By Collegian staff reporters
On Wednesday, The Daily Collegian published the first of a three-part series revisiting the activities of the Village sit-in of April 2001. This is the final installment of interviews with people who were involved with the event.
Black Caucus leader, villager
Takkeem Morgan, who was the Black Caucus political action committee chair at the time of the Village, said he distinctly remembers sitting in the HUB-Robeson Center when a news report came on television announcing that a young black man's body had been found in Snow Shoe Township, not far from campus.
Although officials said the finding of the body was unrelated to the letters Wolf received, which claimed a black man's body would be found on Mount Nittany, Morgan remained skeptical.
"We had no clue, but we know they didn't give us straight answers, and we know to this day straight answers haven't come out of that whole situation. I don't know how common it is that a death of that nature just sort of falls to the wayside, but it seems like that's what happened," he said.
Morgan said he also remembers an overwhelming fear on behalf of the organizers of the Village, which is why many stopped questioning officials about the circumstances surrounding the 38-year-old man's death, which was caused by gunshot wound.
"That's the reality of dealing with addressing the issues of race and institutionalized racism and addressing structures that promote or tolerate racist mentalities or allowing these things to sort of fester. There's an actual result and sometimes, a lot of times, the result is somebody's pain and possibly somebody's death," Morgan said.
While the Village directly addressed issues of racism and diversity on campus, Morgan said the purpose of the protest was to move the administration in the direction students wanted it to go.
"The Village did not address all the issues of every student on Penn State's campus, but what the Village did do was it supplied a model for student mobilization and student direct action toward positive change on campus in the interest of students," Morgan said.
He said there needs to be a more consistent level of student mobilization for policy change in the future.
However, the administration has gotten more savvy when it comes to dealing with student complaints, Morgan said.
"They're a lot quicker to push them into some type of committee or some organization to try to prevent it from reaching the larger student body. They're not necessarily more willing to change their practices or change the policies at the university, but appear to be more willing to listen to the complaints," he said.
Morgan said the university administration has a superficial relationship with the student body.
"I personally believe that some members of the administration actually fear students who are so organized, because those students will discover things about the university that will not have joyfully reciting 'We are...Penn State,' " Morgan said.
--by Natalie Hrubos
Black Caucus member, villager
When Tiffanie Lewis tried to describe the atmosphere of the Village three years later, "anxiety," "nerve-racking" and "an adrenaline rush" came to her mind.
When the Black Caucus leader tried to pinpoint her most memorable moment of that year, she remembered most vividly hearing the news that a black man's body had been found in Centre County.
"I was tearful, angry, disappointed," she said in a telephone interview. "I was not surprised, but I was very scared."
Although she acknowledged the administration's effort in the past three years to communicate more with student leaders about diversity issues, she said she does not think the communication is necessarily effective.
"The administration needs to come to the conclusion that these issues need to be addressed. They need to say publicly that Penn State has a problem," she said. "Then they need to act to create a more welcoming campus."
Lewis said she is unsatisfied with the lack of progress the university has made since the Village because racist occurrences are still frequent at Penn State.
"A number of things that happened this year are symptoms of a strong illness on this campus," she said.
Though she does not think conditions have changed significantly at Penn State, Lewis said the experience in the Village has definitely changed her. Not only did it lead her to become heavily involved in Black Caucus, but it also caused her to become more aware of the black community and more accepting of black culture as its own entity, she said.
"The Village changed everything about me," she said. "Before it, I felt it was important to assimilate. Now I feel it is more important to be who I am and to embrace my culture."
When Lewis was asked what the current Penn State student body should know about the Village and the events that led up to it, she said, "That this should never have to happen again."
--by Kristen Neufeld
Vice Provost for Educational Equity
Terrell Jones, vice provost for educational equity, described the Village as a "student movement for change."
The unity among the students and the number of students involved are his strongest memories.
"I think it was a sincere attempt by the students to make a difference," he said.
However, Jones said the campus climate has not changed since the events, but not because the Village failed.
"Students that we are getting are coming from more segregated environments," he said. "Diversity does not come easy to people who never had the ability to confront it."
