Since October, three students have been developing new ways to promote diversity and tackle the issue of racism on campus. Thursday morning, they met with the Penn State Council of College Directors of Multicultural Programs in hopes of transforming their plans into action.
Jamie Campbell, assistant dean of diversity enhancement programs in the Smeal College of Business and council co-chair , said the Council is comprised of multicultural coordinators within the colleges on campus.
Students Nia Spicer , Melissa Creely and Ryan Brown decided to speak with members of the administration about these issues after a series of incidents on and off campus.
The incidents specifically included students dressing in blackface over Halloween weekend, acts of racism directed at Penn State students while at Purdue University and an offensive slur targeted at a black female student.
Brown added to this sentiment for change when he spoke about the recent incident with the Penn State chapter of Chi Omega.
Members of this chapter were pictured in sombreros and ponchos as two members held signs that read "Will mow lawn for weed + beer" and "I don't cut grass I smoke it." The Penn State chapter of the sorority is currently on probation from its national headquarters because of the photo.
"All of this could have been prevented if [administrators] had listened to students early on," Brown said.
He recalled the aforementioned acts of racism on campus and said, "This isn't new, none of this is."
But this is not the only incident to occur this semester. Brown (senior-integrative arts) said students dressed in blackface on campus during Halloween weekend, Oct. 26 to 28. Spicer (senior-biobehavioral health), Brown and Creely (senior-biobehavioral health) were informed of this while at the Association of Black Cultural Centers' annual conference at Purdue University in Indiana.
Prior to these events, Brown also said he recalled a black female Penn State student was the recipient of an "offensive, threatening slur" while walking across the quad in West Campus on Sept. 23.
"While we were at Purdue, we experienced racism and discrimination on Friday evening," Spicer said.
She said a car filled with white males shouted the N-word at the group while the three were on their way to a bar with local students. Once at their destination, they were denied entry until after some white customers were allowed in. Spicer also said she saw a woman that portrayed a black pregnant woman, complete with blackface.
Upon returning to campus, Spicer said the three began meeting with students and among themselves to discuss possible solutions to racism on campus.
On Nov. 26, Creely, Brown and Spicer met with Penn State President Rodney Erickson, Terrell Jones, the vice provost of educational equity , and Damon Sims, vice president of student affairs , about the blackface incidents over Halloween and ways to improve the campus climate toward diversity.
"As a university, we've made considerable progress in becoming a more diverse institution, and one that is able to draw strength from our diversity," Erickson wrote in an email on Dec. 4. "But we still have miles to go to see that everyone at Penn State feels welcome, engaged, and a full partner in our community."
Spicer said that their main goals are to eliminate racism and discrimination on campus through academic focus and promoting cultural competency.
The students then generated an anonymous survey regarding student experiences with racism on campus, their perception of diversity at Penn State and participation in multicultural programs.
Brown and Spicer said the survey was launched on Tuesday, Nov. 27 with links sent to multiple student organizations, through social media and through the UPUA listserv.
As of this week, Spicer said 160 people contributed to the survey -- many of whom said they had experienced racism on campus but did not report it because they did not know where to go, or thought the incident was not significant enough to report.
The survey and its findings were especially important to Latino Caucus President Ariel Coronel.
"Honestly, I've faced the most racism and discrimination on this campus alone and that's not OK," Coronel (senior-energy, business and finance) said.
She said she had experienced derogatory terms and was stereotyped as a specific culture when she described herself as Latina.
"I'm one of the only Latinos in my classes. I feel isolated sometimes," Coronel said, "And that isolated feeling is not OK."
The survey is also promoted on the Latino Caucus's Facebook page and closed Wednesday night.
These findings, as well as the students' goals, were presented to the Council of College Directors of Multicultural Programs Thursday morning.
Campbell said the council was informed of Spicer, Brown and Creely's presentation on Tuesday and has always been open to assisting students.
Prior to the meeting, Erickson wrote in an email, "Their presentation will help to highlight for committee members the issues of insensitivity and/or racism that students, faculty, and staff of color experience in living, learning, and other environments here at Penn State and elsewhere."
While Brown said specific courses of action were not established at the Council meeting, the students and Council will work in a collaborative effort to raise awareness of diversity resources on campus and eliminating racism.