reward is not the recognition; it is the people who have been impacted by the work, who have increased their awareness and have made a commitment to foster an inclusive environment,” said Pitts. “(It’s those) who strive to step out of their comfort zone, to embrace difference, challenge myths and stereotypes, address incidents of bias in a constructive way, to advocate for those not like them, and to ensure that those they interact with are not isolated. That’s the reward.”

So, where does her Monica E. Emerson Diversity Award reside?

“I thought about taking the award home and placing it in my curio to share with my family and close friends. But instead, I decided to keep the award in my office as a reminder of the team effort and collaboration that allowed me to receive the award,” said Pitts.

The Monica E. Emerson Diversity Award was established in November 2015 to create a lasting legacy honoring Emerson’s lifelong work in diversity, equity and inclusion and in recognition of outstanding contributions to diversity and inclusion on campus. Emerson is an OU Board of Trustee Emerita, a current member of the OUWB Dean’s Advisory Board, and an OU alumnus.