Remembering Dean and Founding Director Larry E. Davis


On March 30, 2021, the University of Pittsburgh and the fields of race research and social work lost a legend. Larry E. Davis came to Pitt in 2002 to serve as the Donald M. Henderson Chair and Dean of the School of Social Work, and to found the Center on Race and Social Problems, the first race research center ever housed in a school of social work. Almost 20 years later, Dean Davis’s legacy has been cemented on both fronts. The University of Pittsburgh School of Social work is now consistently ranked among the top schools in the country, having risen as high as #10 in overall U.S. News rating and #4 in overall research article production under Dean Davis’s leadership. The Center on Race and Social Problems continues to lead the way locally and nationally on race issues, and has positioned the school as a premier institution for social work teaching, learning, and research on the impact of race on people of color and the well-being of all.

Dean Davis was a visionary, with an illuminating understanding of the current realities and future needs for addressing race issues.  While race conversations and presentations have grown exponentially in the past year, the CRSP speaker series that Dean Davis founded has provided a lively, popular forum on race topics for nearly two decades. To date, over 100 lectures have been held, and the CRSP speaker series archive is one of the richest on race research in the country thanks to Dean Davis’s foresight. As Dean Davis noted, his goal was to “Short circuit the distance between research and practice.” Indeed, the lunch and lecture format he developed was a huge success, one that fostered interdisciplinary collaborations, innovative ideas, and civic engagement. 

To support those collaborations, Dean Davis established a pilot grant program at CRSP that to date has awarded nearly $250,000 to race scholars at the University of Pittsburgh since 2004. These pilot investments have in turn generated nearly $2 million in external funding for scholars working in areas that many traditional funding mechanisms fail to acknowledge or understand. Concurrent with these efforts, Dean Davis also founded the academic journal Race and Social Problems, a rigorous interdisciplinary publication with one of the highest impact factors of any social work-affiliated outlet. 

Beyond research, Dean Davis’s impact as an influential teacher and mentor is remarkable. Countless faculty, staff, and students around the world recall mentoring and memorable words of advice from Dean Davis.  As founder of the Black Administrators, Researchers, and Scholars network (BARS), his vision for mentoring and advising of Black academics is formalized in perpetuity.

In teaching, he was a pioneer. The Race and Social Problems Course continues to be popular across the university community, and the Cuban Social Issues study abroad program he founded continues to bring a unique international focus on race to the School of Social Work.

As a person, Dean Davis was a joy to know. He was a dedicated husband and father, a fiercely loyal and authentic ally and friend, and a gracious community member and host. Never less than immaculately dressed, Dean Davis had a keen eye for style, a sharp sense of humor, and a memorable smile.  His unique combination of street smarts, ready wit, impeccable academic credentials, and interest in current affairs made him a rewarding companion with illuminating insights on many diverse topics.  His friendship was as indelible as his leadership.

For these and many other reasons, Larry E. Davis will be sorely missed, but his legacy will continue indefinitely.

for those in Pittsburgh, visitation will be held from 2 pm to 4 pm and 6 pm to 8 pm on Wednesday, April 7 at the Freyvogel Funeral Home.

Funeral arrangements can be found here. The funeral will be livestreamed at 10 am EST on Thursday April 8 at this link.

To leave a remark or memory of Dean Davis, please click here.

Some of Dean Davis’s recent lectures are available in the links below. 




Dean Davis's Work

Throughout his long career, Dean Davis made immeasurable contributions to the study of race. Find some of his work below:


“A Conversation on Race,” Larry E. Davis’s last talk at the Center on Race and Social Problems, September 18, 2019.

“Will Race Always Matter?” Larry E. Davis at the Dick Thornberg Forum for Law and Public Policy, American Experience Distinguished Lecture Series, October 5, 2020


  • Davis, Larry E. (2016). Why Are They Angry With Us? Lyceum Books.
  • Davis, Larry E. & Bangs, Ralph (2015). Race and Social Problems. Springer Publishers.

  • Davis, Larry E. & Engel, Rafael (2011). Measuring Race and Ethnicity. Springer Publishers.

  • Davis, Larry E. (2004). Black and Single: Finding and Choosing a Partner Who's Right for You, 3rd edition. Chicago: Agate Publishing.

  • Davis, Larry E., & Proctor, E.K (1989). Race, Gender & Class: Guidelines for Practice with Individuals, Families, and Groups. Prentice-Hall.


Dean Davis sitting on a bench outside the Cathedral of Learning 




Share a Memory

Many people have shared memories of Dean Davis. Read some of them here and share your own by filling out this short form.






Dean Larry Davis with Vice Provost John Wallace and Dr. James Huguley

Dean Davis with Vice Provost Wallace and a group of Westinghouse High School students