Jones said the university is better at handling diversity issues, but it continues to be a tough job.
He said the media play an important role in how the Penn State climate can change.
"I think the most critical variable is how [diversity] is handled in the newspaper and other media sources," he said. "Everybody reads it, and if everything you put in the paper has to do with conflict, then that's how people will perceive the environment."
Jones said students create their own issue agendas based on what they think needs to be address, but the administration does not create those issues.
The signing of the enhanced plan for diversity, which ended the Village sit-in, made Jones' job more flexible and gave him the power and authority to do more, he said.
"Clearly, it affects my job daily," he said.
Jones said he does not want to over-romanticize the nature of protest.
"Protest is a part of the natural process here," he said. "I think it's a good thing."
He said Penn State ends up with a major protest every year, and specifically pointed to a 1988 event. In April of 1988, protestors demonstrated against what they called university administration's indifference to minority concerns.
It began when a crowd of about 250 gathered in the Paul Robeson Cultural Center auditorium to watch the scheduled meeting with university administrators, but it never occurred.
Then-Penn State President Bryce Jordan had canceled the meeting that morning because administrators and students disagreed on whether the meeting would be closed. Students advocated an open meeting.
When officials refused to speak in public, protesters returned to the auditorium. The entire crowd then left the center, arms linked, and began walking toward Old Main.
However, instead of going to Old Main, the protestors decided to enter the Telecommunications Building. Police arrested 88 students there after a 15-hour sit-in.
A week later, Jordan met with state officials and members of Concerned African-Americans at Penn State (CAAPS) to deal with issues affecting the university's black community.
Jordan agreed to drop protest-related charges as a condition for student participation in the discussions.
One request CAAPS made was for the creation of a vice provost for equal opportunity, which evolved into the vice provost for educational equity, the position held by Jones.
--by Daniel Bal
Africana Research Center director
Cary Fraser, associate professor of African and African-American studies and history, was one of the first directors of the Africana Research Center after its establishment in July 2001.
Since the Village, he said Penn State's administration has made an effort to change the university's culture and has attempted to be proactive in dealing with diversity concerns. However, he said the faculty and student bodies have been slow to adapt.
"Penn State is in the middle of the whitest part of the state. There is a longstanding history of African-American alienation within the institution," he said, pointing to a copy of a photograph hanging outside his office door of a crowd picketing at Old Main in 1949 because the only barbershop in State College at the time had banned blacks.
In addition, both students and administrators have shown a lack of preparedness in dealing with racial incidents, such as the discovery of controversial photographs on the College Republicans' president's Web site in December, he said.
He said the Research Center is helping to pursue research on issues that affect minorities.
"There was some degree of skepticism about whether the center would be effective or would serve as a catalyst for change," he said. "It has begun to make a very real impact by recognizing that minority populations are a legitimate area of research within the wider university, and that there is a need to address these issues."
For example, the research center sponsors a series of lectures every semester on minority-related topics, and it established an annual undergraduate research symposium in the spring of 2002 to give students of all ethnic backgrounds the chance to debate issues of race and diversity.
"By encouraging students to discuss these issues in public, it will encourage a culture of openness and polite debate that could help to improve the racial climate at Penn State," he said.
The Village provided minority students an opportunity to present a new vision of Penn State that was not rooted in cultural segregation, as it had been for many years before, he said. But at the same time, he added, it "was a traumatic moment for the entire university, because looking into a cracked mirror is never easy."
Former Undergraduate Student Government President Ian Rosenberger, a Village participant, said the 10-day sit-in was the most emotionally charged experience of his life.
"It's so vivid. I can remember the whole thing without a doubt. I remember Assata [Richards] and Takkeem [Morgan] really well -- just a lot of resolve," Rosenberger said. "As a white student from suburban America, this was an experience that changed my life for sure. It was the first time that I realized struggle."
Rosenberger said the Village was an example of students working together to implement change at the university, but he said the climate at Penn State has remained the same.
