The Black Caucus, Latino Caucus and Asian Pacific Caucus held an open student forum Thursday evening in Chambers Building with President Rodney Erickson to discuss issues of diversity on the Penn State campus.
Also in attendance to answer questions with Erickson were Damon Sims, the vice president for student affairs and Marcus Whitehurst, the assistant vice provost for educational equity.
Before opening the floor for questions, Erickson opened the discussion with a description of the point and the goals of the conversation, citing diversity as one of Penn State’s strengths.
Erickson also noted that he was there to get students’ ideas about the diversity issue they face on campus because he and his colleagues “do not have all the answers.”
“I’m very happy with all the questions that were asked,” Ariel Coronel, president of the Latino Caucus (senior-energy, business and finance) said. “In this situation, challenging questions are necessary. I’m happy faculty were here to answer as many questions as they can.”
Questions and comments ranged from death threats made toward a student in 2001 and the recent incident of hate speech in on-campus residence halls to diversity relations in the learning environment and plans for disciplinary action
“I thought [the questions] were very relevant. They challenged us as administrators critically,” Whitehurst said. “They put us on high alert that we must continue with diversity initiatives and making students feel welcome at Penn State.”
Free speech debate in relation to recent hate speech events was also a topic at he forum.
“Freedom of thoughts and expressions can be offensive,” Sims said. “The first amendment being alive and well at Penn State must be protected, but that doesn’t stop us from having conversations with students about how to make things better.”
Sims also said that incidents such as the hate speech crime in student residence halls become teachable moments.
“The only way we’re going to get there is to collaborate together to bring things out into the open,” Erickson said. “I don’t believe that there is only one thing that we can do to address these kinds of issues.”
Ways of addressing issues other than open forums included using diversity training and resources for faculty and staff in classrooms and implementing them into orientation and first-year seminar classes for incoming freshmen and transfer students.
Although the conversation could be a start to better handling of diversity issues on campus, some were not satisfied with the attendance at the meeting.
“Where you invest your time, efforts and money is what you find important. The problem is that we as a campus don’t find it important,” Dwayne Wright (1L law student) said. “Until we as a community make it as important as anything else we consider important, the problem will never be solved.”
While the turn out wasn’t what some hoped it would be, Sims said he thinks there was a good crowd with plenty of engaging guests.
“I hope this is the beginning of many conversations with students and I hope we can add more students into the mix,” Sims said.