Clarification appended: Dec. 6, 2012.
Many students called UPUA representatives to action Wednesday night to address a photo the Penn State PHC called “offensive,” which portrays members of the Nu Gamma chapter of Chi Omega.
The photo portrayed members of the sorority — which is currently under investigation by the Penn State Panhellenic Council because of it — dressed in ponchos and sombreros and holding signs that read “Will mow lawn for weed + beer” and “I don’t cut grass I smoke it.”
Those who spoke during the University Park Undergraduate Association’s open student forum portion said the photo demonstrated racial and cultural issues at Penn State.
Latino Caucus President Ariel Coronel said she hopes Penn State will set a precedent with the response to this incident so students from minority groups feel comfortable coming to the university.
“We want to see something happen,” Coronel (senior-energy business finance) said. “This is our culture. Our culture isn’t a joke.”
Manuel Figueroa, the president of the Puerto Rican Student Association, said the issue might be a result of an “institutionalized problem” at the university. He said that in the past five years, the Latino studies program has been “left to bleed out,” and this needs to change.
PHC President-elect Rachel Franceschino, who is the chair of the UPUA Governmental Affairs Committee, apologized for the photo and said she is looking forward to working with students, especially those who spoke at the meeting. She said working with more student organizations was part of the platform she ran on for PHC president.
UPUA President Courtney Lennartz said she will bring the issue to the administration and will also form a student focus group to raise awareness and talk about the cultural issues that the photo has brought to light.
Ryan Brown, an at-large UPUA representative and the president of the Penn State Student Black Caucus, said he was speaking at the meeting on behalf of himself. He said when students report acts of hate to the administration, nothing happens. He said incidents similar to this have been happening for years.
“It’s time for our student government to have our backs,” Brown (senior-integrative arts) said.
Also at the meeting, Academic Affairs Chairman Rick Pooler moved to recommit legislation his committee brought to the floor that would create a campaign to help students understand their academic rights.
Pooler (junior-electrical engineering) said he moved to recommit the legislation because of a “flawed marketing system.” The legislation originally budgeted $844 for the campaign.
Lennartz (senior-health policy and administration) also announced that UPUA will have listserv access next semester.
Former Penn State Trustee Ben Novak also spoke at the meeting and offered some advice to students to move forward in light of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse case.
“Be different. Make yourselves beautiful to the alumni and the rest of the world,” he said.
An earlier version of this article did not indicate that Ryan Brown is a member of the UPUA assembly. The above article reflects this information.