"Institutionally we've seen a little bit of change, but culturally we're still just as segregated as we were three years ago," Rosenberger said. "If you look pretty much anywhere, there's a general separation between students of color and white students at Penn State."
However, Rosenberger said the Village was not just about race relations on campus.
"The intent of the Village was to get some movement out of the administration that we weren't getting," he said.
Rosenberger said most administrators want to address student concerns, but just need to be pushed in the right direction.
"It's difficult to see life from a 20-year-old's perspective when you're not 20 years old," he said.
Rosenberger said he thinks about the Village the most when dealing with issues of diversity and whenever there is a similar display of passion.
Gabriel Bryant didn't know that he would get a job out of participating in the Village.
Bryant, an ex-member of the Black Caucus and former Council of Commonwealth Student Governments president, met state Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Phila., when Hughes traveled to Penn State to meet with President Graham Spanier during the Village protests.
Hughes was giving out internships, and Bryant got one. He was later asked to stay on board in Hughes' office. Bryant, who said he is still passionate about the Village, works as the assistant to the director of constituent services in Sen. Hughes' district.
Bryant said the Penn State community still needs to have an emphatic push to foster diversity on campus. He said that such a movement must start from the inside out, not the outside in. For example, black students organized the protest, rather than administrators.
But, he said he thinks that the Village spread awareness about diversity education.
"It opened the student body's eyes to taking classes around African-American, gender and culture studies. I think there should be a mandatory course on racism," he said.
--by Holly Rosene
Liberal Arts dean
Susan Welch is dean of the College of the Liberal Arts, which oversees the Africana Research Center.
Welch said the center has faced challenges, mostly with gaining recognition from students and the community.
"It's getting traction, but it takes a while to get people involved," she said.
Welch said that after the Village, one of the commitments the university made was to increase the size of the African and African-American studies program. She cited the department's 11 faculty members, almost double the number before the Village.
"It also has been able to offer more courses and we expect it to play an increasingly larger role," she said.
Welch said the Village had an impact on activities because the college has been busy recruiting faculty and trying to provide the various supports needed for the center.
"The college has always had an aggressive policy to try to recruit and retain African-American faculty," she said, explaining that such faculty members are brought in for all departments. "We have continued to do this."
Welch said that with the recruitment and retention of blacks comes with a diversification of curriculum.
"I feel like we were doing this before [the Village]," she said. "Obviously the events renewed everyone's commitment to the goals of diversity."
Welch said the current Penn State student body should reflect on the Village and the events of that year.
"It was a group of students incredibly committed to make this a better university and becoming a more diverse university is a part of that," she said. "What was impressive was their commitment and I'd like to think what they did made a positive impact."
Welch said it is hard to see whether or not the climate of Penn State has changed due to the Village.
"I'd like to think the climate has changed, but it's a very difficult thing to measure," she said. "Just when you think things are getting better then something bad happens that sets things back."
Poet, activist, villager
In late April 2001, sophomore Raina Leon gathered her books, packed her bags and made camp in the HUB-Robeson Center. Inspired by the dream of creating a diverse and tolerant atmosphere for all Penn State students, Leon joined an army of supporters in what became known as the Village. Looking back three years later, Leon now says the experience altered the course of her life.
Their mission was to improve race relations on campus, but Leon said the students participating in the Village were much more than a group of protesters. They bonded together as a community of teachers and friends, living and learning in harmony when the world outside was in turmoil.
"A lot leaders of organizations came together, and a lot of new people [too]," Leon said. "You saw all these great new voices that came together despite chaotic circumstances."
Leon recalled witnessing diverse people and groups gather in open discussions while she lived in the Village.
"The first night I got there, there was a party to keep people awake, thinking, talking and learning about each other," she said. "Before the Village there weren't many discussions across organizations, such as the Black Caucus and Allies."
Leon said her strongest memory of the Village was the frequent community meetings conducted by student leaders Assata Richards and Lurie Daniel. The meetings updated supporters on what was happening in the negotiations and news that was going on in the world.
The educational environment of the Village left a lasting impression on Leon's life, and inspired her to take her life in a new direction.
