On March 30, 2021, Dr. Larry E. Davis, Dean Emeritus of the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work, passed away at 74 years old after a battle with illness. Dr. Davis was a long-serving Dean of Pitt Social Work, founding director of Pitt’s Center on Race and Social Problems, and a tireless champion of racial equity in the social work field and beyond. His loss is still felt deeply by the School of Social Work, University of Pittsburgh, and broader Pittsburgh community. He is survived by his wife, Kim Armstrong Davis, and his sons Keanu, Naeem, and Amani, to whom he was deeply devoted.
Dean Davis pictured with Former Provost Patricia Beeson, Chancellor Patrick Gallagher, & Mayor William Peduto
In his time as Dean from 2001 to 2018, Dr. Davis worked tirelessly to build the School’s status as an institution of social work teaching and scholarship. During his tenure, Pitt Social Work rose to become one of the top ten schools of social work in the country, as ranked by US News and World Report. Dr. Davis recruited exceptional scholars to the School of Social Work and mentored many students who would go on to become leaders in the field. He offered particular support for Black and African-American students, faculty and administrators.
Dr. Davis also blazed trails for racial equity at the School of Social Work and on Pitt’s campus. He established the Center on Race and Social Problems in 2002, the first-ever center focused on race and racial equity at any school of social work in the country, and the first center at the University of Pittsburgh with a racial focus. He founded the journal Race and Social Problems and led 2010’s Race in America conference at Pitt, attended by over 1,000 participants from around the country.
Dr. Davis was also an accomplished scholar, authoring dozens of books and articles, including a semi-autobiographical collection of essays on race called Why Are They Angry With Us?. His books continue to be used at schools throughout the country.
A native of Michigan, Dr. Davis earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from Michigan State University and master’s degrees in social work and psychology from the University of Michigan. He was the first Black person to earn a doctorate degree in social work and psychology from the University of Michigan. He served as the Desmond Lee Professor of Race and Ethnic Diversity at Washington University in St. Louis, where he was a professor of social work and psychology.
Dean Davis posing with Bridges, the school’s magazine which he started
The impact of a gift to the Kim and Larry Davis Fund
When Dean Davis and his wife Kim were married, they requested that friends and family give to the Kim and Larry Davis Student Fund at Pitt Social Work in place of wedding gifts. Every year, Kim and Larry’s named endowed fund provides crucial scholarship support to students at the school.
To honor Dean Davis’s legacy, we have a goal of raising $25,000 towards the Kim and Larry Davis Fund – and with your help we can meet and exceed that goal.
All contributions to the Kim and Larry Davis Student Fund will directly benefit social work students and celebrate Dean Davis’s memory as a social work leader, scholar, educator and mentor.
Dean Davis with his wife, Kim
How you can help
- Make a gift. A gift of any amount can support Dean Davis’s legacy as a champion of equity and opportunity in social work education. Click the “Give Now” button on the righthand side of the top of the page to give a contribution of any amount, or click on a giving level to the right to make a suggested donation.
- Spread the word. Share the campaign link on social media to encourage others in your network to give in honor of Dean Davis, or email the opportunity to others in the Pitt, Pittsburgh and social work communities.
- Share your story. Post a remembrance of Dean Davis along with your gift, or leave a story on social media, using the hashtag #PittSWRemembersDeanDavis.
Friends and Colleagues Remember Dean Davis
“Larry was extraordinarily accomplished both as an academic leader and as an individual scholar. He had a distinctive ability to engage people in constructive discussions on what were politically divisive issues, which was a real gift."
- Chancellor Emeritus Mark Nordenberg
Dean Davis outside of the Dean’s suite in the Cathedral
“Dean Larry Davis made Pittsburgh better. Although he was definitely a ‘race’ man, concerned about the advancement of Black people, he had the unique ability to bring all kinds of people together who would have never crossed each other’s paths.”
- Vice Provost for Faculty Diversity and Development John M. Wallace, Jr.
Dr. Davis was the chair of my dissertation committee when I was a PHD student at Washington University in St. Louis and I worked as a graduate student with him on several projects. He was a good mentor and chair. He was also my biggest cheerleader and he always sought me out at the Council on Social Work Education and other meetings to tell me how proud he was of my accomplishments.
- Julie Miller-Cribbs, Former Student, current faculty at OU
Dean Davis was a wonderful role model and someone to aspire to be. He was kind, patient, and generous of self. I always felt fortunate when I had the opportunity to listen to him speak.
- Stacey Kolomer, fellow member of NADD
Dean Larry Davis was a transformational voice in our profession. He was exactly what was needed as an advocate, a colleague, and a friend.
- Tom Gregoire, The Ohio State University College of Social Work
Read more remembrances of Dean Davis.
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