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Emile Pitre to Receive UW’s 2020 Odegaard Award

Emile Pitre, ‘69, one of the UW’s Black Student Union founders and a longtime staff member in the Office of Minority Affairs & Diversity (OMA&D), is the recipient of the 2020 Charles E. Odegaard Award, OMA&D announced.

2020 Odegaard Award Recipient Emile Pitre
2020 Odegaard Award Recipient Emile Pitre Photo: Quinn Russell Brown

The award will be presented at the 50th annual Celebration event hosted by OMA&D and the Friends of the Educational Opportunity Program (FEOP), Wed., May 13, at the Husky Union Building on the UW Seattle campus.

Established in 1973, the Odegaard award honors individuals whose leadership in the community exemplifies the former UW president’s work on behalf of diversity. It was President Odegaard’s response to student-led calls for equity in 1968 that led to a university-wide commitment to diversity and the establishment of what is now known as OMA&D. The Odegaard award is regarded as the highest achievement in diversity at the UW.

As a UW graduate student in the late 1960’s, Pitre was one of the founding Black Student Union members whose calls for equity to Odegaard led to the establishment of OMA&D. Since then, he has spent over three decades with the organization, serving in various roles including tenures as director of the Instructional Center and associate vice president for assessment.

Pitre’s dedication to advocacy and educational opportunity for underrepresented minority, first-generation and low-income students at the UW is unparalleled, and since his retirement in 2014, is known as OMA&D’s “elder statesman” and historian.

“Not only was he involved in creating transformational change at our university in 1968, Emile Pitre has dedicated his life to supporting educational opportunity and success for thousands of students,” said Rickey Hall, vice president for Minority Affairs & Diversity and university diversity officer. “His leadership throughout the years and his commitment to our OMA&D mission is extraordinary. We are incredibly proud to honor him with this award, especially as we commemorate a historic 50th year of Celebration.”

The son of a sharecropper, Pitre was born in Louisiana and grew up with seven siblings. He was the first in his family to graduate from high school, and received a full-ride scholarship for the first seven years of college. Pitre received a bachelor’s degree (magna cum laude) from Southern University, and master’s degree and Ph.C. in chemistry from the UW, where he was a National Institutes of Health Fellow.

After graduating, Pitre worked as chemist and educational planner, but ended up rejecting an offer that would have paid $20,000 more to return the UW in 1982 and serve as the head chemistry instructor with OMA&D’s Instructional Center. Seven years later he was promoted to director. During his tenure, the IC won two University Recognition Awards and more than 11,000 IC students earned UW bachelor’s degrees. Pitre went on to serve as OMA&D assistant and associate vice president for assessment, and is currently in a part-time role as senior advisor to the vice president.

For over 20 years, Pitre has served as an advisor to the UW’s Black Student Union. He also led the production of an award-winning documentary in 2007 that highlighted the BSU’s role in the establishment of OMA&D. In 2008, Pitre and the other founding BSU members were presented the Odegaard Award together.

Pitre is a member of Phi Beta Sigma, Inc., and has held various leadership roles within the fraternity. In 2010, he received the Sigma Inspirational Award for dedication of service to education. Pitre has been the recipient of several other honors including the UW Professional Staff Organization Award for Excellence, and has three academic scholarships in his name.

Pitre has long been entrenched in documenting the history of OMA&D and is writing a book on its 50-year history. An avid photographer, he is known to photograph several OMA&D and UW events.