"The experience itself changed my whole life," she said. "When I began Penn State I had a specific course, to pursue journalism, communications." Leon said as a young black woman she wanted to make a change in this profession. At the time the Village took place, Leon was the assistant online editor for The Daily Collegian, but she was not satisfied with just reporting the news.
"I saw that journalism was not enough," she said. "It upset me I was able to report on things but I could not always participate. Since it [human rights] mattered so much to me, I decided that to me education was the best way to affect people."
So Leon turned in her notebooks and resigned from the Collegian to become a poet and an activist.
Leon says since the Village, Penn State "has made strides forward and strides back" in improving diversity and race relations on campus.
"Diversity in respect to ethnicity has changed for the positive and even sexual orientation has been pushed to the forefront," she said.
Today Leon is earning her masters degree at Columbia University Teachers College, and will pursue a doctoral degree in education at the University of North Carolina in August.
"If I had not been a part of the Village, which was an incredible positive in response to a negative, I would not be teaching today," she said. "My life is better this way. I have touched more lives in a much more definite way."
--by Kristin Colella
Daily Collegian reporter
Daryl Lang remembers the headline across the front page of The Daily Collegian on Friday, April 27, 2001, the last day of publication for the spring 2001 semester: "A plan, but no consensus."
For Lang, who was a graduating senior and a Collegian reporter at the time, that headline summed up over a semester's worth of unanswered demands, bitter negotiation and dramatic spectacle.
Lang covered Black Caucus and race issues as the Collegian's administration reporter, and his relation to these issues became more personal when he received a letter containing derogatory statements about him and a death threat to LaKeisha Wolf, then-president of Black Caucus.
Although the last few weeks of that semester were a time of turmoil at Penn State, the Village brought about some positive changes, he said.
When he came to Penn State in 1998, he said there was no effective Black Caucus because the group could not find anyone willing to serve as its leader.
"People were apathetic," he said. "The Village has made Black Caucus a stronger group. Now, they are a good connection between the administration and students who want to be active in the black community."
One of the most notable, lasting effects of the Village is the university's concern with its image as a diversity-promoting community, he said. For instance, when controversial photographs showing a student in blackface at a Halloween party appeared on the personal Web site of a student leader last semester, the university immediately released a statement condemning the photos and those involved.
"I don't think in the past they would have been so quick and so public with their response," Lang said.
On the positive side, the university's awareness of racial issues has increased, he said, but on the negative side, the Village and the events of that semester have turned diversity into a fragile situation that "can really hit a nerve and easily upset people."
-- by Kristen Neufeld
Womyn's Concerns co-director
Missy Mazzaferro, then a senior and the co-director of Womyn's Concerns, was a part of the Village from beginning to end.
"I found myself sleeping next to people I'd never met before," she said.
Mazzaferro attended the rally at Old Main, and when the crowd moved to the HUB-Robeson Center, she followed.
"It was a really good opportunity for students at Penn State to get together and show unity and support when one of their fellow students needed that," she said.
Memories of Assata Richards leading the group in prayer stay with her to this day.
"They weren't even religious, more about unity and inspiration," she said.
She believes Penn State still has a way to go in the diversity department, though.
"They need to attract minorities so a culture of fear doesn't exist here," she said.
Mazzaferro said that even though she was not part of the black community, the Village represented all minority groups.
"All the people were cut from the same thread; it's about people being oppressed," she said.
--by Holly Rosene
Affirmative Action Office
Ken Lehrman, director of the Office of Affirmative Action, did not work at Penn State during the Village, but heard about the events when he arrived.
"It's always been a topic of discussion and frequently a topic among administrators," he said. "I've heard faculty talk about it and I've heard students talk about it."
Lehrman said he thinks about the events that revolve around the Village when making decisions.
"In my role as affirmative action director, I am very aware of Penn State's need to continue to diversify its faculty and staff," he said. "As I understand it, that was one of the major concerns articulated by the student leaders involved in the Village. The students had identified an issue, and one of my roles is to work harder to ensure that we acquire a diverse faculty."
--by Daniel Bal