For more than a decade, Penn State has been called to increase diversity among its student body and staff. Yet for some, this call has still gone unanswered.
From the perspective of some freshmen, this university — with 15 percent of its population being “students of color” — has more than enough diversity to go around. For other Penn Staters, there is still more work that needs to be done in order for there to be an equal social climate on campus.
Then and Now
In April 2001, former Collegian staff member Daryl Lang and the then-Penn State Student Black Caucus President LaKeisha Wolf received death threats that targeted the black community at Penn State .
One of the typed letters said “this is a white academy [Penn State] in a white town — in a white country and by god it's going to stay that way.” It also stated that an African American male student was killed and placed in a wooded area of Centre County.
By this time, racist threats and hate mail had been sent to multiple members of the Penn State community intermittently since 1999.
This sparked a response called the “Village ” where about 100 students hosted a 10-day sit-in that took over the HUB-Robeson Center. The demonstration was held in protest of the racist events and how Penn State handled them. This resulted in the establishment of the Africana Research Center .
Four years later, a “No Hate Rally” and multiple other events were hosted by the Black Caucus after derogatory and homophobic slurs were shouted at a student, possibly its president , Ed Smith.
Smith then said these slurs included death threats using the words “kill,” “lynch” and other highly derogatory racial slurs.
Today, the social climate on campus is nowhere near as controversial. But, the diversity on campus is still met with mixed emotions.
From Fresh Eyes
To new residents of the Penn State community, the student body is diverse.
Students Cameron Miller (freshman-psychology) and Ashlin Becker, who came to University Park from small towns in Pennsylvania, described the campus as a “culture shock.”
“I think it’s pretty diverse,” Becker (freshman-premedicine) said. “You can’t go more than a couple [moments] without hearing a different language.”
Students Katie Love and Molly Maddox , coming from a less-diverse community, also agreed with this sentiment when they said Penn state is diverse.
“I think [diversity is] important, learning about different people,” Maddox (freshman-division of undergraduate studies) said.
Love (freshman-public relations) also said, “It gets you out of your bubble.”
However some, like Love, said they believe only a certain amount of diversity is needed within a community.
“I think there’s enough diversity,” Love later said. “If more people want to come to Penn State, that’s fine, but I don’t think you should seek them out, you know.”
A Deeper Look
For those who have attended Penn State for more than a few weeks, the climate is entirely different.
In terms of diversity, Celiena Bady, Penn State NAACP president, and Ryan Brown, Penn State Black Caucus president, it is of the utmost importance.
“Diversity provides the opportunity to learn, have our viewpoints challenged and then expand,” Bady (senior-international politics) said.
Brown furthered this sentiment when he said: “Diversity is important because it’s what helps shape the world. If we were all the same, there would be no worth in our society.”
While Bady and Brown believe diversity at Penn State has improved other the years, there is still work that needs to be done.
Brown believes an interest in diversity depends on the person, but regarding Penn State specifically, he said: “There needs to be more of a mix. The [student body] is predominately Caucasian here.”
“And for a university that prides itself on diversity, it needs to be more diverse,” Brown later said. “Having 80 percent of one population is not diverse.”
Aside from the cultural heritage of the population, the students themselves are believed by Bady to need more awareness and knowledge of other cultures.
“I think Penn State is trying hard [to mix students of different cultures]. Many students may not think that because they don’t know about the various organizations,” Bady said. “If you want a change, it has to start from the bottom up. It can’t start from the top down.”
Student Andrea Hernandez , former Latino Caucus president, agreed with Bady.
“I don’t think a lot of students who represent the majority are taking advantage of the opportunities to diversify themselves,” Hernandez (senior-women’s studies) said.
While the student population is 15 percent “students of color,” students believe there is still a need for race and ethnic specific groups.
“As a Latina coming from an inner city public school, you want to experience college, but you also want a piece of home, and that’s exactly what these organizations represent,” Hernandez said. “It’s important to keep these organizations alive. [They are] just as important as UPUA, CCSG and things like that.”
To Hernandez, these race and ethnicity specific organizations provide a sense of culture and “home” that Penn State does not internally provide.
Behind the Directors’ Chair
Some Penn State faculty also feel strongly that while a sense of diversity is present on campus, it needs to be increased.
Lovalerie King, director of the Africana Research Center and associate professor, said diversity in terms of unity is a misconception.
“[Diversity is] different people bringing different strengths to the pool,” King said.
She recalled a few select students who came into her class and saw slavery as benefit for poets of that time period as it provided material, or asked if there were any “nice white people” during that era. For certain students, information regarding diversity has not been reached by college age and thus, needs to be taught here.
However, when it comes to diversity, King also said the attitudes of individuals are what matters most.
“It’s important for students to get together in those [racial and ethnic specific groups] to get their own identity that’s not just mainstream,” King said.
She later said, “You need to find a point where you stop trying to live up to standards of someone else and have your own heritage.”
For Paul Robeson Cultural Center Director Carlos Wiley , diversity is of the utmost importance.
“Penn State is not concerned [with] particularly racial and ethnic diversity. It’s moderate at best,” Wiley said. “It’s what needs to be done because it’s Penn State.”
Wiley explained this concept further when he said, “People expect it to be diverse but [Penn State is] not fundamentally committed to being diverse”
Wiley believes Penn State should be fostering an environment where undergraduate “students of color” continue their graduate education within this university and are groomed to come back to work as faculty here.
“I think a lot of students of color come here. They want to get their degree from Penn State and get the hell out of here,” Wiley said.
When it comes to higher education as a whole, Wiley sees Penn State as a similar college to others in the nation in terms of diversity.
“I don’t think institutions of higher learning are all that different, [not including institutions such as the historically black colleges], because most are grounded in American ideology, which are rooted in white supremacy,” Wiley said. “It’s hard for a university to shift from that mindset.”
While Penn State’s student population is more diverse than previous years and has integrated multiple organizations to support different cultures, a percentage of the Penn State community sees that there is still more work to be done.
“We’re a long way from equality,” Wiley said.
He continued to say times are better in the sense that individuals of color do not have to deal with the same trials and tribulations of past generations, but this generation has its own struggles to deal with.